STEM Notebooks

Communicating understandings and solutions through STEM notebook writing offers a powerful strategy to help students in their work as scientists and engineers. Research teaches us that STEM notebook writing is a way for students to strengthen their language skills as they develop an understanding of the world around them. STEM notebooks allow teachers to assess students’ understanding and provide the feedback students need for improving their performance.

Why STEM Notebooks?
As teachers involve students in inquiry-based STEM investigations, the need to communicate STEM learning for reflection and collaboration becomes evident. Communicating understandings and solutions through STEM notebook writing offers a powerful strategy to help students in their work as scientists and engineers. Research teaches us that STEM notebook writing is a way for students to strengthen their language skills as they develop an understanding of the world around them. STEM notebooks allow teachers to assess students’ understanding and provide the feedback students need for improving their performance.

This formative assessment tool means that English language learners can use a notebook to develop facility with writing in a format where drafting and re-writing is organic. A notebook also makes the link between multiple representations of the same idea (drawing, graph, equation, and text) more explicit.

How Can STEM Notebooks Help Students?
STEM notebooks contain information about the students’ classroom experiences. Students are encouraged to use them as scientists and engineers would, before, during, and after all investigations. They are a place where students formulate and record their questions, make predictions, record data, procedures, and results, compose reflections, and communicate findings. Most importantly, notebooks provide a place for students to record new concepts they have learned.

A STEM notebook can provide students who are uncomfortable with writing a safe place to practice and develop their skills and see that writing is used in all STEM fields.

How Can STEM Notebooks Help Teachers?
The purpose of this page is to support classroom teachers in their quest to use STEM notebooks in their classroom. STEM notebooks can be used to help students develop, practice, and refine their science, technology and engineering understanding, while also enhancing reading, writing, mathematics and communications. On this site you will find examples of student work from STEM notebooks from several grade levels and from commonly used commercially developed science instructional materials. There is also additional information to support the use of STEM notebooks, and strategies to use notebooks to integrate reading, writing, and STEM.

STEM Notebooks and New Standards
A STEM notebook is a great way to integrate language arts and STEM in your classroom. Expository writing, the creation and interpretation of graphs, arguing from evidence, and communicating about STEM are all practices that can be practiced and developed using a STEM notebook as a tool.

Please note: virtually all of the materials collected on this site were created before Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were written, so the connections to new standards are not as strong as they could be. We are in the process of identifying new examples that were explicitly designed with CCSS and NGSS in mind, which will be posted and shared in the future.

Notebook Features

As teachers involve students in inquiry-based STEM investigations, the need to communicate STEM learning in new ways has become evident. If students are encouraged to communicate their understanding of concepts through STEM notebook writings, these notebooks can be an effective strategy to help students learn STEM. Research has shown that STEM notebook writing may also be a way for students to strengthen their language skills as they develop an understanding of the world around them. STEM notebooks allow teachers to assess students’ understanding and provide the feedback students need for improving their performance.

STEM notebooks contain information about the students’ classroom experiences and are encouraged to use them as scientists would, before, during, and after all investigations. They are a place where students formulate and record their questions, make predictions, record data, procedures, and results, compose reflections, and communicate findings. Most importantly, notebooks provide a place for students to record new concepts they have learned.

Notebook Entries
This section describes different ways students can enter information in their notebooks “entry types” and offers a rationale for why a teacher might select a given entry type. A PDF is available with this information here: Science Notebook Entry Types


Student generated drawings of materials, scientific investigation set-up, observations, or concepts. Three common types of drawings used in science notebooks include:

  • Sketches: Informal pictures of objects or concepts created with little detail.
  • Scientific Illustrations: Detailed, accurate, labeled drawings of observations or concepts.
  • Technical Drawings: A record of a product in such detail that someone could create the product from the drawings.

Students use drawings to make their thinking and observations of concrete or abstract ideas visible. Drawings access diverse learning styles, allow entry to the writing process for special needs students and emergent writers, and assist in vocabulary development (e.g. oral explanations, group discussions, labels).

Tables, Charts, and Graphs

Formats for recording and organizing data, results, and observations.

Students use tables and charts to organize information in a form that is easily read and understood. Recording data in these forms facilitates record keeping. Students use graphs to compare and analyze data, display patterns and trends, and synthesize information to communicate results.

Graphic Organizers

Tools that illustrate connections among and between ideas, objects, and information. Examples include, but are not limited to, Venn diagrams, “Box and T” charts, and concept maps.

Graphic organizers help students organize ideas to recognize and to communicate connections and relationships.

