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Scientist's Notebooks

Researchers of any age need to keep track of their activities. They need a place to record their observations and questions; to reflect on their experiences; to record the data from their investigations and from other information sources. Maintaining an organized record is a way to look back, revise, and plan for the next steps.

Teacher Jeanne Reardon has developed one way of helping young scientists keep track of their two most important activities: documenting what they've done and asking questions. She calls this tool a "Scientist's Notebook."

The Scientist's Notebook is a record of inquiry; it is a source of information to be used in discussions, as a reference for writing expanded explanations, informative articles and reports for the community of classroom scientists. The notebook is a record, and a way to record, it is a collection and a way to organize:

This ongoing record becomes part of a narrative-- the student's story of his inquiry with the student himself as the primary audience of these pages of lists, jottings of ideas, numbers, symbols and drawings.

Constructing the Scientist's Notebook

What materials should I use? What should the notebook look like? Do I make them or do the students? Most of these questions are the teacher's choice depending on supplies and student age or capability. However, describing the Scientist's Notebook that Jeanne Reardon uses may help you to visualize this tool:

Using the Scientist's Notebook in a Science Workshop

During exploration time, teachers prompt students to stop every 10-15 minutes to write what they did or noticed; to record their wonderings and note anything that surprised them.

When students are investigating a question, they record as they work-- teachers need to prompt students to note how much or how long; to record their procedures and their findings. This takes a great deal of initial modeling. When you have a student who is recording his investigation, invite the others to see the entries he made.

Students will use drawings, lists, phrases, sentences, charts, even conversation bubbles to record what they are exploring and thinking.

At the end of the inquiry time, the student draws a line across the bottom of his notes. Below this line the student may write a synthesis of his findings and a plan for the next investigation. This may be enriched by ideas from classmates during a discussion time.

Organizing the records

The space available from folding over the edge of the page is used at this time. The teacher may want students to read their entries and code them for observations, procedures used, or documentation of evidence. Another time the teacher may direct students to reread their entries while "thinking like a scientist" and record their thoughts in the open space. Sometimes the students just develop a plan for the next investigation. By having this space available, students think and rethink their investigations.

(One student left a margin on the left and right edge of her scientist notebook. As she reread her notes, she would ask herself questions on the left side. For example "Where did you hold the flashlight?" or "How come the shadow is so long?" Then on the right side, she would answer herself, "I better measure and draw the flashlight." Or "Good question, I need to investigate shadow lengths.")

In science, we want students to adopt a speculative stance. By allowing time after the discussion to enter additional thoughts, questions, plans and ideas in their notebooks, we are encouraging students to recognize the tentative and unfinished nature of scientific knowledge and understandings.

The Scientist's Notebook: Beyond the Science Workshop

Assessment

Science Notebooks can provide invaluable data about students' writing and scientific thinking. If notebooks are arranged chronologically and dated, progress over time can be assessed by looking at entries at various stages in the year.

A checklist may also be helpful to look for evidence of specific skills over time. Some things to look for may include:

Another important part of assessment is self-assessment. The fold-over edge also provides an opportunity for students to reflect on their writing, noting areas that need further explanation and revision. A chronological notebook also allows students to reflect on their writing and thinking over time.

(Excerpted from "Writing: A Way into Thinking Science" by Jeanne Reardon in Saul, W. Science Workshop: Reading, Writing, and Thinking Like a Scientist. Heinemann, 2002)





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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 9912078. 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.