Lab Notebooks: the grown up interactive notebook

In the last decade, interactive notebooks have exploded in popularity. I tried them with my students, and I loved them. The majority of my students did not.


  1. I was doing all the work. The students were still just talking notes or doing worksheet style activities. Just in this thing called an “interactive notebook”. The students pointed out that they could accomplish the same thing a lot easier if I gave them worksheets and had them use a binder. Put hey wanted flexibility that interactive notebooks could not give them. The students were right.
  2. They were frustrated by taping/gluing. Even when I trimmed the pages to fit with a paper cutter.
  3. I had an administrator tell me I couldn’t have notebook checks, unless I personally graded all the notebooks (because I couldn’t be sure who was cheating on peer checked notebooks and who wasn’t otherwise). This took me 8 straight hours one day at the end of the semester.

There had to be a better, “realler” way for students to record their lab notes and classwork. I thought back: what would a scientist do?

For one, a lab and classwork are two different endeavors. One is scripted (classwork/worksheet problems), and (in my class) one is not (labs). I now use a dual system – if I give you something printed, it goes in your binder. Otherwise, write it in your lab notebook. (I rarely lecture, so notes go in the lab notebook.) and for those students who love organization, I make a cover page for each unit on colored paper.

Notebooks. Notebooks are quad ruled, bound composition notebooks. The students name and course name/my name is on the front. They must have a number on each page. They must be dated on each page. Each page gets a title. Four pages for table of contents.  They are their own notebooks. Each students work for the day gets recorded in them. Sometimes, I let them use their notebooks for quizzes. And I don’t limit what they can put in them.

Why? Well, I don’t emphasize memorization. I want my students to make useful complete notes and be able to problem solve.  Assessments are hard.  Scientists use their notebooks as an ongoing record of their work – students who think of their notebooks as a record of class participation can use them the same way.

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