Notebooks Inspire Students, Teachers in K-5 Science Learning

Notebook AHA’s! from kindergarten and first grade teachers captured at the ESA follow up session.
By Cristina Trecha, Director, San Diego Science Project

How do we create a classroom culture where students are at the center? What does it mean for students to develop a scientific explanation? What are the links between reading, writing, and science? These questions and more were at the heart of this summer’s Elementary Science Academy (ESA), a yearlong professional development program for more than 130 kindergarten through fifth grade (K-5) teachers from the San Diego area.

In partnership with the San Diego County Office of Education, the San Diego Science Project spent three weeks this summer working closely with teachers as they explored new approaches for teaching science, including ways to implement Next Generation Science Standards into classroom instruction.

The Next Generation Science Standards, known as NGSS, are the new national science standards adopted by California in 2013. They provide much needed excitement and energy for changing the way K-12 science is taught. The new standards require student engagement in the following four strands of science proficiency, based upon the research of the National Research Council:

Strand 1: Understanding Scientific Explanations

Strand 2: Generating Scientific Evidence

Strand 3: Reflecting on Scientific Knowledge

Strand 4: Participating Productively in Science

Ideally, teacher professional development provides teachers with the opportunity to collaborate around student work, and to keep the learner at the center of reflection and planning. ESA teachers will attend 15 follow-up sessions throughout the year, in a rich collaborative environment where teachers learn, reflect, report and refine their new teaching strategies with each other.

Notebooks “bump that excitement up!!” More AHA’s! from ESA teachers.

For the first follow-up session, each ESA cohort met in grade level groups and brought in student notebooks to share with colleagues. ESA’s NGSS-centered teaching experiences prompted many teachers to start students using notebooks in their science classes for the first time this year; other teachers tried new approaches to using notebooks. By reviewing piles of colorful, language-rich notebooks, teachers realized the multitude of possibilities notebooks can provide for student learning.

“My students have never been so engaged in anything before,” said one second grade teacher. “I can’t believe how much science notebooks supported student oral language during the day.”

Another teacher, who had used notebooks for years, said using notebooks as a place for students to express their individual ideas has changed her classroom. “My student notebooks used to be all the same, a place where they would just take down what I wrote on the board. Now that they are choosing what to record and writing their own ideas, I am learning so much more about my students.”

ESA K-5 cohorts meet again in December. For this session, teachers will share audio recordings of a classroom discussion with their grade level teams.  Speaking, listening, reading, and writing in science also ties directly to the new California Common Core State Standards in English Language Development.

The San Diego Science Project at UC San Diego’s Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence (CREATE) is part of the CREATE STEM Success Initiative, a shared effort between UC San Diego and the San Diego education community, supporting learning opportunities for K-20 STEM education in the region.

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