Notes and Practice Problems

A record of ideas, observations, or descriptions of information from multiple sources, including but not limited to direct instruction, hands-on experiences, videos, readings, research, demonstrations, solving equations, responding to guiding questions, or developing vocabulary.

Students use notes and practice problems to construct meaning and practice skills for current use and future reference.

Reflective and Analytical Entries

A record of a student’s own thoughts and ideas, including, but not limited to initial ideas, self-generated questions, reflections, data analysis, reactions, application of knowledge to new situations, and conclusions.

Students use reflective and analytical entries to think about scientific content from their own perspective, make sense of data, ask questions about their ideas and learning processes, and clarify and revise their thinking.


Inserts are artifacts placed within a notebook, including, but not limited to photographs, materials (e.g. flower petals, crystals, chromatography results), and supplemental readings (e.g. newspaper clippings).

Students use inserts to document and to enrich their learning.

Investigation Formats

Scaffolds to guide students through a controlled investigation, field investigation, or design process. Examples include, but are not limited to investigation planning sheets or science writing heuristics.

Students use investigation formats to guide their thinking and writing while they design and conduct investigations. Students also use these formats to reflect on and discuss their findings and ideas.

Writing Frames

Writing prompts used to focus a student’s thinking. Examples include, but are not limited to, “I smelled… I felt… I observed…”,”My results show…”, “The variable I will change is…”, or “I think that because…”.

Students use frames to organize their ideas, prompt their thinking, and structure their written response. Frames help students become more proficient in scientific writing and less reliant upon the prompts.

Notebook Organization

Students use the organizational elements to streamline access to the contents of their notebook over time to support their learning. As teachers consider what elements of a STEM notebook are most appropriate to meet their student learning goals in STEM, they will need to exercise their own professional judgment as to which organizational elements support those goals. A PDF of these elements is here: Science Notebooks Organizational Elements

Notebook Formats

Formats for each organizational element vary depending on grade level and purpose. They can include some of the following components:

Title Page or Notebook Cover
Recording this information enhances student understanding of common text features that support the development of literacy skills. Common elements on a title page or notebook cover may include:

  • Student name
  • School
  • Teacher name
  • Class

Table of Contents
A table of contents allows a student to easily retrieve work from previous lessons within the unit.

Teachers can create a template for students to fill in (e.g. blank template or transparency, list of activities with place to enter page number and date). Alternatively students can create the table of contents themselves. Common elements of a table of contents may include:

  • Date
  • Title of activity
  • Page number

Organizational features
These features allow students to organize their work and more efficiently access learning from prior activities or lessons. These features also assist the teachers in assessing student understanding. Common organizational features include:

  • Page numbers
  • Date
  • Activity title
  • Headings (e.g. focus question, hypothesis, observations, results, conclusions)
  • Time (e.g. time observations made, elapsed time for activity)
  • Appendix (e.g. equations, formulas)

Vocabulary words acquired while engaged in a hands-on lesson contribute to the development of STEM literacy. A glossary is one approach to building understanding of STEM terminology, while also advancing learning of text features. Recording and highlighting new vocabulary as the words are encountered in the unit is an alternative to the use of a glossary. Some strategies for constructing glossaries include:

  • Teachers creates a “word wall” with the class; students add these words to a glossary in their notebooks
  • Teachers provide a preprinted list of glossary words; students insert the list in their notebook; students highlight the words when encountered within the unit
  • Students generate a definition and/or picture for new vocabulary words
Student Work - Written

Below are examples of student work that represents different grade levels and different types of notebook entries. We have chosen these examples for variety – they are not necessarily work that should be considered exemplary. These were originally aligned with the 2010 Washington State Standards, but we have updated them by adding a grid with a breakdown of the NGSS and Common Core concepts. If you have examples you would like to share, please send them to Ginny Vacchiery at We are also looking for any digital examples that educators would like to share.

An example of the grid below. NGSS refers to the Next Generation Science Standard concept and CCSS refers to Common Core:

MS-PS3-1PS3.C Relationship Between Energy and ForcesAnalyze and Interpret DataScale, Proportion and QuantityRST.6-8.1, RST.6-8.36.SP.B.5
The grid below is broken down by grade level and general subject:
Grade LevelEarth/Space ScienceLife SciencePhysical ScienceScientific Language DevelopmentOrganization and Feedback
K-2K-2 Earth and SpaceK-2 Life SciencesK-2 Physical ScienceK-2 Language
3-53-5 Earth and Space3-5 Life Science3-5 Physical Science3-5 Language3-5 Organization and Feedback
Middle SchoolMS Earth and SpaceMS Life SciencesMS Physical ScienceMS LanguageMS Organization and Feedback
High SchoolHS Earth and SpaceHS Life SciencesHS Physical ScienceHS LanguageHS Organization and Feedback
Student Work - Electronic

Electronic Notebooks are being more widely used in classrooms, especially at the middle and high school level. Examples from the classroom of John J. D’Alessandro, Lead Professional Educator and Electronic Notebooks in the Physics Classroom Professional, are below, as well as why he uses them and how he chose Microsoft One Note as his format.

