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!

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