Using the notebook to improve classroom practice.
What is an Interactive Science Notebook (ISN)?
With increasing emphasis on supporting one’s thinking with evidence in science, students must practice communicating their learning effectively. Interactive Science Notebooks (ISN) can aide teachers in helping students reach this goal. ISNs help develop, practice, and refine science understanding while enhancing reading, writing, mathematics, and communication skills.
By personalizing the pages, students internalize activities and communicate their learning as they tackle science questions and problems. As investigations progress, the ISN demonstrates mastery and growth in knowledge and reasoning as they develop and mature. In essence, an ISN is a tool students use to connect prior learning to new learning. Like a field scientist’s journal, the ISN guides students to revise misconceptions and deepen their understanding about the world around them. It effectively provides a canvas where what is inside their brain is laid out, given meaning, applied, and then shared with others.
The Benefits of Using Interactive Science Notebooks
The benefits are three-fold
- It prepares students to collaborate globally. The notebook gives students opportunities to think critically and evaluate observations, claims, and explorations of their peers. Students wrestle with real-world problems – doing what scientists do – thinking independently while collaborating with peers. Their academic language develops as ideas are formed, connections are made, and assessments are mastered based on evidence that is recorded and discussed.
- It increases communication between stakeholders (student, parent, and teacher). Kellie Marcarelli explains that calling the science notebook interactive makes sense. The term emphasizes how the notebook supports the synergy that occurs between the student, teacher, and parent. The ISN provides a space where classroom experiences are collected and organized to enable students to review previous notes when the information is required for future discourse. Since much of its content is first-hand knowledge (data, observations, musings, etc.), the notebook is a valuable resource for supporting arguments. Additionally, parents and teachers may use the notebook to stimulate a discussion to help students in their journey of science understanding, especially if new insights are needed.
- It differentiates instruction to meet the needs of all students. The notebook provides a safe space to develop and reinforce scientific and/or academic language. It can be reviewed at meetings with intervention specialists to provide evidence of a student’s development and can help facilitate future strategies for teaching and learning.
Effective Teaching Practices and the ISN
According to How Students Learn: Science in the Classroom (Donovan & Bransford, 2005) science instruction should a) elicit and discuss students’ prior ideas about science phenomena, b) guide students to deepen their understanding of the world and what it means to ‘do science,’ and c) provide tools for students to take control of their learning. Thoughtful use of the ISN can help meet all three of these recommendations.
The notebook is a personal journal of the students’ learning using pictures, sketches, notes, and data. As they explore science problems, students form their own hypotheses which may or may not agree with those of their group. The ISN becomes the workbench where students explore and develop conclusions. The notebooks provide the nuts and bolts for presentations and evidence for reasoning.
For this to occur, expectations for usage are required.
- The notebook should be out and open every day – during labs, when reading a textbook, during student discourse… always.
- Highlighting, coloring, graphics, and titles and/or headings should be on every page with the students’ work getting progressively more organized.
- The students’ thought processes should be embedded in the work that is being recorded.
- Students should be encouraged to look at previous notes from time to time and make revisions or add new ideas to explore.
The ISN can stimulate the ability to be lifelong learners if students are encouraged to use reflections to generate new ideas, such as a new question or a problem based on the evidence from research and/or investigations.
Middle school students rarely remember to bring a pencil to class, let alone scissors, tape, and the other necessary supplies for notebooking. Look for donors who may be willing to help out during your first year of notebooking. Several teachers provided notebook kits on each desk. A kit is a tub that contains scissors, tape, a hand-held pencil sharpener, a small metal ruler, post-it notes, and colored pencils. One teacher created these kits by applying for a grant! See http://www.donorschoose.org/
- For more information about setting up the notebook please visit: 7th Grade teacher Jill Grace’s blog post, “Taking the Interactive Science Notebook Plunge” http://www.classroomscience.org/taking-the-interactive-science-notebook-plunge. I was particularly intrigued that Jill began with an all or nothing approach — IN ONE CLASS. She illuminates a variety of topics surrounding notebooking, including an interesting table comparing notebook types (spiral vs bound).
- Dinah Zike has designed hands-on manipulatives that are used nationally and internationally by teachers, parents, and educational publishing companies. Ways that her many templates are used are all over the internet. She has graciously offered her book titled, Notebook foldables for spirals, binders, & composition books, on line as a download at http://www.pccpl.ac.th/~sci/document/NOTEBOOKFOLDABLESTEMPLATES.pdf. Don’t hesitate to visit her store for her many other products that are very helpful. http://dinah.mybigcommerce.com/manipulatives/
- The Science Penguin has a blog where she is also offering lots of support. The Science Penguin has many valuable resources for grades 3-6 that are easy to transfer to other grades. Here is her YouTube about Interactive Notebooks – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6PDy3mI8nA and her TPT store account https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/The-Science-Penguin Her store displays the Notebook bundle, but they also are available by the piece. I have viewed many of the TPT Interactive Notebook resources, but hers offers a great variety and seems to go a little beyond most of them when requesting students to display understanding using evidence.