One of my goals for the school year was to use an interactive science notebook (ISNs) in class. I had previously attended workshops on science note booking, and thought it would be a great idea to implement in the classroom to help my scholars actively process the content they are learning in class. This decision coincided with administrative changes to our daily lesson plan formats. To encourage more academic rigor, science staff went from the gradual release of responsibility model to the 5E learning cycle model. The first few months of the school year were a challenging time as we learned how to adapt to a new format and try to fully incorporate new strategies in our teaching. Starting an ISN in class for the first time was made even more challenging as I struggled to find classroom examples of ISNs using the 5E format.
A lot of the things I write next are a compilation of thoughts, reflections and experiences I had over the past year experimenting with ISNs in the classroom for the first time. First, to mirror my daily lesson plan and class agenda, I structured the ISN so that it follows the 5E format.
Stages of 5E With Some Examples of Scholar Activities In Their ISNs
Engage – Timed free-writes to writing and photo prompts, introductory video clips, formative assessment probes, KWL charts
Explore – Teacher demos, discrepant events, short 10-15 minute labs, vocabulary strategies, pre-reading activities
Explain – Concept maps, multiple graphic organizers, Cornell notes, recording observations, reading and annotating activities (with text packet)
Elaborate – Longer labs (reserved for 1-2 days), “Stop and Jots”, more diagrams, short-response essays with text-based evidence
Evaluate – Exit tickets, quizzes, unit tests, and performance tasks
Setting Up The Interactive Science Notebook
I sorely underestimated how much time it would take for scholars to set up their ISN! Initially, I planned to introduce and set up the ISN in three days during the first week of class. To encourage ownership and accountability for their notebooks, I had scholars design their covers and first inside page with self-portraits, family portraits, personal goals for the new school year, and their thoughts about science. Scholars were really excited, and naturally took a long time to meticulously decorate their notebooks. They brought in photos, which I had to scan and print out in color (against front office rules, shhh). In retrospect, I should have not waited until the first week of actual teaching to introduce the ISN. I should have used our “pre-season” time to set up the notebook. (Note: At work, we spend two weeks before our first week of teaching to go over school-wide and classroom-specific expectations and routines. This is known as “pre-season” by staff.)
Pros of Using An Interactive Science Notebook
• Saved a lot of wasted paper (no more packets and worksheets, yes!)
• Provided scholars with a place to organize their information and learning experiences
• Allowed me to differentiate my instruction and assessment
• Allowed for both teacher and scholars to show off individual creativity
• Encouraged more academic writing and small-group/whole-group discussions in class
Cons of Using An Interactive Science Notebook
• Super expensive! Providing and restocking supplies throughout the year is a pain in the derriere
• Set up eats up a lot of instructional time (ie. coloring, cutting/gluing, formatting notebook)
• Gets messy and requires time for clean-up before transitions
• Requires consistency; 1) need to use on a daily basis to make it relevant and; 2) teacher’s ISN need to be updated frequently too!
• Needed to find a more efficient and painless way to assess and grade multiple ISNs at once
By February, our lesson plan formats changed again to include more independent scholar work. As a result, the ISN got pushed aside to meet these requirements and other deadlines. Thinking back, the ISN was a perfect vehicle to encourage more reading and writing in class but I honestly wasn’t thinking about that then. There was a lot of stress regarding board visits and prepping for state testing, so I banked the ISN and didn’t think about it again until now during spring break.
Things I Would Do Over With The Interactive Science Notebook Next Time
• Introduce the ISN during pre-season and give a longer time frame for set up
• Fold the Table of Contents page in half to save more space
• Use more color! Scientific writing should also be a piece of personal creative art
• Reserve the ISN as a meaningful place to get scholars’ thinking out; don’t make them write everything down for the sake of it. See Engage/Explain/Elaborate sections for ideas.
• Use Evaluate section separately from the ISN. Provide graded assessments on different printed paper so you don’t have to lug home crates of notebooks over the weekend.
…stretch out the 5E format over several days instead of one whole day. When we were first introduced to the 5E learning cycle model, science staff designed lesson plans that went through the entire cycle in one day. This was because we were used to creating daily lesson plans that were posted on our doors for each day. I think now that we really didn’t see the big picture… learning doesn’t happen neatly that way. Learning doesn’t happen in precise 5 stages in a 70-minute block. It’s meant to be a guide for teachers to help facilitate learning organically.
I think that my experiences with these lesson plan changes this year have shown me that my thoughts on teaching practices have changed a lot. When I was a first-year teacher, I didn’t question these changes. My goal was to survive my first year so I did what I was told. Now as a third-year teacher, I’m more reflective about what I do and I ask more questions about what I am asked to do as a teacher. It is no longer about personal survival in the workplace, but about what I am doing to help ensure positive scholar learning in my classroom. How does the ISN fit in with this? Is squeezing in the entire 5E cycle in a 70-minute block really helping? These are things now that I am constantly reviewing and figuring out how to change in my instruction.
I definitely will try the interactive science notebook again and look forward to how it grows and changes as my own learning grows and changes next year.
Some Helpful Resources on Interactive Science Notebooks