Electronic Notebook Example – Resistors
Electronic Notebook Example – Reading Notes

Why did I choose to go electronic?
Having students develop notebook skills is incredibly important to their development and to their understanding of science as being expository. Traditionally, for lab work, I had students use the same quadrille-ruled notebook I had learned to use two decades earlier. They would take class notes, do homework, and store handouts in a traditional three-ring binder. They also would store formal lab reports and examples of work in a file folder kept in a file-hanging bin in the classroom. This past year, I went to all-electronic, online notebooks.

My main goal was to move them to a more modern technology that allowed more collaboration. I wanted them to be able to look at each other’s notes and help each other do homework and write lab reports. With them using a modern technology, they should also be practicing techniques they will all be using in the future in a variety of work environments. They got the immediate benefits of being able to immediately put pictures in their work, not being able to misplace their work, and being able to have their work while I was scoring it.

That last point was more important than I had suspected it would be. Traditionally, I would have to score homework, lab notes and reports, and other assignments on a very tight schedule so that they could have them back for the study and note-taking. This would sometimes mean my personal life would be sacrificed. Now, I can grade while they still have access. It has removed a time constraint for them, but also for me.

Why did I choose Microsoft OneNote?
The two big platforms for cloud note-taking are the for-pay Microsoft Office 365 (there are free variants, particularly of OneNote, the Office note-taking app) and the free for use Google Docs. Google Docs main advantages over MS OneNote are its cost, its ease-of-use, and its incredibly fast synchronization times. This seems like it would make Google Docs ideal for note-taking for a classroom.

However, Microsoft has spent a great deal of work making OneNote cross-platform and the premium tool to freely place links, photos, movies, PDFs, and almost any other document right in the note page. Also, it is set up more as a traditional notebook, but one with nearly unlimited “pages.” So, it is easier to bind together a bunch of notes in a very organized way than using Google Docs more file-structure style of organization. Microsoft Office is still the dominant tool for use by the business world and many colleges and schools, including my own, pay for the Office 365 service as a standard practice.

Classroom Tools

This section offers tools teachers can use to introduce students to STEM notebooks, templates for students to record information, and assessments to provide feedback.

Power Point on STEM Notebooks
The PDF version of our STEM Notebook Power Point can be downloaded here. If you would like a copy in Power Point, contact Ginny Vacchiery at

Assessment and Rubrics
STEM notebooks allow teachers to assess students’ understanding and provide the feedback students need for improving their performance. STEM notebooks can be a valuable tool for both teachers and students to use to determine:

  • prior knowledge and existing STEM ideas
  • how conceptual understanding is being built
  • procedural understanding
  • mastery of curriculum goals
  • the ability to apply/transfer ideas to new context.

These rubrics are a beginning set of tools teachers may use in assessing notebooks. These rubrics can be downloaded as Word files and can be modified to meet the specific needs of individual teachers and their classroom context.

Elementary Rubric (Smiles) Grade 1-2
Elementary Rubric – Grade 3-5
Middle School Rubric
High School Rubric
Science Class Rubric for Each Trimester

These templates are a beginning set of tools teachers may use with their students. These templates can be downloaded as Word files and can be modified to meet the specific needs of individual teachers and their classroom context. All of these documents were created by Betsy Rupp-Fulwiler, with the exception of the Spanish documents.

The Box & T-Chart gives a student the organizational tool to share similarities and differences between two objects or organisms.

Box and T Chart

Observations Organizer – this writing frame assists a student’s writing about an observation.

Observations Organizer (English)

Observations Organizer #1 (Spanish)

Observation Organizer #2 (Spanish)

Observation Organizer #3 (Spanish)

Writing Comparisons – these documents assist a student in framing their writing about two objects that are similar but different.

Writing Comparisons (English)

Writing Comparisons (Spanish)

Spanish Table of Contents Sheet – this document can be used as a template for the table of contents

Table of Contents (Spanish)

Spanish Vocabulary Sheets – these two documents have common science words and phrases translated into Spanish

Science Vocabulary – Spanish

Science Phrases and Words – Spanish

Teacher Resources

The teacher resources section provides references to relevant research and teaching literature and other information to further develop teachers’ understanding of STEM notebooks.

