Thinking Visibly

Organizing the Interactive Science Notebook (ISN)

Using the notebook to improve classroom practice.

Key Components of the Interactive Science Notebook

After considerable research, it is clear that teachers have found numerous ways to make the notebook their own in order to have a resource that will meet curricular standards and provide a valuable student learning tool. This blog will present some common components that greatly enhance the Interactive Science Notebook’s (ISN) classroom effectiveness.

  • Rubric – All ISNs have a rubric either inside the front cover or close to the front of the notebook. This is a powerful resource for students and parents since the expectations are clearly written. Some teachers have been known to ask the parent to “grade” one or two assignments in the notebook in order to encourage familiarity with the rubric and the notebooking process. Here are links to an excellent pair of ISN rubrics that you may wish to use or customize.
  • Cover Page – This page is handled in many ways, but the majority of teachers use the cover page to personalize the notebook. On the front cover students often introduce themselves as scientists with images and drawings arranged around their name, grade, and class. This sets the tone of the notebook as a unique personalized journal of the students’ learning. Each unit likewise begins with edge-to-edge colorful pictures or drawings that relate to the topic of study in a personal manner.
  • Table of Contents – The Table of Contents (TOC) can be handled in several ways. The teacher can create a lined chart that students tape into the front pages of the notebook. Teachers may elect to have students leave three or four pages empty to allow space for students to create a personal facsimile. One teacher did a beautiful job on her personal TOC (see example below). Because the TOC is so important, I prefer to have students use a handout that is prepared in advance.
TOC teacher drawing








Here are a few ideas and links:

There are several different ways the TOC can be organized. Here are a couple:

  •  Structure of the Notebook – The notebook should be created so that class notes, discussions, lab reports, reflections, and lab activities do not extend beyond the covers of the notebook. To present a great deal of content within the confines of the page foldable graphic organizers, taped extensions which are folded into the page, and other organizational devices are used. It is also helpful to provide an envelope which students attach to the inside back cover for storing worksheets or game pieces for labs or activities currently in process.
  • Page Set Up – The INS uses a unique pagination system.

    SET UP: Classroom Input (on right) and creative Output (on left)

    Each set of facing pages is considered one unit. The right-hand page captures input. It’s left-hand companion is for reflections and making connections  (see image on right). This set up is based on brain-based research and effective teaching strategies as outlined by Eric Jensen and Renate and Geoffrey Caine.

  • Aha Connection – The Aha Connection page goes by a variety of names… it begins with a “Trigger” assignment that stimulates student generated questions which are synthesized into a single Big Idea or Problem that is recorded. Students add to this page throughout the unit as “lines of evidence” are developed through classroom activities and are recorded as a record of student learning and connections to previous knowledge. This becomes a very colorful and busy page with its many boxes, colors, and post-it notes record of student growth and understanding about the topic (problem).
  • Self- Reflections and the Thesis – An important part of the notebook are the reflections and unit essay theses. These synthesize students’ work and are graded using a rubric which combines science criteria for academic vocabulary and content understanding as well as expectations taken from the essay writing expectations in the language arts common core.


Think like a scientist… Record like a scientist… and Reflect like a scientist



Links for a variety of foldables and other ideas for keeping your notebook organized

Possible Rubrics

The Interactive Science Notebook


ISN logo


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.

Notebk Verb

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


  • For more information about setting up the notebook please visit:       7th Grade teacher Jill Grace’s blog post, “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 Don’t hesitate to visit her store for her many other products that are very helpful.
  • 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 – and her TPT store account 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.

 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.

iPod Touch, part 2

iPod touch

The iPod Touch - a computer in the palm of your hand.

Miss part 1? click here…

Using the iPod Touch is not without its vices however. Banister (2010) suggests that one of the vices for integrating the iPod Touch is that “classroom management techniques for keeping students on task and using the applications that are deemed supportive of their learning, rather than a distraction, will have to be developed and practiced.”  This is true for ALL technology and discovery learning devices; once the excitement of a new tool wears off, then students want to explore and find out its limitations. In science that is part of the learning process. However, master teachers who are adept at managing their classroom will find that this is not really different from any other tool, and the benefits of using this powerful tool outweigh the challenges that arise.

With the Banister (2010) warning in mind however, let’s consider some techniques that teachers can use to keep their young scholars on task and engaged.

1)    Plan carefully and be organized. If you have planned an engaging lesson and know the value that the iPod Touch adds to the project, then the students are more likely to appreciate and reap the benefits from its use.

iPod touch charging dock

A charging dock can recharge multiple iPods from a single outlet.

