Notebooking Archives - Eva Varga

June 7, 20184

Aquatic sciences include the study of wetlands, freshwater and marine aquatic systems, and their boundaries. Though we had a particularly dry winter, March has brought the rains – Yippee!  We took advantage of the blue skies one morning to do a little aquatic science of our own and explore the vernal ponds.

Vernal ponds or ephemeral pools, are temporary pools of water that provide habitat for distinctive plants and animals. They are considered to be a distinctive type of wetland usually devoid of fish, which thereby allow the safe development of juvenile amphibian and insect species.

pond studies

Pond Studies – Let’s Get Wet

The kids were very excited to explore this ecosystem.  Upon arrival, they dropped their journals and immediately waded into the water in search of critters.  The dominant organism observed was without a doubt the tadpole.  All the kids exclaimed that they wanted to bring home a few tadpoles and fortunately I brought along containers for each family.

The kids enjoyed the freedom to explore for about an hour.  We then gathered our collection tubs together to take a closer look at what we found.  I had hand lenses and a microscope on hand for those who wanted to observe the critters in more detail.  I loved that my kiddos pulled out their journals and began to illustrate what most interested them.

In addition to the tadpoles, we also observed several aquatic insects:  backswimmer larvae, mosquito larvae, water striders, and water boatman. We are looking forward to observing our catch more closely at home when there are fewer distractions.  Setting up an aquarium at home provides us with the opportunity to observe the critters more closely and thereby further our pond studies at home.

Looking for aquatic critters has always been one of our favorite activities when the weather warms.  Take a peak at one of our earlier excursions, Aquatic Critters: Summer Nature Study, and download a free dichotomous key to aquatic insects.

pond study printablesTake it Further – Inquiry Science

Upon visiting a pond, collect critter samples to bring home for an aquarium for closer observations over time. Use pond water to fill your aquarium, not tap water, because it contains the microorganisms plankton eat.  Any tap water added to account for evaporation should be first left uncovered overnight to allow the chlorine to vaporize.

I’ve created a free printable you may wish to use to record your observations: Download the Pond Studies Printable here.

** Remember that backswimmers and giant water bugs bite with a stinging effect and large dragonfly nymphs may also bite.

How would you set up an experiment to answer these experimental questions? Make a list of needed materials and write down a hypothesis before you begin.

  • If given a choice between open water and water filled with submerged plants, which animals choose the open water?
  • Do more prey survive when plants are present?
  • Will predators eat less of one particular type of prey if other prey are present as well?
  • Do pond animals have any preference between light and dark?
  • Does darkness affect the ability of the predators to catch the prey?
  • Where will algae and snails survive best, in the dark or in the light?

More Outdoor Learning Ideas

Ecology Explorations Curriculum For more ideas for ecology studies, Ecology Explorations is a wonderful collection of hands-on lessons and inquiry projects designed with the middle school student in mind.

Though it is a 10-week unit, you can pick and choose activities to according to interest or to tie into another curriculum study.

While exploring the pond, the kids will undoubtedly enjoy the squishing mud between their fingers and toes – I know I do! Combine playing in mud, and nature study with another hands-on science activity – making seed bombs with this tutorial from Dachelle.

Looking for more outdoor learning activities to inspire your children this season? Check out Rachel’s compilation of 24 Outdoor Learning Ideas.

September 21, 20151

These past couple of weeks, I have been talking about using journals with middle school students. Last week, I focused on the details of What Are Interactive Science Notebooks? Today, I discuss how to get started in using Interactive Science Notebooks.

Getting Started with Interactive Science Notebooks @EvaVarga.netGetting Started

The notebook I prefer to use with my students (in STEM Club or previously in the public classroom) is a bound 200-page composition journal. In the elementary grades, we utilized one for each science discipline – earth science, physical science, and life science. Now that they are older and we cover more material, we use one for each unit of study – chemistry, astronomy, genetics, etc.

The composition style notebook is small enough to fit in the pocket of a three-ring binder, and is therefore less likely to be lost or misplaced. More so, it remains essentially intact, whereas spiral-bound notebooks typically become inaccessible once the spirals are crushed.