Examples of Scientist Notebooks:

From Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL): STEM Notebooks – PNNL Examples

Helpful Websites and Articles about STEM Notebooks:

East Bay Educational Collaborative –

Tucson Unified School District –

NSTA – Five Good Reasons to Use Science Notebooks

If you have other resources that you use for STEM notebooks and would like to share them, contact with the links or name of the article/book you use. We will be updating this information to include new work related to the Next Generation Science Standards as it becomes available.

Teacher Submissions
The goal of the STEM Notebook page is to continually update content. If you have an example of a notebook from one of your students that you feel is exemplary, especially one that is digital, we would like to share it. You can submit STEM notebook examples to Ginny Vacchiery at .
Frequently Asked Questions

NOTE: The following questions were submitted by teachers and were answered by teacher leaders and other notebook users. There are often multiple answers to the same question, and they are not always consistent with each other. This reflects the variety of ways teachers make use of notebooks across grade levels and subject areas.


1. The lessons take so much time, I don’t have any left for notebooks. Where do I find the time?

  • I make them a part of the lesson each and every time we do science.
  • Due to the number Common Core ELA standards met through the use of the notebook, I find it validates using Language Arts time to work on the notebook, if necessary.
  • The teacher needs to know how to pace the lesson so that reflection time gets a ‘fair share’ of the class time allotted for Science.
  • One of the classroom jobs is to hand out STEM Notebooks. The notebooks go out before we begin a lesson so they are always handy and not as forgettable.
  • For K, I do it whole class and use my writing time. We create just one big notebook!
  • Consider pre-typing some items that students can glue in.

2. ESL students/or any at risk learners find the notebooks very difficult. How do I work with second language learners to get them started in their notebooks?

  • I think the best way for ANY student to learn science vocabulary is to allow them the opportunity to draw about their experiments and label drawings using a word bank or glossary. They can dictate to someone who can translate the writing for them initially.
  • I just require pictures and labels. They can copy the writing from their partner.
  • Consider using cloze passages, and tracing of words.
  • Use the same vocabulary in Math, Reading, and Writing.

3. I have a high absentee rate. What do you do when someone has been absent?

  • Some teachers have the partner at least place handed out data sheets inside the notebook for the missing student.
  • ‘Science specialists’, chosen to assist the teacher that week or month, can meet with the student during a lunch period, before school, or after school for extra credit. A separate set of materials is kept in a science center in the room for use with students who have been absent.
  • I allow my students to re-do the experiment at lunch and then do the data sheets with the real experience.
  • Some teachers create a ‘sample’ notebook with all the paste-ins etc. The student who was absent can then check to see what they missed and update their notebook.
  • The teacher can use any absent student’s notebook as the teacher’s model for that day.
  • If you keep a posted Table of Contents, the absent student can see what they need to catch up on by checking the class Table of Contents.
  • I ask my students to copy their partner’s work the next day.

4. I find that I am not using them daily. Should I be trying to meet that standard?

  • Notebooks are most effective if they are used for each Science class. Sometimes it can be just attaching a data sheet that was used during the lesson. Sometimes it is a summary statement about the lesson itself. Sometimes is it an extensive piece used for both data and reflection.

5. How do you get around to grading them or scoring them to match the district report card (4,3,2,1)?

  • I do a visual survey and use a teacher observation sheet with just a couple of things you want to watch for put on a clipboard as I roam around the room. I have to be intentional about getting to everyone.
  • I give my students three post-its to mark the three instances of their ‘best’ work based on the criteria we have discussed.
  • I give students criteria and then have them, as a group, rate whether they met the criteria.
  • I don’t always have time to grade them but I have instituted ‘Science Meetings’ where I determine the focus of the day’s meeting and then students read each other’s notebooks and provide oral feedback based on the day’s criteria (as a scientist would). I then wander around making anecdotal notes.
  • The LASER rubric for scoring notebooks has been really helpful. That is the one where the student colors in yellow and I color in blue. If we agree, the space on the rubric turns green (yellow+blue) if we don’t agree, it is very obvious.
  • I have the students turn in their data or student record sheet BEFORE they paste it into their notebook. I can then score just a small stack of papers instead of a large stack of notebooks. I hand the papers out the next day and the students put them into their notebooks.
  • Student should know the rubric for expectations for entries and can self evaluate. The teacher can comment about students’ ability to self evaluate.

