I require my students to keep science notebooks, and they have proven to be an incredibly useful tool that aids in learning. Here's an overview of the benefits and some tips on how to implement this strategy into your classroom.
The Benefits of Science Notebooks
The most obvious boon of a science notebook is that its structure helps students stay organized. Classwork, whether it's an activity, experiment, illustration, or notes on a reading, is written in the notebook. If there are any corresponding handouts, those are glued into the notebook during class. Homework assignments are also included in the notebook, so students know what needs to be completed.
Students also benefit from the cognitive aspects of science notebooks by realizing the value of their work. The notebooks are a great resource that they can turn to for review and to find connections between concepts. They're also helpful for student self-assessment and enable parents to see how their children are progressing as well, which makes parent-teacher meetings that much easier!
Introducing Your Class to the Notebook
I start the first day of school with an announcement—it's included in my syllabus—that students are required to purchase a 100-page composition notebook. (I discourage spiral notebooks because they get tangled when stacked.) Its sole purpose is for science, and they should bring it to school every day. I give them at least five days, including a weekend, to bring the notebook to class. Being sensitive to the fact that cost may be an issue, I always have a few dozen notebooks that I buy ahead of time.
Once all students have their notebooks, it's time to get them set up. Follow this process:
- Have your students open their notebook, and write their first and last name on the first page.
- On the second page (the back of the first page), have students start a table of contents. Direct them to label the left corner of the left page "A" and then label the right corner of the right page "B."
- Have students continue to letter the next four pages in the same manner: C, D, E, F.
- Have students turn the page, leave the left page blank, and add a number one (1) on the upper right-hand corner of the right page. This will be their first page of classwork.
- Have your class return to page A and make four columns across the page. Then they should label the columns Page, Date, Type of Assignment, and Title.
- Instruct students to complete these columns and headings on the remaining table of content pages, and then finish numbering all the pages of the notebook.
The next day, resources such as a safety contract, a scoring rubric, and a copy of some sentence stems to use during classroom discussions can be added.
Best Practices for Assessing Science Notebooks
The most common question I get from teachers wanting to make use of a class notebook is, "How do you grade them?"
The truth is that assessment varies from teacher to teacher. Some grade certain assignments separately and return them to the students so they can be glued into the notebook. Most collect the notebooks bi-monthly to assess the content—my most common strategy—but others assess them during class at the conclusion of a lab (to use one example).
I like to read through a student's work as I discuss it with them. I get a clear understanding of what they know, and they learn if they missed any pertinent information.
Once you get used to this simple strategy, you can explore other science notebook ideas, like the ones from the California Academy of Sciences' Science Notebook Corner. I truly believe that these notebooks are the best way to help students retain information. They end up becoming a portfolio, and your class will be able to take pride in their journey through the year.
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I can only hope that this strategy proves to be as successful for you!