PD: Exploring Science Notebooking

A science journal from Kindergarten teacher, Adrienne Levesque’s classroom

For our final professional development day of the year the Science Curriculum Council explored an NSTA article from the November 2011 issue of Science & Children titled, “T’was the Start of Science Notebooking.” With so many of the NGSS science practices rooted in reading, writing, and communication, Wendy Pavlicek and I were curious to know our teachers attitudes towards science writing, how students were writing in science, and what they were writing about.

Kindergarten life cycle journals with checklists and age appropriate writing spaces.

So after reading Leffler and Crauder’s “T’was the Start of Science Notebooking” poem we let our teachers chew on the meat of the article using a structured text conversation protocol from the National School Reform Faculty called the “Four A’s,” where teachers jotted notes about what they agreed with in the text, what they would argue against, what assumptions were held by the text authors’, and finally what the text led them to aspire towards.

Fourth grade tulip dissection data recording table.
Distinctly different from the Kindergarten plant parts diagram!

Council members agreed that a science notebook used consistently in the classroom would “foster creativity by allowing students to use different strategies to share and access information and, bringing them to learn from one another in the process. Many also liked the idea of using the notebook as an alternative assessment tool to tests and one-off writing prompts.

“What do we know about frogs?” facts and questions digital table

The reception towards the authors’ assertion that spelling and grammar should not be assessed in a science notebook was cooler, with a number of teachers insisting that such skills be paid attention to, particularly in a day in age when ELA and Science are expected to be better integrated. When pushed to explore this argument further, many teachers admitted that they only fully paid attention to grammar and spelling in the summative science assessments, and that generally they were most interested in having students, “get their ideas on the paper” so they could more critically assess students understanding of the scientific concept being explored at that moment. It is my personal opinion that this reasoning supports science notebooks as formative assessments for science, where information in the notebook might later be used or transcribed to a more formal communication with increased attention to ELA learning goals in spelling, syntax, and punctuation.

First grade animal parts diagram
Table of contents with blanks for numbers to be completed as the journal develops.

After the small group conversations around the four “A”s were completed, a science journal share-a-thon was put on to exhibit some of the ways teachers presently use science notebooks in Burlington. The notebooks gave teachers an opportunity to echo some of the notebooking goals they aspired to, such as a consistent layout that supported multiple purposes, and scaffolded notebook page designs that met students at their levels (for example, a pre drawn flower diagram for kindergarteners where they could either write or cut-out vocabulary such as “stem, flower, and roots” beside each part in the diagram.) Some teachers shared further aspirations to share their writing across grade levels and desires to include more digital work in their communication of science information.

Second grade journal, “Things Birds Do” with text and diagrams.

As a “ticket to leave” teachers were asked to complete a brief Socrative quiz (Sharing number SOC-3418522) that provided Wendy and I some valuable information about the state of science writing in Burlington. We learned that, by and large, K-2 teachers are using science notebooks (either created by themselves or purchased blank) while all of the grade 3-5 teachers use worksheets either self-generated or created by the Science Center, with only one teacher organizing their work into a “science binder.” Teachers also shared that science writing was mostly done to “record observations, data, claims, and evidence.” With plenty of writing to be done around asking questions, student reflections, analyzing data collected, and constructing explanations or engineering solutions to design problems, the data suggested that more guidance, exemplars of student writing, and professional development need to be done around these science writing opportunities before science writing and notebooking takes off in our district.

Our district’s 1:1 initiative creates great opportunities for truly dynamic science notebooking with photograph annotation, audio recordings, and media integration that I genuinely hope to explore with teachers further in future professional development. As we develop curriculum for our science standards we will be thinking more about science notebooking (either paper or digital) to be a more significant assessment tool, but will continue to be mindful of the need for us as specialist to provide guidance towards how teachers may address all eight scientific practices through their students science journals.

Advertisements

About MrMusselman

K-5 Science Specialist for the Burlington Public Schools of Burlington, MA.
This entry was posted in Professional Development. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s