  • A roll of clear tape
  • White school glue (optional – I find glue can make the pages stick together)
  • A set of Staedtler Triplus Fineliner Pens and/or colored pencils

Tip :: In a large classroom setting, I would suggest using colored or patterned duct tape on the spine to more easily distinguish between class periods or students.

When setting up the notebook, students are required to label and date each page based on the assignment or lesson. Handouts can be cut and taped to pages, or taped so they flip open. The first page of the notebook is skipped and is used as a table of contents. You can either create a printable for the students to adhere to this page at the end of the school year or add it gradually as the year progresses.

Tip :: If using composition style notebooks, you’ll want to reduce the size of the handouts you provide so they fit the smaller format. I like to print two per 8.5×11″ page.

Those in a classroom setting may also wish to use a scoring guide or rubric. This can be adhered to the inside cover of the notebook for quick and easy reference for both the student and teacher. The rubric is used for assessments throughout the year, and each point is assessed with a different color marker to show trends in performance from one notebook check to another.

Tip :: Keep your own journal with the template already put into it as a model. Give them a specific amount of time to get the printable glued into their notebook and then begin the lesson. Set a timer and don’t wait for stragglers.

Setting Up the Notebooks

In the first few pages of the notebook I like to include the following items:

  • Table of Contents
  • About Me (the student)
  • Formula Chart and Periodic Table of Elements
  • Signed Classroom or Lab Safety Contract (optional)
  • Vocabulary Index

A Table of Contents will help assure that your students are on the same page as you are in the journal.  This also makes it much easier to use as a reference tool and can set a benchmark of what a great journal should look like.  If you choose to do a table of contents, I suggest numbering all of the pages when setting up your journals.

The About Me page is really just an information page about the student.  You can be as specific or broad as you want to on this page.  Use it as a getting to know you activity at the beginning of the school year and ask that students share their thoughts about science.

What area of science most (or least) interests you? What unique experiences in science or travel would you like to share about yourself? What are your strengths/weaknesses?

Depending upon your state, students are often given a Formula Chart and Periodic Table for their state test.  It is important that they are familiar with these tools.  By including them at the front of the journal they can be referenced very easily.

While not necessarily applicable in a homeschool setting, a Lab Safety Contract is also a great document to have in the journal.  If there is ever an issue that needs to be addressed you can easily point to the signed document to put the ownership back on the student for their behavior.

Lastly, I would suggest using 5-6 pages an index of all the vocabulary words for the course.  This is a great reference tool for students throughout the year.

Tip :: Provide the list of vocabulary at the beginning of the year when setting up the notebooks so that the words are in alphabetical order. Students can then add the definitions as the words are introduced throughout the course of the year.

plant kingdom foldableWhere Do I Find Interactive Printables?

There are many resources online where you can purchase notebooking printables. You will find many are even available for free!

I have created and shared many with you previously. Here are just a few:

You can find these and many more indexed on my Freebies & Printables page. Others are available For Subscribers Only – so be sure to subscribe to my newsletter if you don’t already.

Follow Eva Varga’s board Science Notebooking on Pinterest.

Here are a couple of my favorites:

  • Science Stuff by Amy Brown – Amy has a diverse collection of interactive notebook materials, predominately in biology
  • Bond with James – James also has a large variety of graphic organizers and interactive notebook materials

September 14, 2015

Last week I wrote about using journal writing with middle school students and provided examples of a variety of journals that could be used with middle school age kids. Today, I share a more in-depth look at using learning logs or reflection journals in your science curriculum.

Reflection journals provide students with an opportunity to summarize what they have learned. Students are encouraged to reflect upon what they have learned, record any questions they may still have about the particular topic of study, and to communicate their understanding of the material. An interactive science journal is a creative, hands-on approach to doing just that.

What is Science Notebooking @EvaVarga.netWhat is an Interactive Science Notebook?

