In inquiry-based science, students learn science by doing science – conducting investigations, recording data, and drawing conclusions. These types of activities require sophisticated cognitive abilities such as analyzing data, linking claims to evidence, and formulating explanations. Repeated practice and consistent, timely feedback support students as they develop these critical thinking skills.
However, learning and doing science means more than just reflecting on evidence. The ability to communicate data, ideas, and conclusions with others is also an essential component. These two aspects of learning science – making meaning from experience and relating that meaning to others – come together in a powerful tool called a science notebook.
Science notebooks, also called science journals, are a place for students to record questions, predictions, data, conclusions, and visuals such as charts and diagrams. They also provide a place for students to link prior knowledge with the new information gained in an investigation. Notebooks are a permanent record of what students actually learn. They can be used throughout an inquiry-based unit, from vocabulary terms to conclusions at the end of a lesson or unit.
There’s no “right” way to use a science notebook. In some classrooms, students follow a structured approach that involves recording all steps of an investigation. In others, the focus is on using the notebook to record data and create visuals such as graphs and diagrams. Some teachers provide graphic organizers and tables for students to complete and paste into their notebooks, while others require students to create them themselves. Regardless of the exact procedure used, the notebooks provide a valuable space for students to reflect on their observations and data and make sense of the science concepts they are learning.
Notebooks can be used in conjunction with any curriculum, textbook, or kit. Incorporating a notebook into existing resources is one way to transition to an inquiry approach to science teaching.
Science notebooks also can be used as a formative assessment tool. “Checking in” with students via their notebook entries can provide a clear picture of students’ understanding and help teachers know whether to continue on with a lesson or revisit a concept. Many teachers provide feedback to students by adding sticky notes with comments to notebook entries. These comments can challenge students to think more deeply about a topic or consider an alternate explanation for their data. They can also help to correct the many misconceptions that may emerge from inquiry-based investigations.
Notebooks can also serve as summative assessment at the end of a unit. A criterion-based rubric can be used to assess student understanding and ability to use various science process skills. By assigning point values to each criterion, teachers can use the rubric to assign a numeric grade.
Five Good Reasons to Use Science Notebooks
This article from the NSTA journal Science and Children provides information about how the Tuscon (AZ) Unified School District began using notebooks in conjunction with a kit-based science program and the benefits from doing so. The article is free for NSTA members and $0.99 for nonmembers.
Science Notebooks in K-12 Classrooms
This site includes a variety of resources including notebook features, samples of student work, classroom tools and teacher resources, and research related to the use of science notebooks.
This article from the NSTA journal Science and Children discusses how teachers can make the use of science notebooks a more student-centered experience. The article is free for NSTA members and $0.99 for nonmembers.
This post from the NSTA blog includes a variety of resources related to science notebooks.
National Council of Teachers of English and International Reading Association Standards for English Language Arts
Integrating science and literacy through the use of notebooks fulfills the following NCTE/IRA Standards:
Standard 4: Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
Standard 5: Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
Standard 6: Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions, media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
Standard 7: Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
Standard 9: Students develop an understanding of a respect for diversity in language use, patterns and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
Standard 10: Students whose first language is not English make use of their first language to develop competency in the English language arts and to develop understanding of contents across the curriculum.
Standard 11: Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
Standard 12: Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes.
National Science Education Standards Content Standards
In addition, the inquiry-based science related to the use of science notebooks fulfills the Science as Inquiry Content Standard for grades K-4 and 5-8.
As a result of activities in grades K-4 [and 5-8], all students should develop:
- Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
- Understanding about scientific inquiry
Copyright August 2008 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.