Sunday, November 30, 2008

Why Start Notebooking?

There are many reasons to start notebooking.

- It becomes a permanent record of student work
- It acts as a portfolio
- Creates an active learning environment (where students have to interact with the information) as opposed to a passive learning environment (where students simply receive the information)
- Organizes material and thinking
- Allows students to express their creativity
- Creates multiple opportunites for students to process information
- Personalizes the learning experience
- Teaches organization and structure
- Creates opportunities for students to improve reading and writing skills across the curriculum
- Encourages students to express their understanding of concepts being taught
- It is easy to glance at a student notebook and know what they are missing
- Encourages children to take pride in their work
- Parent conferences are much smoother when you can show them all their child's work in one location. If you have a child who is not keeping up with their notebook you can easily show a parent how the book should look as opposed to how it actually looks.
- Encourages teachers to think about how students can engage with the material daily.

I notebook for all the reasons listed above, however not every student is going to embrace notebooking. When I taught in the middle school I had students who took a lot of pride in their work and I had students that clearly did not. It is the same in elementary school (although, I have observed, that reaction normally is a reflection of their interest in creativity then just general apathy toward education).

I feel that the benefits of notebooking outweigh the negatives of notebooking (time consuming to get started in your first year, finding an assessment tool that works for you). I encourage anyone interested in notebooking to try it. It does not have to start on the first day of school.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Notebook Type

Why use composition books over spiral notebooks or three ring binders? It is actually a personal preference, I will list the pros and cons of each below. This happens in my scrapbooking world too where one scrapbooker favors one book or another (I am partial to the three ring binder albums where my friends are partial to the post bound books).

I use the composition books because that is what they used in my first school and the reasons were sound based on my experiences with the other books (in one conference I went to a teacher called them the "moo cow" books because of their traditional black and white marble look). I wouldn't mind trying the spiral notebook one year but for right now I am sticking with what I know works for me.

Here are the pros and cons of each:

Three Ring Binder

- Easy to purchase
- Comes in a variety of sizes and colors
- Do not have to shrink items to fit
- A simple purchase of a whole puncher will allow anything to fit.
- Can purchase dividers for each unit of study
- Don't have to mess with glue

- Papers get torn out easily and then "lost"
- Too traditional, not different enough to stand out
- Bulky and awkward to carry around (particularly with all the other books students carry)
- Lends itself to a too much text/writing scenarios where teachers print out pages of information which leaves less room for creativity.

Spiral Notebook

- Easy to purchase
- Comes in a variety of colors and often sizes
- Don't have to shrink items to fit or format pages differently when typing
- Students are familiar with them

- Spiral often comes undone and winds up poke at you or becoming distracting
- Pages tear out easily
- Students often get varied versions (instead of one set uniform version that you ask for)
- Have to glue items in

Composition Books

- Small and easy to carry
- Pages are bound so they don't rip or tear out easily
- Smaller pages make writing less overwhelming when assigned
- All composition books are fairly standardized as to page length
- Different enough to stand out as being something special
- Easy to keep through the years as opposed to a bulky plastic three ring binder.

- Have to shrink items to fit smaller pages (that is a pretty big deal for some people but having done it so often it is not that hard to program yourself to do)
- Have to glue items in

My Story

I had never heard of science notebooking until I started working at Lady's Island Middle School (6th grade science). I was hired and the teacher I was replacing was moving up to another grade level. She gave me a copy of one of her student notebooks and related papers and said that they notebook in science. This was my first year teaching middle school science and I thought better to stick with something you had copies of then reinvent the wheel.

Unfortunately the sample notebook I received was bland (very black and white with little student work or color), again I was just starting and went with what I had. By sheer luck I was placed on a team with a Humanities teacher who has been notebooking for years, who was able to walk me through the notebooking process and share several of her notebooks from years past. Her notebooks had lots of color and more student work and interaction then my sample and I was able to see what students were capable of. I didn't truly tap into that until January of that first year and you can easily see the progression from where I started (in book 1) to where I ended (in book 2). Another bonus of being teamed with such an awesome teacher was that she was training the students in her classroom on how to use the notebook so that when they came to me for my class period they already knew how to create a visual vocabulary layout, make a title page, etc. I can not tell you how invaluable that was! I am now in the elementary school setting and I am the one teaching the students from scratch and it was slow going to begin with (frustrating to the point of wanting to give up...but I'm glad I didn't).

The whole concept of notebooking appealed to my creative scrapbooking side. I loved the idea of having all the student work in one interactive book and using a variety of different mediums to teach and reinforce science concepts, from foldables to storyboards.

Apparently notebooking had been around since the 90's but somehow missed me in grad school. I looked up books, articles, webpages, and went to conferences and attended workshops to find a recipe book for starting and maintaining a good science notebook. I found several in each category but again was struck with how bland and unappealing they were. I found myself relying more on my team teachers experiences and samples, and what I wanted to accomplish, then all the other information I was finding.

During my December break that first year with notebooking, I really dissected what I wanted to do going forward and started fresh when the students came back in January. The difference was night and day in the quality of work and finished product. Still it was my first year and I listened intently to my team teacher saying how it is a growing and evolving process...she recently introduced Cornell notetaking into her notebooks this year and is working through what works and what doesn't with that. I am introducing notebooking in the elementary school for the first time, so I too am working through what works and what doesn't in that setting. I expect that to be ongoing until the day I leave teaching.

I shared my middle school notebooks with several friends who are now attempting their own versions in several schools in both social studies and science. We share back and forth and they are experiencing problems that they are working through, just as I am. I have shared my books with a few teachers in my school but hesitate to "push" them on anyone because this is my first year using them in an elementary school setting and I think I might be able to "sell" the concept better if I had finished versions to show. I also feel that teachers need to decide for themselves if it is something they would like to do, rather then have it thrust upon them by administration. Teachers who want to do it rather then are forced to do it take more pride in what their students are accomplishing using the notebooks.

Monday, November 17, 2008


I have been frequently asked about my science notebooks and thought the best way to communicate would be to start a blog addressing notebooking questions, post pictures of student work, and highlight the successes (higher test scores) and pitfalls (grading!) of notebooking.

I have done notebooking in both the middle school (6th grade science) and elementary school (4th grade science). I have spoken to science coordinators within school and showcased some of my student work at conventions. Schools I have left requested copies of the notebooks and material I used in them. The reaction is generally mixed, from those who are dying to try to those who like their current system.

I love science notebooking but understand not everyone is going to be as enthusasic as I am. If something else is working for you (three ring binders) you might take some of these ideas and incorporate them in to your binder system making them more interactive.

I hope to generate a useful discussion about notebooking in general. Please feel free to post!

Eve Heaton