Interactive Notebooks in the Sixth Grade Science Classroom

Keeping students organized and in charge of their own learning

Where did I put those notes again?
Umm … I think I threw those notes away Ms. H.
I don’t know how to study for this quiz!
Ugh, I hate taking notes!
When did we learn this?
Wait … did we even learn this?!

Does any of this sound familiar? These were phrases that I aimed to hear as little as possible (a tall task indeed) during my first year of teaching sixth grade science to a diverse and eager group of students. I didn’t want to make multiple copies of every handout for students who would constantly lose or misplace them. I wanted to make sure that as many of my students as possible would not only take notes, but actually refer back to these notes when needed.

How could I have students take ownership in his or her own science learning? How could I teach students to be organized enough to keep all their science notes throughout each unit? And to not only keep these notes, but refer to them as a study tool?

Well, I didn’t find the answer to all of those questions, but I did find something that worked brilliantly for my science students and me. This is the use of Science Interactive Notebooks. By introducing Science Interactive Notebooks into my classes:

  • I gained a system for classroom management and organization
  • Every lesson took advantage of a different learning style
  • I found I could quickly assess students’ knowledge of science concepts by peeking into their notebooks
  • Students had much more ownership of the entire learning process
  • Students became more responsible (they had to maintain and keep up with their own notebook)

Set-up is Key!
My students used Science Interactive Notebooks throughout the school year. The notebooks were set up within the first two weeks of school and maintained until the end of the school year. I cannot stress how important this step of the interactive notebook process is! You want to make sure that you and your students are all (literally) on the same page.

Each student was given a black and white marble composition notebook at the beginning of the school year. The notebooks were first set up by having the students sign a Science Interactive Notebook contract. This contract stated that the students were responsible for being neat, not skipping pages, and putting forth their best effort on every page. The students signed the contract, acknowledging that they would uphold these notebook rules.

We then spent classroom time to set up pages for our table of contents, as each page in the notebook was required to have a title, date, and page number. I thought this was important and time well spent because I wanted the students to value their notebooks.

To increase the value and ownership, I awarded $20 at the end of the year to the person who was the owner of the neatest Science Interactive Notebook in each class period. For future reference, I would recommend using something less costly as an incentive. Sixth graders are still very motivated by candy, so a jumbo-sized candy bar would work great as well!

Materials Needed

  • A notebook for each student
  • A class set of glue or tape
  • A class set of scissors
  • Pre-printed class sets of handouts, notes, tables, etc. for the students to put in their Science Notebook

You will need a place to store the notebooks. I used a milk crate in the back of the room with labels for each class period. Students knew to put their notebooks neatly back in the crate at the end of the period.

What Goes in a Science Interactive Notebook?
The answer to that question: just about anything and everything! For the most part, class activities and class notes were placed in our Science Interactive Notebooks. Most pages looked different from one another, as we engaged in many different activities to reinforce the concepts of sixth grade science.

Using the Science Notebook as an Assessment Tool
The Science Interactive Notebook offers the teacher a unique means of assessing student progress in the classroom. The notebook can be used to assess the growth in students’ understanding as well as their ability to summarize and express their thoughts and feelings.

This assessment can look different depending on the teacher, grade level, and class content. I personally, would take up the notebooks towards the end of every quarter and assess the students for an overall completion grade.

In all, the Science Interactive Notebook is a record of student work throughout the course of the school year. What better way to see growth or lack thereof? It’s a powerful assessment tool.

Teaching Students Responsibility and Accountability
The biggest take away for me was the increase in student responsibility that I saw throughout the year with the Science Interactive Notebooks. At the end of the day, students were responsible for the upkeep of their notebooks, making sure they were labeled, organized, and included everything they needed.

The Science Interactive Notebook is a great way for students to stay organized. With all of their work in one place, all students have what they need. This has the added benefit of becoming a long-term resource. If students had a question on something we covered earlier in the year, or were trying to study for a quiz, they could easily turn to their table of contents to see where this information was located. It also saved me the headache of constantly being asked “When did we learn this? What page is that on?”

Looking Forward
As you can probably tell, I am a big proponent of the use of interactive notebooks. I believe the notebook helped my students learn how to think as a scientist, record as a scientist, and reflect as a scientist. One of my favorite parts about the Science Interactive Notebook was that it chronicled almost everything we learned and did throughout sixth grade science. The students could look back in their notebooks to find the answer to a question instead of relying on me for an answer.

Ideally, the notebooks are used for both teacher and student input. The right side (teacher input) of the notebook could house information given to students from the teacher, including lecture notes, textbook notes, and lab activities. The left side (student output), is where students could demonstrate understanding of the notes taken on the right side. This can take on a variety of forms like questions, self-reflection, data from experiments, concept maps, and more. This is something I may try to add into notebooks in the future, but in my first year of teaching I found that the notebooks worked fine as a means to store information and to help students improve their organizational and recall skills while fostering the transfer of knowledge.