Sunday, February 18, 2018

Although the school year is well underway, I wanted to share how I set up the structure of using science notebooks in my classroom:

           The beginning of the school year is always such an exciting time. This is the time of year where we as teachers are refreshed, ready to dive in, to show our students exciting content and interactive lessons, and really get to know them especially if they are new to our classes. One thing that I find helps me start off the school year in a positive way as I begin is by teaching my students how to set up a science notebook. I do this with all my students, in every grade level. By showing students how to set up their notebooks collectively at the beginning of the school year you are helping set your students up for success. By success, I mean being able to show your students that there are dedicated areas within their notebooks for them to record their notes, record valuable evidence they have collected, to create their artistic scaled scientific drawings, and a space to compile their findings and conclusions.  Without a structure in place for note-booking skills, I have found that students tend to ask many questions on “where to write”. Even in the upper grades you may find that there are some students who just don’t know how to get started or how to use a page to their advantage when taking notes. This helps guide them in collecting their data and observations throughout the year. In fact, it helps cut down on transition time once your students fully understand where every piece of data goes. 

You may be wondering how I decided the structure and format of these science notebooks. About 10 years ago, I majored in Earth Science which was heavily based on scientific fieldwork in the area of geology. Within my geology classes in college I had to record a plethora of notes from the fieldwork we were conducting. We mimicked and became involved in the processes that many scientists find themselves doing in the field with their own scientific journals. I modeled my students notebooks after my own experience with working in the field with my professor, who was an active geologist.  Over the past 8 years I have worked on developing this science notebook with my students through trial and error, until I found a structure that worked for my own classroom but yet followed the same structure of a scientific observational fieldwork notebook.  The following will give you a look into how I structure the science notebooks in my class.

I begin the school year by asking my students for a black and white marble notebook as one of their science supplies since this is an inexpensive option for my students families to purchase and most commonly used in school.
I store science notebooks in crates that are labeled with their class number for quick access. I place students names on the top so that I can quickly find a particular student notebook when assessing. I place colors throughout the year on the top of each students notebook to show what group they belong to.
I always start with the back cover. I like to have an area for my students to place unfinished work such as cut-and-paste pieces, foldables, and even reference notes. Students work at different paces from each other, and having a place to hold pieces of work that have been unfinished helps alleviate anxiety and helps keep it organized to complete at a later time. I ask students to glue a 6” x 9” kraft envelope into the back cover of their science notebook with a glue bottle. I tell students that they only need to place glue in the 4 corners of the envelope, and to line it up evenly on the back cover with the flap facing them. I ask students to wait a minimum of 5 minutes before closing the cover so that the glue has had some time to dry. During the time that they are waiting for the glue to dry, I ask students to draw something on the envelope that they think of when they hear the word “science” or “scientist”. We then collectively go over our ideas and drawings at the end which always leads into a rich discussion of, “What is science?” and “What does a scientist do, or look like?”

Envelope glued onto inside back cover of science notebooks
Next, I have them glue our classroom rules into the front page of their science notebook. I provide my students with a list of classroom rules that are non-negotiables. Since they visit my classroom 2-3 periods a week I want them to know exactly what is expected of them during their time with me so that we can maximize learning time together. While going over each rule, I involve students in “buying into” the rules by providing examples that pertain to each rule. We also discuss safety and why it is important to keep each other and the teacher(s) safe in the classroom.
Inside front cover of science notebooks - Science Contract & Sentence Starters
Turning the page, on the back of the classroom rules page, I ask students to glue in a list of helpful sentence starters. I created a list of science sentence starters that help my English Language Learners and support my Students with Disabilities to get started with their writing when needed. I provide this resource to all my students so that if they ever feel “stuck” they can refer to these to help provide that little push they need to explain their findings in a complete sentence.

The next 2 pages, both sides, will become the table of contents pages. Students will create entries into the table of contents each day which shows the objective question that students are focusing on for that particular class session or sessions. In addition, students add the date and page number to help locate that information.
Inside first page of science notebook - Table of Contents

Once students begin their investigations and record their observations and findings in their notebooks you can tailor how the they input the information towards your own teaching style. For me, I first explain to students that when you open up a notebook, we will act as though two pages side by side are going to connect as to be one long page for entering information for each lesson. I ask students to consider drawing all diagrams and any quick notes they would like to take on the left side of their notebook pages. I have students answer questions and write detailed observations on the right side of their notebook page. There is some flexibility to this if a student needs more room they are of course free to use the next page, but as much as possible we try to keep this format, which mimics the way scientists would complete a field journal. Having this structure may seem rigid, however it helps me, the teacher, quickly find their work to assess as needed.

I truly believe having a system in place to organize scientific notes helps students appreciate and focus on the work they are doing which will set them up for success throughout the year!

Monday, June 27, 2016

End of Year Reflection

Hi Everyone,

I plan on adding more posts to this blog in the coming year. Some exciting news that has kept me busy this year is that I was asked to teach a graduate college course but now that I am in the swing of things I will be able to dedicate more time to my blog! Looking forward to sharing my tips with you!

One thing that is important to do with your students at the end of every year is to provide them with an opportunity to reflect on what they have learned in each class. Reflections help students recall prior knowledge and form stronger memories of the fun times they have had in your class!