6. My perforated spiral notebooks are falling apart. What should I be using instead?

  • Use a notebook for each new unit so that they are not used for such a long time. Also, purchase a two pocket folder to keep the spiral in.
  • Use the theme notebook or the composition book with wide rule: even young children can use these.
  • Contact a local printshop and ask to have notebooks created with a space at the top for pictures and lines at the bottom for the writing.
  • Collecting the notebooks and keeping them in a central place makes them last a lot longer.

7. My students get very lost in their notebooks. It seems to take them forever to find the right place. Is there some way to mark the pages or something?

  • I number the pages for the very young students and they stay all on the same page at all times.
  • I use a binder clip that holds all the unused pages in the notebook. At the end of a lesson, the children let the used page out of the clip.
  • I have the student either tie a ribbon onto the spiral or tape a ribbon to the back page of the notebook and they use the ribbon to find their place.
  • Student should be very familiar with nonfiction text through reading. This should also help them navigate a notebook.
  • My first graders have been very competent at finding the Table of Contents and putting in their data sheets. They are also not bothered by differences in page numbers if they were absent.
  • I use post-its with kids. They make a permanent tab for the Table of Contents and the glossary. Then, there is a movable tab for where we are next.
  • Some folks laminate a bookmark that the students can put on their last page. The kids can lose these as they are loose, however.
  • I make sure that my students are always on the same page. Then we can talk about what page they should be on. This helps make the Table of Contents work better too.
  • Have the children just number the pages as they use them.
  • For my little ones, I write what the table of contents entry should be for the day on the board that looks just like the Table of Contents page they have in their notebooks. Date, Entry, Page.

8. How do you write critical comments to students who can’t read those comments?

  • You must do an oral conference with them so that you can make sure they understand your expectations. You might have to have an interpreter present when you do this if English is the second language.
  • I do individual ‘conferences’ for all students with my first graders. Students will often have a science partner who can read it to them.
  • SE WA LASER Alliance has created a primary rubric with smiley faces on it. Note: This document is under Teacher Resources

9. Little ones have such a difficult time writing in notebooks about anything. Can you suggest a way to make it easier for kindergarteners and first graders?

  • Use pictures at first to tell the story. They can dictate small captions for the pictures.
  • Consider doing a “big book” for the whole class instead of individual notebooks.
  • Invite in an upper grade partner to be guest scientists to help with this.
  • Put the notebooks on public display at science fairs, conferences, etc. to show students how important it is to write and how much information they can provide to another reader.
  • Ask students to write on just one element of the activity.Remember how important it is to model your expectations. Next, ask them to label their drawings and provide them with the correct labels for these on a word wall or word bank.
  • Ask a few students to dictate verbally to a parent partner to increase their confidence and to create a notebook entry that they are really proud of and can read to themselves or to others.
  • Do some shared writing. We do this in combination with adding our own comments.
  • As writing has become a big part of all content, my students have not had as much difficulty. They are coming to me with better writing skills in their notebooks.

10. How do I give constructive critical feedback?

  • Teachers need to learn to take a long look, in depth, at key lessons (gatekeeper) to provide critical feedback at those times. Do quick looks at less critical places.
  • Highlight objectives in each lesson to focus your thinking.
  • Use a rubric to have students self-evaluate and then the teacher can evaluate them too. This could be done mid unit and again at the end.
  • Ask yourself what the objective of the lesson is. That should help focus on what you could/should say for whether the student met the target for the day and what you might want them to do better.
  • I pair a stronger/weaker student to give critical feedback to each other prior to the teacher scoring them.

11. How do you get students to write reflections in their notebooks?

  • Learning how to be reflective is not easy. Adults have difficulty with it too. Have the students use the words “I wonder” or “It reminds me of” to begin a more reflective notebook entry.
  • Students need to get to the depth of a reflection and understanding not just filling out the start of a sentence correctly. “Reflection” is critical across the content (Essential Learning 3 and 4).
  • Think, pair, share can help reluctant reflectors!
  • Model reflection, use co-op reflections, whatever, practice, practice, practice!
  • “Tell me what you learned.”
  • If students started in kindergarten-think of the reflections they would be able to make by the time they were in the 5th grade!!!
  • Have their partner read it before they turn it in.
  • Post sentence strips around the room with the sentence starters to prompt the reflection.