An Interactive Science Journal or Notebook is a fun and engaging way to get students interested in the content they are learning about. Interactive notebooks allow for the information being discussed to be compartmentalized into chunks of information.  I have found when information is broken down into smaller bits that students retain the information at a much higher level. When you throw in an interactive element into the graphic organizer the retention is that much more effective.

The true interactive part of the notebooks are when students use the information provided to elicit their own responses or outputs in the journal.  This requires higher level thinking and ultimately allows the students to make a deeper connection to their learning. Once students understand what outputs are, they appreciate the opportunity to select their own and often refer to these exercises as “fun”.

Some teachers utilize a dual page format where one page is the input (where students get info from reading, video, observations, lecture, etc.) and the other is the output (where they make sense of that input). Outputs ensure that every time students learn something, they have time to digest and process the material.

I feel that this tends to be a bit limiting, requires more careful planning in advance, and thus often a waste of space. I thereby allow students the freedom to utilize their notebook in whatever way works best for them. I encourage them to take lecture notes, keep an ongoing glossary of terms, and adhere the interactive pieces as we progress.

What is Science Notebooking @EvaVarga.netHow Do Interactive Science Notebooks Work?

Interactive science notebooks allow students to be totally creative with their notebooks. They are an open-ended, hands-on tool that provide students with an opportunity to make connections with what they are learning in class and provide time for them to think and reflect.

I encourage you to allow the students to come up with their own examples and sketches.  Let the students come up with their own responses to short situational prompts.  Allowing the students to make their own connections will ensure that the material is not forgotten.

Interactive science notebooks work very well as a warm-up to labs and lecture. Use the time students are cutting and pasting to review material from the prior lesson or to review for an upcoming assessment. Encourage them to use their notebooks as a study guide and reference tool.

Intrigued? Then join me next week when I will discuss how to get started in using Interactive Science Notebooks.


September 7, 2015

Journal writing can be easily implemented wherever we, as teachers and learners, happen to be in the process of day to day. Journals provide a non-threatening place to explore learning, emotions, daily events, and language through writing. They also provide opportunities to discover experiences and feelings teachers and students have in common.  Research has shown that teachers who use journal writing have found that when they are sensitive and respectful of students’ attitudes, life stories, and learning processes, the children come to value and enjoy journal writing, and journals become an integral part of the curriculum.

I see the power of personal writing as connecting what is significant in children’s lives with what goes on in an academic setting – whether that is in a public school classroom or at home. Personal journal writing can be a means of validating each child, of saying to each child that what goes on in your life is important, what you think and feel is relevant, and that everyday events are the things writers write about. Children are full of stories, regardless of their backgrounds, but many of them don’t know they have stories to tell. Through encouragement, teachers and homeschool parents can bring out children’s stories and celebrate them. In doing so, we affirm our students, build their self-esteem, and encourage them as writers. Students and teachers also grow to know and respect one another, and a sense of community builds.

Journal Writing with Middle School Students @EvaVarga.netWhen teachers also become part of the journal writing process, students get to know us better and see that we are all connected by our humanness. As students are involved in the task of writing in their journals, teachers can also keep a journal of their own. Periodically, they should model the process of formulating ideas and putting them into words by sharing their journals with the student(s). In this way, students are guided into writing more coherently and with greater ease. I believe that benefits of personal journal writing are significant for both teachers and their students. In time, they will begin to own the journaling process and may even initiate journaling on their own.

Journaling Writing with Middle School Students

Middle school writing skills are essential to building a solid educational foundation in children. To help reinforce the habit of regular writing it is essential to show kids that writing can be fun. Journaling is one way to do so. Journal writing is a fabulous way to reinforce your middle school student’s writing practice because it is creative, versatile and easy to implement into lesson plans.

Journals can take many forms. This variety is perhaps one reason why the value of keeping a journal can be experienced by all individuals. The following list are just a few examples of the many types of journals you may consider:

Travel or Trip Journal

A travel journal documents the events, places, and impressions of a day trip or an extended vacation. It may include sketches, receipts or ticket stubs, labels from packages (especially if traveling in a foreign country), photographs, and perhaps even audio clips if keeping an electronic journal.

