Science Notebooks Archives - Eva Varga

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.