12. How often should I be scoring or commenting in notebooks?

  • Lessons in a full curriculum need to be examined for the four or five times when a “gate keeping” lesson can be determined. These are the times when you would not want your students to move through the gate to the next level of the material if they do not have some mastery of the content. These are important times to tune into their progress and a time when you must commit to examining them.
  • Often enough so that students know teacher values their notebooks and their importance as a scientific tool.
  • Some teachers have students highlight a section they want the teacher to score or at least to look at.
  • Establish teacher check points that are relevant to your overall goals and lesson objectives.

13. How important is the glossary?

  • A “core” type spiraling vocabulary activity can help.
  • It is important to focus on students on the fact that using a glossary as a feature of nonfiction text.
  • I no longer use a glossary but have turned to the Word Wall instead. I promise myself that I will get the words down off the chart at least once a week and play some sort of game with the children using the words.
  • Choose words for the grade level that are based on NGSS/WSSLS vocabulary.

14. Should I use post-its? Should I write right on their page?

  • Teachers do all different types of things and sometimes it looks different from year to year depending on the students in the class. One strategy is to write critical comments that praise a target reached that are written directly on the page but the portion of the comment that challenges the student to go further can be written on the post-it because it needs dealing with. Place it on the edge so the tab sticks out. When you had the notebooks back to the student, it indicates that there is something they need to deal with and when they have completed the task sufficiently and shown it to you, you will remove the post it.
  • This is really a teacher decision. Use post-its that are color coded for students to use when marking a page that is to be corrected. This will save lots of time looking in the notebook for the right page. Teacher can use the same post-it to write critical feedback on it!
  • Another strategy is to write on the left side and put a post-it on the page so it sticks out showing where there is something that the student needs to take care of. When they have completed the necessary task, they turn the notebook in with the post-it still present. I take the post-it off when I have checked their new work and ok’d what they have turned in.

15. I’m getting lost in a sea of notebooks. I have one for each subject and it is killing me. Can you help?

  • Some teachers have created a tab in a file cabinet. Students go to the file cabinet and file their notebook behind the tab that lists their table number or team name. Other teachers have baskets or bins with tables or team numbers on them. A materials manager either brings the notebooks up to the proper bin or carries the bin around from table to table allowing students to toss their notebooks in.
  • You can color code them for the students so they know which is which. Ask yourself if it is really necessary to have one in each subject or can some topic areas be combined into the same notebook.
  • Some teaches store notebooks in different places in the classroom. Perhaps the STEM notebooks are near the STEM materials and the other notebooks can be found in other corners of the room.
  • You just have to be intentional about their use: it does pay off.
  • Assess only entries that show evidences of the lessons or units objectives.

16. Where do I find scoring guides for notebooks?

  • Several folks have created them so ask colleagues. is a website that allows you to create your own. Pasadena, California has one that is commonly used by early notebook users that has been adopted by SE WA LASER Alliance.
  • Based on specific assignments, develop a rubric on the goal or objective of the lesson itself. If you dissect the objective into discrete parts, you can also use the words or phrasing to write a more succinct note of critical feedback.

17. The entries are getting sloppy. How do I continually raise the bar?

  • I use fake journal entries that are reflective of the types of entries I am beginning to see in their own notebooks but they are written by “Sandy Scientist”. I type them on the computer in a handwriting font and make a slide of them. The students tell me how I should score the entry and what the student could do to improve the quality of the entry using the rubric we have agreed upon.
  • Model, model, model!
  • You can use peer editing just as you would do in a Language Arts class. Before putting the notebooks away, kids can edit each other’s. Powerful way to improve their own writing.

18. Should everything be on a copied data sheet?

  • The decision needs to be made whether a certain skill could be reinforced by having students make their own chart or create their own graph. Other times, you need to decide whether it is important to practice that skill or to get the information down and in a complete format so providing that predone sheet is best. This is something that should be discussed at an inservice presentation when learning about the unit.
  • Students need experience using a ruler and this is a legitimate use. It helps to integrate a simple math skill by applying it to a new context. Students, even primary students, are very capable of doing data tables. Time is one of the most necessary things to take into consideration.

19. I need materials for doing notebooks. How do you get the stuff?

  • Put glue sticks, post-its, scissors, colored pencils, etc. on your supply list for students to bring at the beginning of the year.
  • Each table team could have a small bin with all the necessary items in it. That way you don’t have to pass the stuff out all the time.


