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Connecting FOSS and Science Notebooks: A South Carolina Experience

Jeri Calhoun and Ellen Mintz, Science Resource Teachers, Charleston, South Carolina
September 09, 2003 | Science Notebooks

Top image: The data this student records during a solar energy investigation can be used for reflection and discussion back in the classroom.

When effective professional development is in place and teachers are properly prepared to implement the use of FOSS modules in their classrooms, teachers are ready to move beyond the instructional guide and connect the curriculum in ways that meet the needs of their own classroom and school communities. As a teacher's level of expertise increases, the use of science notebooks becomes more prevalent. Teachers are finding that using science notebooks in conjunction with FOSS science modules is a logical next step to ensure that student achievement is affected in an even more powerful way than the use of kits alone. Beginning teachers and teachers who are using FOSS modules for the first time should be encouraged to teach the module in its entirety before beginning to personalize or extend it. They should be discouraged from straying from the content and concepts presented and reminded that the kits are not "activities in a box," rather they are part of a curriculum that was chosen because it meets the National Science Education Standards as well as the specific state science standards.

There is a tremendous movement toward connecting curriculum areas in order to maximize teaching time and to provide real opportunities for application of science content and skills. Science notebooks and the FOSS curriculum serve as a perfect vehicle to make connections. The modules provide an unlimited supply of writing prompts for the teacher to use. New science notebook users will often frame their notebook prompts directly from the investigation duplication masters provided in the teacher guide because they want to make sure they are using the research-based materials that help students develop conceptual understanding. Other times key parts of the masters are reduced, cut, and pasted directly into student notebooks.

Student with notebook

FOSS Investigations lead to many opportunities for students to include labeled drawings in their notebooks.

As they become more comfortable with the process, teachers move away from the masters and extend the lesson to meet other content area standards or objectives. It is not unusual for a teacher to turn a FOSS lesson designed to take one day of science instruction into one that takes two to three days to complete. An extended FOSS investigation may also address math, language arts, or social studies standards. The use of science notebooks with the FOSS investigations has proven to be both a timesaver and method of making the curriculum more meaningful.

Often we are concerned that students don't come to us with the background knowledge needed to successfully complete classroom assignments. The FOSS modules provide the experiences needed to level the playing field so as to ensure that all students are able to actively engage in classroom activities with the same level of expertise. FOSS investigations lead to many opportunities for students to create graphs and charts in their notebooks. Because of this, time is provided for students to practice math skills. The FOSS modules also provide wonderful opportunities for expository writing. When students are excited about an investigation they enjoy writing about it. Students take the activities and change them into words. They are not only communicating like scientists but are also practicing the FOSS vocabulary introduced in context during the investigation. The writing produced after students have completed an investigation is richer in content than writing produced when teachers merely develop writing prompts for the purpose of acquiring evidence of student growth. Science notebooks used in conjunction with FOSS materials allow students even more opportunities to write and reflect on what they are learning.

Teachers are recognizing more and more that students learn in different ways. FOSS materials have been developed to maximize information-gathering through all senses using various modes of instruction. The materials allow students of all ability levels, including special–education students, to work together as a team and communicate their understanding of science concepts in different manners.

Various learning styles are used when students respond in science notebooks and teachers are able to accept these multiple representations of the same content and process. Students draw and write when they are conducting an investigation. They are recording what they are learning and observing while they are working together in collaborative groups. Teachers are able to acknowledge the quality of student responses even though they are presented in different ways. They are also able to use the students' responses to build students' abilities to take their own entries and transpose them into ones that reflect different learning styles. This will help students when they are asked to respond in test-taking situations that often require them to produce a traditional written response.

Teachers can use science notebooks for formative assessment of students' process skills, content knowledge, and science attitude, especially when science notebooks are used on a regular basis. The teacher is able to identify any misconceptions a student may have acquired. The science notebook provides wonderful opportunities for the teacher to provide feedback to students in ways they can use to improve and increase learning. This ensures that learning is continuous.

Student with notebook

Students work together as a team during an investigation from the mixtures and solutions module.

Science notebooks also allow students the chance to assess their own learning. When the students are working in collaborative groups they are engaged in the investigation and are responding to their classmates. When they sit down to reflect upon the investigation they have just completed, they might realize that there is an aspect they don't clearly understand and take the time to seek out clarification.

When a teacher reviews a notebook entry, it is evident when a student has mastered content and acquired the skills necessary to complete an investigation. Using the observation checklists (included in the Assessment Masters for a FOSS module) while students are working allows teachers to observe student growth and document information that helps them assess the notebook entries. Science notebooks are a natural link to the formative assessment tools already embedded in the module.

Students use science notebooks when discussions are taking place in the classroom. This takes place after students have had time to reflect and write about what they have done. They use their own notes and data that they have collected for writing a summary of what was learned. These notebooks are available while the teacher is questioning students and whole class discussion is taking place. The teacher can see from what the students have written whether or not they have developed an understanding of what they have done. Students who typically do not participate in discussions begin to take part in the whole class discussion when what they have written has been validated from listening to what other students are saying. They can also add to what they have in their notebooks when they hear other students' responses and know they have omitted that information from their own writing. It is a powerful way to encourage all students to listen and participate. What a wonderful strategy for connecting the curriculum!

Student with notebook

These girls prepare evaporation cups for an investigation in thewater module.

Publications of Interest on Science Notebooks

  • Science Notebooks: Writing about Inquiry, by Brian Campbell and Lori A. Fulton. Heinemann, Portsmouth, NH, 2003. ISBN 0325005680.
  • Valle Imperial Project in Science (VIPS): Four-Year Comparison of Student Achievement Data 1995–1999, by Michael Klentschy, Leslie Garrison, and Olga Maia Amaral. Research report, National Science Foundation Grant #ESI-9731274.
  • Becoming a Better Teacher: Eight Innovations That Work, by Giselle O. Martin-Kniep. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), Alexandria, VA, 2000. (Chapter 2, "Curriculum Integration as a Tool for Coherence")
  • "Children's Science Journals: Tools for Teaching, Learning, and Assessing," by Daniel P. Shepardson and Susan J. Britsch. Science and Children, February, 1997, pp. 13+.