2)    Be sure that the devices are all working before class.  Are they fully charged? Do they turn on? Are the cameras, internet connections, and apps all working?

3)    Technology is exciting yet it can be exasperating if you don’t know what to do. When the device is passed out, make sure that the students know how to use the tool or apps that are part of the project.  You may want to model and have the students practice before they begin the project.

4)    Ensure the students know what their task is and how the tool is to be used. Be explicit about your expectations – and what you do NOT want.  Document the information you want the students to collect. If you have specific photographs or content that you want the students to look for, be sure to review what these expectations are before the students begin.

Classroom technology

Insure that classroom technology use is appropriate.

5)    Monitor the students as they are working through the project. You will have to walk around and see what they are looking at on their screens. Part of this process, also, is to keep the class moving. Do not allow extra time for the students to explore if you don’t want them to. Pacing an activity appropriately takes practice.

6)    Keep your eyes and ears open for questions, concerns, or problems. When scholars get stumped, they find time to get distracted and the iPod Touch has many opportunities for exploration in that vein if the teacher is not watching.

Miss part 1? click here…


Image Credits

iPod Touch image by Torley  (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Charging dock image by  Colin Harris  (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Classroom technology image by Jeremy Wilburn (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).


iPod Touch – a great tool! Part 1

Twenty-first century classroom experiences are considerably different from the classroom that I experienced growing up. As I meet with teachers and students, it is not uncommon to discover that Web 1.0 and 2.0 technologies are being utilized routinely… many students are participating in webquests, sharing ideas in blogs, and presenting their projects in Prezis and PowerPoints. With its endorsement of STEM education, the Obama administration has created a venue for many districts to receive funds of support because many state and national organizations are setting aside funds to enable districts to provide classroom teachers access to technology such as interactive whiteboards (Smartboards), mobile laptop stations, class sets of mobile iPod Touches and iPads.  As digital media is being embraced in classrooms, teachers are discovering that they no longer have to wait in line for the computer lab, nor do they have to sign out the overhead projector from the library. Rather, the exciting dilemma is slowly becoming – I have access to this powerful tool for teaching and learning, how can I leverage it so it will be a valuable and effective tool that is embedded in a constructivist lesson? Research is beginning to be more abundant when teachers are looking for ways to effectively utilize these tools. Banister (2010) has provided a great springboard of ideas for using the iPod Touch in k12 education. Let me briefly describe a few of her suggestions.

  • Classroom media: Photos, Music, Movies, YouTube (TeacherTube)   The iPod Touch offers opportunities to capture field trip experiences with its camera, access resources when they are needed (“just-in-time”) using pre-programmed data, as well as utilize podcasts, audio books, or video clips if there is wireless internet.
  • Multiple Application Tools: Notes, Clock, Calculator, Maps    The iPod

    iPod touch - a computer in the palm of your hand.

    There are dozens of useful apps to support classroom learning.

    Touch features applications that can be added to the “digital toolkit” that make it possible to carry a single device rather than several. Students can take notes using the Notes App, do quick calculations using the Calculator App, set the timer when practicing their presentation or doing drills using the Clock App, or zoom into locations all over the world to view buildings, street layouts, traffic patterns, and more with the Maps App.  Once teachers get used to using this device and it plethora of pre-made educational Apps, they, too, will be asking, “Is there an App for that?”

  • The Internet in your pocket!   The Safari browser App expands the use of the iPod Touch for classroom purposes. With wireless connection, teachers and students have access to most web content, although some media files with flash may not be available. Students even have the potential to have multiple pages open on their device.  A benefit to research on the iPod Touch is that students cannot simply cut and paste into a Word doc. Additionally, it is possible, that due to space constraints, students may find it easier to paraphrase and consolidate the information on the iPod Touch into their own words.

Click here for part 2…

 Image Credit

iPod touch image adapted from photo by Steve Rhodes (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).


Blogging in School

Blogging Notes

Using blogs to integrate technology in the classroom

Welcome to the world of blogging!  A blog is a platform where you may jump up on your soap box and say what you want or use it to record your knowledge and understanding of a topic. Is this a valuable Web 2.0 tool for the classroom?  As Sarah Palin may say, “You betcha!”  Using a blog is like journaling, only once you have written your piece, you allow peers to read, reflect, and comment on one anothers’ work.  Teachers are using Internet technology creatively and putting the blog to work in the classroom. An education blog can be a powerful and effective tool for students and teachers alike.