Emotions Journal

An emotions journal focuses on the feelings and internal emotions that the writer wants to reinforce, control, or understand. This can be a useful tool if working with a child that is coming grappling with loss or change.

Reading Journal 

Reading journals are useful to record impressions of thoughts or short reviews of books that you have recently read. In today’s technologically savvy world, many avid readers keep a record of their reading via GoodReads or other online book review sites. These have the added bonus of connecting you to others with similar tastes in books and allow you to find related books more easily.

getting started in 5 exercisesNature Journal

As a Charlotte Mason inspired educator, I cannot emphasize the value of keeping a nature journal enough. It is the one component of our homeschool that has stuck with us from the beginning.

A nature journal is used to record impressions of nature including weather, clouds, animals, leaf impressions, quotes, factual information, and other nature wonders. Field sketches, regardless of the degree of artistic talent with which they are rendered, force us to look closely and observe nature as it really is.

Simply put, nature journaling is the regular recording of observations, perceptions, and feelings about the natural world around you. The recording can be done in a wide variety of ways, depending on the individual journalist’s interests, background, and training.

If you are interested in learning more about using nature journals in the classroom while also earning college credit, consider my course Nature Journaling in the Classroom. Offered through the Heritage Institute, the course will help you to integrate nature journaling into your K-12 art and science curriculum. This is an online science course designed for educators in both formal and informal settings.

Dream Journal

A dream journal is best kept at your bedside so that you may record exactly any dreams you have nightly. I find that I don’t remember my dreams if I get up so it’s best to write them down immediately upon waking.

Dialogue Journal

A dialogue journal is much like a private conversation between two people, only in written form. In can take place between and parent and a child, between teacher and student, or even between two students.

We utilize dialogue journals with each of our children. We don’t write in them regularly but the kids know that if they have a questions or concern that they don’t feel comfortable talking about face to face, they may use the dialogue journal to reach out to us. They simply place it under our pillow and we return it in a likewise manner.

Gratitude Journal

Perhaps the simplest of all, a gratitude journal provides you with a few moments of reflection. Within the pages, you record a list of what you are thankful for at a given moment. It takes only 10 minutes or so but should be done on a regular basis, preferably daily.

Some like to write in their journal first thing in the morning. Others prefer to express their gratitude at the end of the day just prior to bed.

Reflection Journal or Learning Log

Providing students with an opportunity to reflect upon what they have learned is the goal of a reflection journal. Students are also encouraged to summarize what they have learned, record any questions they may still have about the particular topic of study, and to communicate how and what she has understood.

We utilize learning logs in both science and history. I will be writing in more depth about each of these in the next few weeks. In brief, however, our preference in science is an interactive notebook. In history, we utilize simple notebooking pages, though we do occasionally include interactive components in our history notebooks as well.

JIAmArt Journal

Artist’s journals are illustrated journals on any theme or combination thereof. It can be a record of your daily thoughts, a travel journal, an exercise or diet diary, a dream journal, a place where you jot down your goals, a to-do lists, or almost any record that you’d like to keep.

We’ve just begun to use art journals in our homeschool. Predominately, we use it as a method of trying new art techniques or media. However, we also use it as a reading journal, creating a visual or artistic impression of books we’ve read.

~ ~ ~

Journal writing with middle school students provides a wealth of opportunity to grow individually and to get to know one another. In our homeschool, we utilize a variety of journals (I’ve linked to various posts I’ve written in the past as I’ve address each above). Don’t feel you need to utilize all of them – pick one and give it a try. Maybe add another later on when you are ready.

The journaling process should be gradual – there is no need to rush or feel obligated to complete a certain number of entries within a given time. Allow yourself – or your child – to express themselves comfortably. Over time, you’ll grow as an individual and become more accustomed to the process as well as more accepting of who you are as a person.

