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:

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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State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw


This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.