Educational Benefits of Blogs
In addition to providing teachers with an excellent tool for communicating with students, there are numerous educational benefits of blogs. Blogs are:

  • Blogging is a confidence builder. Students are very proud to have their work featured on the internet. The students will be thrilled to have their work posted and read by all.
  • Blogging is cross curricular. It offers students an opportunity for authentic reading and writing. Because it is dynamic, it provides students with an opportunity to develop their geography skills as they place the commenters to their posts. Additionally, the comments can be counted, graphed and worked into word problems (how many more posts came from Ohio than from all other states?)  It also offers opportunities to teach students about digital citizenship.
  • Students can grow and learn as they develop effective forums for collaboration and discussion. The writing is authentic because the students are writing about what they want. Even if I give them prompts to write about, they know teachers and other students will be reading them – not just me. When they realize they have an audience waiting to read what they have to write, it is motivating.
  • It allows the students to “toot their own horn” if they wish. It builds their confidence when other teachers and administrators chime in and make comments of their own!
  • Exposure to technology that students might not otherwise receive, especially if they do not have computers at home. Blogging in the classroom is a novelty that is fresh.
  • It provides students with experiences can be a time to collaborate. Often classroom teachers do not have computers for everyone. When this occurs, students must take turns, converse, help each other spell, share the computer, and problem solve.
  • When students blog on a regular basis, the teacher can see their daily/weekly progress. Often times, teachers use early blogs as a baseline for growth. When students are writing their blogs on their own, they can get quite a sense of accomplishment as they review their early work.


Image Credit

Blogging image by Andy Piper  (CC BY-ND 2.0).


Notebooking on the Cloud

LiveBinder has moved notebooking a long ways from mere pen and paper

LiveBinder has moved notebooking a long ways from mere pen and paper

I have come across a wonderful online notebook resource that is amazing! not only allows you to create a binder that is useful for storing information, but it is very easy to add more later simply by adding a LiveBinder It tab. I use LiveBinder all the time now to store information and links that I can use later for writing curriculum modules. It is simply FAB!!

Image Credit

Sketching image by Nathanael Boehm (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Cloud Technology

Cloud computing is a world of applications

Cloud computing is a world of applications

The value of cloud technologies have become too great to ignore. Basically, there are three broad categories of cloud technologies: cloud software as a service (SaaS) or application computing, cloud platforms as a service or storage, and cloud infrastructure or networks as a service.

•‍Software as a Service (SaaS) includes on-line programs that can be used to create or modify products. Examples of popular virtual software include Google Aps and Adobe Connect.
•‍Platform as a Service (PaaS) includes spaces where documents can be held to be accessed at will. Examples of popular storage sites include Huddle, Wikispaces, and Dropbox.
•Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) has been extremely valuable for businesses and non-profits (such as schools) that operate with limited resources. Cloud infrastructure as a service makes it possible for university professors to have access to a supercomputer that can crunch megafiles worth of data without bogging down their own system. It also allows multiple stations to be connected to expensive email, software, collaboration and share tools at a reduced rate. Another benefit to a cloud-based infrastructure is that you only pay to support the stations that you need.


Image Credit

Cloud image by Gary Hayes (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Inquiry-based teaching

Over the past couple of years I have been researching inquiry-based teaching in education. Inquiry-based experiences are multi-faceted activities that involve making observations, posing questions, researching literature, planning investigations, interpreting data, and supporting results. Inquiry requires students to identify assumptions, think critically, and consider alternative solutions – hallmarks of scientific reasoning. Hodson (2009) proposes that inquiry-based teaching strategies focus on preparing students to “think like a scientist” (p. 271) by asking questions, challenging claims, and expressing viewpoints.”

Hodson, D. (2009). Teaching and learning about science. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publications.

Inquiry Questions

I am currently enrolled in a course where we are looking at course design and syllabi.  There is so much to consider when putting a course together for academia.  I understand the need for having students do more of the work than I do, but even the way that we look at designing the work is significant as we plan.  I read a very good article by Elizabeth Davis  and Marcia Linn.  In this article they determined that inquiry has three kinds of questions that we should focus on to guide our students into deep, meaningful learning:

1.  CRITIQUE questions that develop a critical eye when using and evaluating evidence

2. DEBATE questions use theory comparison projects to help students see multiple sides may exist to the argument

3. DESIGN questions that aid in the design of a project and encourage students to integrate their knowledge of the content.

I am going to make sure that the questions I have in the future focus on these kinds of questions.  I believe it will make my lesson writing much stronger.  Thank you Elizabeth and Marcia!!

Davis, E.A. & Linn, M.C. (2000).  Scaffolding students’ knowledge integration:  Prompts for reflection in KIE.  International Journal of Science Education, 22(8), 819-837.  doi: 10.1080/095006900412293