September 25, 2014

Rocks, like mountains, do not last forever. The weather, running water, and ice wear them down. All kinds of rocks become sediment. Sediment is sand, silt, or clay. As the sediment is buried it is compressed and material dissolved in water cements it together to make it into sedimentary rock. If a great amount of pressure is exerted on the sedimentary rock, or it is heated, it may turn into a metamorphic rock. If rocks are buried deep enough, they melt. When the rock material is molten, it is called a magma. If the magma moves upward toward the surface it cools and crystallizes to form igneous rocks. This whole process is called the Rock Cycle.

In STEM Club this week, I shared a game with the students with which we simulated cycling through the rock cycle. I began the lesson with a visual diagram of the rock cycle laid upon the tables and requested the students copy it into their journals. The three major rock types (igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary) were illustrated, as well as the processes that act upon the rock material.


Magma is molten rock.  Igneous rocks form when magma solidifies. If the magma is brought to the surface by a volcanic eruption, it may solidify into an extrusive igneous rock. Magma may also solidify very slowly beneath the surface. The resulting intrusive igneous rock may be exposed later after uplift and erosion remove the overlying rock. The igneous rock,  may then undergo weathering and erosion and the debris produced is transported and ultimately deposited (usually on a sea floor) as sediment.

If the unconsolidated sediment becomes lithified (cemented or consolidated into rock), it becomes a sedimentary rock. As the rock is buried the additional layers of sediment and sedimentary rock build and thereby heat and pressure increase. Tectonic forces may also increase the temperature and pressure. If the temperature and pressure become high enough, usually at depths greater than several kilometers below the surface, the original sedimentary rock is no longer in equilibrium and recrystallizes.

The new rock that forms is called a metamorphic rock. If the temperature gets very high the rock melts and becomes magma again, completing the cycle. The cycle can be repeated, as implied by the arrows. However, there is no reason to expect all rocks to go through each step in the cycle. For instance, sedimentary rocks might be uplifted and exposed to weathering, creating new sediment.

Rock Cycle Game

Set up eight stations at which a change in the rock cycle occurs:

  • Earth’s Interior
  • Soil
  • River
  • Ocean
  • Clouds
  • Mountains
  • Volcano

Each student starts at one area. At each area is a die that the student should role to determine what path they should take. It is possible for the student to remain at the same station for a long time.  To alleviate frustration, I thereby stated that after 3 turns the student could go to another station.

While at each station and while moving to the different stations, students must record what is happening. For example,

“I began my adventure at ________ .  The first thing that happened was _________, then I went to ___________.”

Students continued to work through the rock cycle for several minutes (until the majority had cycled through 12 steps).


After their journey through the rock cycle is complete, students are encouraged to create a cartoon describing their adventures in the rock cycle. Each cartoon page should be divided so there are 12 boxes (one for each ‘step’ in the rock cycle).

Try it yourself! Download the student handouts and station cards .. Rock Cycle Journey.

July 8, 201420

My kids are heading off to camp soon.  We have been busy making last minute purchases (bug spray, postcards, etc.) and packing all their gear.

When we travel together, we enjoy keeping a journal or scrapbook.  We include photographs, ticket stubs, and receipts. When time allows, we also create sketches of the flora and fauna.

Often we use a blank sketch book for our journal.  Other times we use a ruled journal.  For summer camp, I thought it would be fun to have a fun journal with lots of prompts and cute graphics.

I looked for a summer camp journal both locally and online but have been unable to find one that is gender neutral.  I thus decided to create my own.
camp journal

This 36 page journal is the perfect way for the kids to record their experiences at summer camp.  It is full of fun journaling prompts and has ample space for photographs, autographs, and even a sketch of the camp.

Here is a peak at the Table of Contents:

Getting Ready
What to Pack
Things to Do Before Leaving
Names & Addresses
Daily Camp Log
Camp Schedule
What I Did at Camp
My Favorite Camp Songs
Camp Counselors
Camp Food
New Friends

The Summer Camp Journal is now available from my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Have you ever attended a summer camp yourself? If so, tell us a little about it.

What summer camp will your child(ren) be attending this summer?

What are your fondest memories of summer?