1. Time! How do you find the time to correct them?

  • I do some touring around the room while the students are writing. I can make comments in them then or make a note to myself that it is something I need to address, especially if I see it happening in several notebooks.
  • I have self checks and partner checks. When I see something in my “drive-bys” that needs attending to, I can pull everyone together for a self check. At the end of a class period, I can ask them to pass their notebook to their partner to check for these five things, or to read their writing and critique to their partner how well they have done.
  • I pick a group of folks each class period and invite them back to my computer where we conference about what I should be seeing and I give them a score as to whether I see it. I ask them to be prepared when they come to the computer and have their notebook open to the correct page before coming to me. This saves time, believe it or not.
  • If I am having the students turn in their notebook, I have them put a post-it on the page I am to correct. This saves me quite a bit of time when trying to look for the page I have said I would correct.
  • I give “timed” lesson quizzes with open book on the notebook. Selective questions that relate back to the labs are the things that form those quizzes.
  • I have a rubric with expectations for their write-ups. I have students do some or all of the grading.
  • I have students number everything like it is in the student guide for STC/MS. Then, once a week or so I tell them to copy their response to some lesson and question. For example: Write your response to Lesson 8.1 Question 1.A. I will do this for about 5 items and just grade those.
  • I use a document camera to show students other students’ work or to show models of different quality of notebook entries.
  • I grade one class per night every two weeks or after a test. At the high school level it works to assign certain activities that get graded thoroughly once per quarter with a checklist.

2. The entries begin to look really messy after a while. How do I continue to keep the kids reaching a higher standard?

  • Share examples: “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”. When I first begin (and when things go south later in the year!) I pick an example of a good, a bad, and an ugly entry to share. Talk with the kids about why they fall into each category or let them tell you what needs to be done to bring them up into the good category. Don’t say who wrote which one but you’ll be surprised that they will often tell each other!
  • For individual students who fall into this trap, I identify who they are and spend a little one-on-one time with them.
  • Model, model, model!
  • I use fake journal entries that are reflective of the types of entries I am beginning to see in their own notebooks but they are written by “Sandy Scientist”. I type them on the computer in a handwriting font and make a slide of them. The students tell me how I should score the entry and what the student could do to improve the quality of the entry using the rubric we have agreed upon.
  • You can use peer editing just as you would do in a Language Arts class. Before putting the notebooks away, kids can edit each other’s. Powerful way to improve their own writing.
  • Have a rubric for their writing or for their lab write ups.
  • By grading them regularly, I can encourage my students through modeling.
  • I think having a specific focus for each entry keeps the student on track.
  • I make sure that my rubric for the notebooks contains points associated with quality and for neatness.

3. What is the standard? What should they look like?

  • We need to bring in copies of notebooks of real scientists’ to show how they keep their notebook and hear how valuable it is for them.
  • Create your own rubric or one that you have tweaked with your students so they have a part in the creation of the rubric/scoring guide.
  • You have a daily standard for labs and general writing but the ‘gateway’ assignments will have additional bits and pieces.
  • I use theme books and reduce the pages to 80% of original. If possible, I trim the pages before handing them out so the students don’t always have to trim the pages.

4. What do you do when students are absent?

  • The student’s partner is responsible for making sure all data sheets are taped into the notebooks but not written on.
  • When the child comes back to school they work with a Teaching Assistant (or Science Specialist) to get caught up. A set of materials is left out in a station in the back of the room to facilitate this. When the student returns, they check with their lab partner to find out how many pages they need to save before they begin working again. Then, they can get info from their lab partner or they need to schedule a time when they can come do a make-up lab.
  • I take digital photos of data tables for students who are absent.
  • This is my biggest problem. I have them use a textbook instead. They skip the labwork.
  • I have they student use an online site to catch up with the concept of the lab rather than the lab itself.
  • Some teachers have additional assignments or questions to answer by asking lab partner the questions and writing down the answers.

5. The notebook itself falls apart due to poor quality. What is the best quality notebook to use with students?

  • Buy theme books/composition books especially for the middle school and high school levels. If using spirals, have them kept in a two-pocket folder to protect them from extra wear and tear.
  • Mead composition books work best for me.

6. I have the worst time just getting kids to write.

  • They get better over time. At the beginning of the year, they need to be taught exactly what you want and what your expectations are. Then, as you progress through the year, they get better and better at it.
  • I think we need an inservice from our language arts colleagues to give us some strategies on how to get kids to write. We need to go through the stages/steps of writing through the final copy to deepen out understanding of the writing process.
  • Grades help, so does candy!
  • I use a three-ring binder. I print out one copy of each of the worksheets for that binder with extra lined paper. It saves a huge amount of time.
  • Some of the things I have students put into their notebooks besides the usual stuff is a reflection on the hypothesis they made before the experimentation. They can compare their observations from teammate to teammate or table to table. The can also determine the source of error for their team or one of another team that got different results.
  • Writing is an entry point to working in small groups, they bring individual thinking to the “group think” through the written word and it must be quality so the group can understand the thinking.

