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:
- questions raised; questions answered
- procedures followed; materials used
- data collected and organized
- references consulted
- explanations and theories generated
- personal reflections and wonderings
- scientific drawings, tables, charts
- a guide to read and reread
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:
- Legal size, unlined, white copy paper (8 ½ X 14)
- 20 to 25 sheets stapled together horizontally
- Students work from both ends to the middle of their Scientist's Notebook.
- Title "Scientist's Notebook" on the front cover (this is the primary record of ongoing routine observations, data, procedures, etc.).
- Flip over the booklet and write "???? Plans" on the back cover
(questions are central to inquiry.) Although questions will be written throughout the primary record as students work from the front of the notebook, this back part provides a place to record questions whenever they come to mind. This is most likely to occur during discussion times as classmates are sharing their investigations and observations.
- Fold under 1 ½ to 2 inches of the right edge of each page BEFORE making any entries. The Scientist's Notebook is single-draft writing and students need space available to react to their work and make notes or comments right at the place of the reaction, not two or three pages later on a clean page.
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.
- Students need to decide when, in what form, and for what purpose they will record information. Some formats are better suited to recording observations, others work better to collect and analyze data or to communicate findings.
- Providing experience with a variety of representational forms improves a student's ability to select or create a form that serves his purpose.
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
- Students code each entry for the day with a D for something they did; an O for something they observed; a W for something they wondered about. Sometimes the teacher directs students to underline recordings that demonstrate a particular skill which may be the focus of a mini-lesson.
- Draw a line across the page to mark the end of the working records or original entries for the day.
- During the discussion and sharing of the day's investigations, students add anything they want to try out for themselves, something they want to find more about, note a classmate with information or an investigation that may benefit their own investigation.
- Develop a goal or the next step to plan for the next inquiry time.
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
- The science notebook can become the text for a reading group.
- The science notebook can be a tool to analyze a variety of techniques used to answer questions.
- It can be a source to develop a common vocabulary for a science concept.
- Use the notebooks to make connections to other work.
- Develop expanded explanations of findings which can be published and shared with an audience beyond the classroom.
- Compare the student's findings with published materials in 'real' texts.
- Analyze claims and arguments that agree or disagree with student's findings-- critique the basis for these disagreements.
- Compare the student's writing for the classroom community with the scientific articles to see what needs to be included and in what format. Analyze how to present data and findings.
- Explore science controversies. Students take a position on an issue and write as they research to support their opinion. (K-12 SCOPE [Science Controversies: On-Line Partnerships in Education] website has a resource for teachers: http://scope.educ.washington.edu).
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:
- Is the student recording accurate observations?
- Does the student's planning reflect an understanding of the inquiry process?
- Is the student making progress in recording procedures?
- Do the student's reflections indicate an understanding of the scientific concepts being investigated?
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.