Here is how I structure my student reflections:

1) They are open ended: I give my students a worksheet (I will put this up in my store soon!) which has 4 connecting puzzle pieces and asks them to write/draw 4 things that stood out to them this year.
2) Give students enough time to reflect: I give my students a minimum of 1 full class period to complete their reflections.
3) Let them look back: I provide my students with their science notebooks, journals, and science folders to recall information, sometimes young minds have trouble thinking on the spot.
4) Let them color: I give my students colored pencils, crayons, and markers to help them illustrate and articulate their reflections.
5) Let them draw you!: I ask my students to complete the reflections with a task which involves them drawing a detailed picture of themselves in our science class, me, and their friends! Trust me you will get a kick out of seeing how students draw you! I take pictures of their drawings as memories as well!
6) Take it home: Remind students to keep this reflection as they get older. It will become a fond memory of theirs as they age and look back on their time in elementary school.

Hope this helps you end your year in science in a purposeful and fun way!

Keep a lookout for the reflection page in my store! Coming soon!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Give them jobs!

Have you ever wondered how to get 30+ kids to work together? As a science teacher with my own classroom I realized quickly that this was a difficult task to manage.  Each year I teach a minimum of 3 different grades, typically 7 classes and about 200 students which revolve through my room 3 periods each week.  This sounds like insanity… oh wait it’s still happening! Controlled chaos right!

So back to getting 30 or more students to work together… I was motivated to solve this challenge since my first year of teaching.  Over the past couple of years I have tried different management systems to find a way that would give my students more control over their tasks, activities, and experiments which we conduct every week. 

In my first year of teaching I assumed all students would just work together… bad idea.  I learned that without presenting my students with a controlled structure of routines and procedures for each task that chaos would construe, and it did.

Within my second year of teaching I assigned the role of a  “table leader”. This person was responsible for everything from passing out papers, getting materials, making sure their team was on task, and cleaning up their table at the end of class.  I noticed that there was less chaos than the previous year but this also presented additional problems. I noticed that giving one student per table a role left the other students at the table with no real sense of involvement.  I found that the student who was a table leader was quite stressed with all the jobs appointed to them.  They were constantly getting up to retrieve something for their table to use.  This also meant that this student would not be afforded the same amount of time to complete their work with all of these “distractions”.

I then attended a workshop by the famous duo Harry & Rosemary Wong in which they presented their famous book, “The First Days of School”.  In this workshop I was given the opportunity to reflect on what worked and what didn’t in my classroom and come up with a plan.  A plan! How did I not think to sit down and create a plan sooner? Sounds so reasonable and almost like it should be common sense, but I find that I was always so focused on making sure the classroom looked pretty, had what it needed, and that I had thorough lesson plans that I did not think about creating a management plan for my classroom environment. This plan encompassed everything from “how to walk into the classroom” to “how to pass out pencils and supplies” to even “how to work together in a group setting”.

I reflected on the fact that I had one person at each table for a number of years now, doing everything and this had more con’s than pro’s when I listed them out.

I then realized, what if I gave each student a role at the table instead of one student doing it all solo? I was quite nervous to attempt this as I didn’t want the whole class erupting in chaos due to too having “too many workers”. 

So, I came up with this:
  • Table Leader
  • Material Manager
  • Notebook Manager
  • Inspector
  • Assistant
  • Encourager

 *Come visit my TpT store for the downloadable freebie of these labels!*

*Here's my laboratory classroom tables, don't mind the tape that's peeling up on the edges, it was the end of the year!*

I made sure to inform the class that each student is assigned a particular role and will only do the job when told.  At the beginning of the year I was very strict about how I would hand out the “power” to do the job listed on their tables. 

An example, “ Material Managers – when I have finished giving the direction please grab the pencils and baskets for your tables.” “Notebook Managers – please gather your groups notebooks but do not pass them out until I inform you to do so”. “Table leaders, make sure everyone at your table has what they need to succeed in the days activity.”

I found that it took about 2 full weeks of modeling and reminding students of their jobs for my students in all classes to get into a routine.  I also found that they LOVED having a role to play in each class period.  One student told me, “I feel like I am working, but I like being in charge and helping my friends!” *happy tears*!

By giving them individual roles I noticed that students were not arguing over silly things like, having a pencil, getting certain supplies, knowing what the task was because they zoned out, etc.  This cut down on distractions and increased learning time in my classroom. 

The role of “encourager” has really blossomed in my classroom.  At the end of each class I ask the encourager to point out something that they noticed at their table about a student or group of students that was kind and/or helpful during the period.  The responses have been heart warming and help me catch the wonderful happenings I don’t always notice as I am working 1-1 with a student, in a small group, as I walk around to different groups, or just not within ears reach of that particular table.

This management plan and system has truly changed my teaching style and has given my students a sense of pride in having a specific role to play in their learning. Giving them roles has allowed my students to be more responsible for the activities and tasks I give them, and has promoted and created a sense of team work throughout the different classes and grades I teach. I catch myself smiling and sometimes have a tear in my eye as I see my students growing into young adults that society would be proud of!

If you have any suggestions for other roles that have worked for you please leave them in the comments below!