September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

The How (and Why) of Science Notebooking in the Classroom

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

by Clea Matson

“The science notebooks get all the students involved and interested in science. Whether they like to write, or like to draw, or like asking questions, there is an entry point for all of them.” – Erica, 5th Grade teacher, San Francisco

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) ask teachers and students to spend more time thinking and working like scientists. As Karen Cerwin mentioned in her article posted in August, 2016, notebooks are a tool that scientists use to record, reason, and share ideas. From her perspective as Regional Director for K-12 Alliance, Cerwin identifies ways in which science notebooks can be powerful tools for sense-making in the elementary classroom. The California Academy of Sciences (CAS) has created an online library of resources called Science Notebook Corner in order to provide support to teachers state and nationwide in making use of these powerful thinking tools.

What is the Science Notebook Corner?

Science Notebook Corner is a website where elementary and middle school science teachers can explore and find ideas for how to use notebooks as thinking tools in their classrooms. The site includes resources for teachers who have never used notebooks before, as well as advanced tools to help students use notebooks to collect and analyze data, reflect on or organize new knowledge, give feedback, etc. This growing collection of tools and strategies is intended to be a resource that teachers can incorporate into the science that they are already teaching.

Where did these tools and strategies come from?

Over the past eight years, the Teacher Institute on Science and Sustainability at CAS has worked with over 300 local teachers to increase the amount and quality of science in elementary classrooms. Science notebooks have become a pillar or our work and teachers tell us that they’ve continued to use notebooks in their science classrooms years after they graduated from our Institute. In our classroom observations, we have witnessed hundreds of teachers making use of science notebooks, and are continually learning new strategies from them. We created Science Notebook Corner in order to share what we’ve learned with teachers beyond the physical reach of our Institute.

Some of the outside sources that influence and inform our work include this resource for dialogue, reading, and writing in science which is co-authored by Arthur Beauchamp from the Sacramento Area Science Project, as well as Betsy Fulwiler’s work on writing in science.

Where should I start?

“I am excited to have this wonderful knowledge base at my fingertips. I am excited to present the notebooks to my classes on the first day of school. I think that this will keep students organized and will help when meeting with parents […]. Please continue supporting busy teachers.” -Teacher, Helendale School District, CA

When you visit Science Notebook Corner, you might wonder, “Where should I begin?” Some of the most exciting parts of this resource are the notebook galleries, featuring actual notebooks from students and teachers. This is a great starting place, especially if you already use notebooks in your classroom and want inspiration for new strategies to use with your students. If you find a set of examples in a gallery that are interesting, you can then navigate to the page that describes the strategies that support that student work.

If you are new to science notebooks, welcome! We recommend beginning with “Setting Up Your Science Notebook,” where you can find strategies for introducing notebooks to your classroom, guiding students to set up their science notebook as a tool and method of ownership, and setting up routines for using them during science time. There is also a growing library of short videos, which share motivation and strategies for using science notebooks in the elementary classroom.

Whether you are looking to expand what you already do with science notebooks, or you are intrigued by the idea of using notebooks to support students’ scientific practice and want a step-by-step guide to begin, we hope that you find something useful within this resource, and we welcome your feedback.

Clea Matson is a Teacher Educator and Instructional Coach at the California Academy of Sciences and is a member of CSTA.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

One Response

  1. Over 24 years ago, I began my notebook journey while participating in a summer fellowship at LBNL. There we met Dr. Glenn Seaborg, where he shared one of his notebooks in which he discovered Plutonium. Inside his numerous notebooks, was the Science, Art, Math and his personal experiences and interactions with the various presidents as well as the History of the time. A few of us became privy, and from there I designed my notebooks. Yes, they are ever evolving aligned not only to the NGSS but the Common Core. They become a staple component within my curriculum.

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