Digital Science Notebook

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SWBAT create and manage an online science notebook.

Big Idea

Scientists communicate in many ways - including through their online presence. Students join the scientific community online!


5 minutes

Using science notebooks to help students organize their scientific thinking is considered a best practice. However, I have struggled with how to make physical science notebooks work for my students. The benefits of a science notebook include:

1) Students have their work in one (organized) place.

2) Students are encouraged to record and expand on their thinking.

3) Students build a relationship with their learning and the teacher through feedback.

4) Students practice writing across the curriculum that links directly to the Common Core English Language Arts Standards for Science and Technical Subjects.

5) Science notebooks are both an assessment and differentiation tool.

6) Provides instructional rigor in terms of the NGSS science practices. All of the practices have a home in the notebook - most notably to help students construct convincing arguments that support or refute claims for either explanations or solutions about the natural and designed worlds (SP7) and the need to develop students’ ability to read and produce domain-specific text (SP8). 

All of this is so great! I just hated lugging notebooks home for 160 students. I also hated the "lost time" that resulted from cutting and pasting activities into a notebook. The notebooks were lost more easily by students than other organization methods and while the notebook should be organized, student work was often unorganized, missing or messy. Enter a possible solution to this student need! Digital Science Notebooks! Digital science notebooks capitalize on the positive aspects of the traditional science notebook while minimizing some of the challenges. 

For more about the Opportunities and Limitations of Digital Science Notebooks, check out this section's reflection.

In order to ENGAGE students in this lesson, I simply ask students:

So, who wants to make their own web-site?

Teacher Note: Setting up digital science notebooks dovetails nicely with an inquiry essential question that we explore as a class. Either as part of this lesson, or prior to this lesson, we explore this question:

How is scientific knowledge created and communicated?

For more about using essential questions or how to incorporate essential questions in the digital science notebook, try: Essential Questions - Building Student Engagement in Science Part 1 and Part 2 or Force and Motion Essential Questions.


45 minutes

The EXPLORE stage of the lesson is to get students involved in the topic so that they start to build their own understanding. To help students explore digital science notebooks, it is beneficial to prepare several resources in advance:

1) Develop a template you would like all students to use in Google (or other application). In this case, I prepared a template that students will use all three years in science: Platt Middle School Science Notebook. I modified this template from another teacher who had given permission, so feel free to modify this one!

2) Create an online space (on your web-site or in an online learning community like Edmodo, Edublogs or Google Classroom) where students can find resources: Teacher Web-site Digital Science Notebook Resource Page.

3) Develop clear instructions for a "How To" document: How to Make a Digital Science Notebook. Be sure to practice (or have a student practice) these instructions prior to having the class try.

4) Create a method for students to share their web-site links with you. Email works, but I found a Google Form to be very efficient: Digital Science Notebook Information Form. Student responses appear in this format: Digital Science Notebook Information Form (Responses) and can be manipulated with spreadsheet tools.

5) Secure time in a computer lab, mobile lab or remind students to bring their devices.

6) Check the wireless in your classroom. When all students are accessing online resources, the process can take a painfully long time.

7) Ensure that all students are able to sign on to their school or online resources. If possible, have personal usernames and passwords ready.

Once you have these items prepared, students access your online resource space and start creating their sites!

If students struggle with following written directions, it may be helpful to prepare (or have students prepare) a "How To" tutorial:

A second powerful strategy to help students who have difficulty setting up their notebooks is to employ the "Mastery Learning" strategy described in this lesson: Mastery Learning in Science: Students as Teachers. Without students acting as "Master Tutors" during the creation of these sites, it would've taken at least twice as long as it did. Tap into your student experts!


The EXPLAIN stage provides students with an opportunity to communicate what they have learned so far and figure out what it means. The EXTEND stage allows students to apply new knowledge to a novel situation. The purpose of the digital science notebook is to act as a vehicle for student explanations and remediation/extension of their thinking. How you have students set up their notebooks dictates how you want them to use them. For the first year, my students are using their digital notebooks to:

1) Post essential questions for the unit.

2) Post portfolio assessments (if they have chosen this option for assessment in any given unit).

3) Post thoughts, questions, artwork, quotes or ideas about the topics we are studying.

To view a student example, click here: Student Exemplar - Digital Science Notebook.

For subsequent years, I am working on ways to have students use their digital notebooks in more ways like a traditional notebook. The main reason I have not fully instituted the digital notebook as a replacement for the traditional notebook, is that I do not have a one-to-one classroom. For more discussion on this topic, read: Opportunities and Limitations of Digital Science Notebooks.


The EVALUATION stage is for both students and teachers to determine how much learning and understanding has taken place. In order to evaluate the ability of each student to create a digital science notebook, I use the Digital Science Notebook Information Form (Responses) to check each student's site using this checklist:

1) Correct naming convention for site.

2) Correct template used.

3) Sharing permissions updated correctly.

4) Student name added to home page.

5) Student completed Information Form

If students have mistakes or problems with their sites, I send them an email with feedback about what to update or I have one of my student experts help the student make the changes.

For an example of a student's digital notebook that meets the above criteria, click here: Student Exemplar - Digital Science Notebook.

As students update their digital science notebooks, the evaluation of their work becomes an online process free from crates of physical notebooks!