This year, I have been doing everything with modified “interactive” science notebooks for my biology and physics classes. Everything. I even keep one myself that helps me plan, sketch things out, and use as an example. Its also handy when students complain about tedious tasks, like numbering all the pages.
“You can do it! I’ve done it twice!”
As I posted earlier, I’ve been using Teaching Science with Interactive Notebooks by Kelli Marcarelli. This is a great book and I recommend it highly, even at full price. Kelli gives all the information you need to put together a comprehensive course using interactive notebooks (rather than say, binders or a file cabinet full of folders).
Anyway, I wanted to share with you what I’ve learned.
1. Do your notebooks in a way that makes sense to you.
It makes just about zero sense to me to have the input page on the right and the output page on the left. None. When we do the “input/output” pairs in my class, my input (usually notes) goes on the left, student work reflecting on that information goes on the right. I get that this works for some people and for some students, but no scientist that I’ve ever met does anything except keep notes and data in chronological order. We always move chronologically and no skipping around on pages.
2. Keep a notebook yourself.
Keep a notebook yourself. Not only is it a fun scrapbook of what you’ve learned, but you can use it as an example of what students should be doing. The only thing that’s a bummer is that if you put answers in it, students will just copy your notebook. Mine is a good example for layout and the contents for each page, but I’d get a pretty low score on a notebook check because its incomplete and doesn’t have any of the answers or extended response writing that I require of my students.
3. My students really like notes.
Who knew? I had been giving notes on a white board, because I thought that modeling note writing would be good for them. They hated it. I gave my students a short feedback sheet and asked how the class could be better – and they asked for more notes not on the whiteboard. The other teachers are now stopping by and mentioning that my students are happy to have notes for their notebooks. (I feel that students doing this seems a little weird, but whatever.) One commented the students were happy because they have seen the changes I made to the class after their feedback and they feel like I’m listening to them. (Little happy dance!)
4. You really do have to show students what to do with an output page.
This is the odd thing about these interactive notebooks – just like learning inquiry, students have to be taught how to produce “output” that is “reflective” on whatever you focused on in class. For now, I have been giving them figures to put in, or tiny pictures they can use to make a concept map, or I use my document projector and model how I reflect on the material. This is the one you have to set them up to be successful on, or they freak out and hate the notebooks.
5. Interactive notebooks might be an “all or nothing” thing.
I’m not sure on this idea yet, but students love that they have JUST ONE NOTEBOOK in my class. In fact, I provide them with tape and scissors so that everything is physically attached (we have a shake test – stuff falls out, and your notebook doesn’t pass the shake test!) Many have commented that they don’t like having an interactive notebook that they use “just sometimes” in their other classes. Then they have to keep track of their regular binder, their textbook (I requested a classroom set of texts so students don’t need to bring them), and their interactive notebook.
6. It would have been a good idea to specify how many pages should be in their composition book.
My students purchased their own composition books. Some students have books with 100 sheets (like me!), giving us 200 pages to work with (Friday, the end of the second week of the second quarter, we were on page 93). Some students have books with 70 sheets, they are getting close to that 140th page. The simplest solution is to get another book and just continue page numbering. I haven’t decided if we’re going to tape the books together or not at that point.
So, how do I plan with this thing?
Firstly, I do everything my students do, and on the same pages that they will. (Now, my physics students do practice problems and we’re off, but it doesn’t bother me with them. They are ok with the instruction “go to the next page in your notebook”, I think because they just have more experience. Part of what I’m doing in Biology is teaching them how to mature as students and stay organized, and chaos ensues when they start straying from the order. And there’s NO REASON they need more space than I use. Period.)
I’m very fond of my page that I made when we did systematics and classification. Every student got a page with pictures of insects, and had to sort them. I sorted mine by morphology (one pair or wings, two pairs of wings, “bugs”, “arachnids”, “many legs”) – I tried to do it like they might. I also might have looked up all their classification details and made a table, but hey, that’s what interactive notebooks are all about! Going a little further. (They are on post it notes so I can take them off the page and move them around.) Make sure you do it yourself either before or with your first class (my first biology section is only just more than a dozen students, so sometimes I work on my notebook alongside them) so that you know what it will look like, and students who are more visual can understand what you want them to do.
I also did a cool food web page, and I only knew I needed two pages for this because I tried doing it first. Students were first given notes on foodwebs then a handout with all the pictures of animals on them. Each picture has a description beneath it that says what the animal eats and what eats it. Students were directed to arrange them on the two pages with arrows going from the food to the predator, and some struggled with that. However, we kept talking about them and I’m confident almost every kid understood food webs and trophic levels by the time we were done, because they’d struggled with sorting out a food web rather than just looking at a figure.
Lastly, here is an example of my lecture plans alongside the page students produced. When talking about the idea of an ecosystem being made of parts that work together to complete a bigger picture, we read the Lorax aloud and then made a concept map showing how the characters (and sometimes things) in the story interacted with one another. I put the main ideas I wanted to cover and how I wanted to cover them on post-it notes, which allowed me to best arrange my presentation of these ideas without stressing about how my notebook looked (also, I was still lecturing “chalk talk” style here – which many students didn’t like and I’ve abandoned in favor of powerpoint for now).
Students were given the pictures in the concept map and asked to arrange them then write what the interactions between the characters was in the story (they were read the story and also given the text as a handout – yay for Common Core wanting more text in science). It was difficult to get them to complete this, even though I really liked doing it myself. I suspect students didn’t want to read the story, or they froze up about where to put the pictures on the page and ran out of time – this one will definitely need revision next year.
Wanna see my notebook?
Here’s my biology notebook for the first quarter, “Ecology”. I am not showing some of the front matter because it comes almost verbatim from Ms. Marcarelli’s fine book. (Head’s up: this looks fine on a PC but doesn’t come through correctly on my iPad.)
The Sacred Profession goes into great detail about using the interactive notebook in her high school history class. (HERE) (If you get stuck on her blog, I won’t be offended. Go. Have fun.)