115 How Do You Use Science Notebooks Now?

July 25, 2022

This episode comes from a listener’s question about science notebooks. Lindsay from New Mexico asked the following question.

“I would love to learn more about incorporating interactive notebooks into the NGSS classroom. Do you follow [the] left/right side [structure]? How do you grade them? Do you use them as a lab notebook as well?”

This is a simple question with lots of parts. So, we’ll answer. them one at a time.

How are science notebooks different now?

In an NGSS classroom, science notebooks are meant to support a discovery-based learning environment. However, traditional interactive notebook structures were built for a teacher-driven learning environment. So, teachers used the notebook primarily as a resource that helped their students study for tests.

There are several aspects of a traditional notebook that still work today. But, many aspects must be revamped in order to reflect student-driven learning practices.

To learn more about how interactive notebooks support this shift, check out this episode recap.

Do you still use a left-side/right-side structure?

In the traditional notebooks, the right-side housed input that came from the teacher. The left side was for student work. And, the teacher’s explanation always came first.

colored pencils on a notebook.  Turquoise textbox that says
"Do you follow a left side/right side structure for your science notebook?"
How you structure your notebook is up to you. You want the notebook to reflect student meaning-making. But, how that looks is entirely up to you.

If you listen to our episode on the 5E model, there is still a need for teacher explanations. However, the majority of the work is meaning-making and student-generated explanations. And, the teacher’s explanation comes after students explore and explain what THEY have learned.

To keep the left-side/right-side structure, reconsider your approach.

There are advantages to this organizational strategy. And, there are ways to modify the implementation to reflect a more student-driven learning environment.

For example, Nicole suggests switching the order. Start with student input first. Then, add in the teacher’s explanation and vocabulary later.

Use a new structure to support a student-driven learning environment.

We want to see students work at the forefront. Nicole suggests allocating pages for student discovery. Then, students can annotate their own pages as teachers provide additional information.

Or, consider having exploration pages and meaning-making pages.

For example, if students are analyzing information on a map, you may have them color code the map. Then, ask them to glue it inside the notebook. Depending on how much space the map took up, students can explain what they discovered by writing around the map. Or, they can include their explanation on a subsequent page.

Should you number notebook pages?

This is totally up to you. However, it helps to literally keep students on the same page. And, it helps you refer back to pages later.

Still, students don’t necessarily need the same amount of space to complete a task. So, Nicole recommends using page numbers in a slightly different way. For instance, if a student needs 3 pages to complete an activity that students were asked to do on page 15 of their notebook, they could label 3 pages with the number 15.

What about the cutting and gluing?

In traditional notebooks, there was A LOT of cutting and gluing. Too often, this was done for the purpose of making notebooks cute. We don’t care about the aesthetic aspect of the notebook.

However, it is helpful to provide your students with handouts on occasion. This practice saves a lot of class time. Still, the emphasis should be on helping students track their learning over time.

Erin suggests folding full-size sheets of paper in half to help them fit into a notebook. This saves time and the mess associated with cutting.

Student Choice and an Aesthetically Pleasing Notebook

For some students, the aesthetic aspect of the notebook is important to them. And, there may be some benefits to including foldables and other activities in the notebook that are more traditional.

Still, this practice is stressful for some students. Erin admits, she would be one of those students.

So, this is a good time to consider giving students choices in how they interact with their notebooks. For example, you could use stations to give students different options for working with their vocabulary.

Should you include labs in the science notebook?

Yes and no. It’s important to remember that we don’t think of labs in the traditional sense anymore. Instead, we focus on Science and Engineering Practices.

Before you start, choose one of the practices to focus on. If you want students to focus on Planning and Carrying Out Investigations, they might come up with aspects of the procedure. However, if you are focusing on the practice of Analyzing and Interpreting Data, a procedure will likely be given to students.

To learn more about ditching recipe-style labs, check out this post.

Meaning Making and Notebooks

You want students to keep track of their meaning-making. So, you want them to include data they’ve collected, procedures they’ve come up with, and more in their science notebook. However, we don’t need them to include traditional recipe-style lab handouts.

How this structure looks is up to you. For example, if students are focusing on analyzing data, it’s up to you if they need to include the procedure in their notebook. Will including it help them to make sense of their data analysis? Will it help them to remember what they did?

This answer isn’t always the same. Therefore, it’s up to you to determine what is most important to include in the notebook.

How do you grade science notebooks?

Again, this is a decision that is very personal. It’s up to decide what type of grading policy works best for you. In this episode, Nicole and Erin discussed opposite extremes of the grading spectrum. Then, they talked about a middle-of-the-road compromise.

Image of grade report.  Turquoise textbox with white writing that reads "How do you grade science notebooks?"
There are so many ways to grade notebooks. We have a few options below.

Take a look at the three grading options below. Then, choose an option that works best in your classroom.

Option #1: Grading Everything

When Erin started, she admits she graded every single page. She used a 5-point scale for each page and graded the notebook as a class. Then, she’d walk around the room and collect scores. If there was a discrepancy in the score, she’d grab the notebook and grade it herself.

What’s wrong with grading everything?

After perfecting the process, this method didn’t take too much time. However, she wasn’t thrilled with this grading style.

She quickly realized that this grading process was more reflective of students’ organizational abilities. And, it didn’t reflect what students were actually learning.

Option #2: Stop grading notebooks.

From there, Erin eventually decided not to grade students’ notebooks at all. She allowed them to use their notebooks on tests and quizzes but didn’t assign points for the notebook themselves.

The downside of not grading notebook

By not grading notebooks, she was able to focus on intrinsic motivation in her classroom. But, this method doesn’t work for everyone. Some students struggle with completing work when they aren’t getting points for the work. And, some administrators require a certain number of grades to be entered in the grade book each week. So, this makes it difficult to meet that requirement.

Option #3: Something in the middle

Nicole used a rubric to grade her notebooks. She looked at two components. First, she looked at completion. Second, she chose a page that served as a formative assessment. She provided more feedback on this particular page. And, she used this to help her determine how well students understood the content.

This option is time-saving. And, students are given grades that are reflective of both effort and understanding.

Try the SPARK! Subscription for More Notebook Tips

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It helps to provide you with the knowledge, the support, and the curricular resources to reimagine the education experience.

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