7. I have trouble staying caught up. What are some strategies to keep on top of the grading?

  • I try to stagger when I collect the notebooks. I announce to the students when I am going to collect them and what page they need to mark to make it easier for me. They add a post-it note to that page so I can quickly turn to it.
  • Do it on regular intervals so the kids know when the grading will happen. You will find yourself doing it as much for the kids as for yourself!

8. How do I assess them? What should be graded?

  • I have a checklist for each of the lessons I think should be assessed, say four total throughout the unit. I use the checklist when correcting to make it easier.
  • Occasionally I have the labs graded by students using a scoring guide, so now they also score their notebooks as the labs are inside the notebooks.
  • Some teachers do and some do not have students put final draft of things into the notebook. It could be argued either way.

9. What should be included in the notebooks?

  • EVERYTHING including their homework, quizzes, exams, grade reports, etc. EVERYTHING goes in the notebook.
  • Even if I have the kids do a final presentation, the audience has a checksheet or scoring guide and a summary of that score will go into the notebook.
  • This really helps with loss of individual papers.
  • They should always leave a space in the notebook for work that they have missed and need to make up.

10. Should I keep a “master” copy of the contents and the page numbers?

  • After having done a unit more than once, I will have a “master” of what I want to see in a Table of Contents. This of course can always be added to but at least I will know how I want to change things.
  • I keep a copy so we can check every time.
  • I keep a notebook myself of all the things that should be there. I don’t do the extensive writing but I keep the items pasted or taped into the notebook so that I at least know what is to be there.

11. My students always want to just rush through the notebook part. How can I get my students to slow down and really concentrate on their work?

  • Occasionally have a notebook quiz in which they will have to use their notebook to answer some simple questions that make for a given ‘A’ if they have managed their notebooks and kept them in good order. If not, they will give up the easy grade because of lack of attention to detail.
  • Peer checks help.
  • Knowing that they can use them on exams can help some students be more focused when getting down information.

12. The notebooks end up in various corners of the room. How do I manage the keeping of the notebooks?

  • I have a special box (a bankers cardboard box or a milk jug crate) in which the notebooks are collected for each period. There is a job assigned to picking them up and passing them out. This way just one person is moving about the collection spot not the whole class.
  • I have a hanging file in which the notebooks go. One representative from each table team goes to the file box and gets the notebooks for each of the team members. One hanging file is designated for each table team.
  • I have a plastic file cabinet in which there are 15 qt. drawers. In those drawers are the materials they are working on, the notebooks for the table team, and the student reference books for the unit. The students also keep scissors, pencils, glue/tape.
  • Every lab team has their own tub which is kept under a centralized table. When the students come into the room, they get their tub out.

13. How do you correct 150 – 180 per week?

  • I dip in only occasionally with daily “drive-bys” to watch for things I need to harp at the kids about. When I dip in, I do only a class at a time taking home only those I can’t get to during planning or after school.

14. The kids don’t manage their Table of Contents well. What are some strategies for making sure the Table of Contents is done well?

  • I have to be very intentional about making sure they have the Table of Contents done each and every class period. Then, there is always somebody in the class who will remind me about having forgotten to take care of this piece.
  • The first few times the students do their Table of Contents, I do the entry on the on the whiteboard to make sure they understand just what it is I am hoping they will do.
  • You can make a certain number of points attached to the Table of Contents and when a student does not record the date or the entry or the page number, they lose points.
  • I keep a GIANT Table of Contents on the wall in the classroom and add to it as the students should each time we have a lab.

15. What do I do about the range of readers and writers in the classroom so that it doesn’t create a management problem?

  • I use writing prompts to get the reluctant writers to write.
  • Our lab write ups are practiced at all middle school and high school levels. We, as a staff, have all agreed how these should look so that students learn the drill and continue to reinforce it year after year. The rubric or the model is pasted into the notebook inside a cover or somewhere they can find it when they are new to the process.
  • I make some labs rough draft and some final draft.

16. Where do I make comments? Should I write on their papers or on post-it?

  • I use the left side of each page to jot down critical comments directly onto the page and leave space for the student to respond, if my comment requires it. I then mark the top of the page with a post-it sticking out so the students know that there is something needing their attention on that page. When they are done making any necessary corrections, they turn the notebook back into you and you can remove the post-its if they have successfully fulfilled your expectations on the missing pieces. I haven’t encountered students who just take the post-it off without making corrections but since I have written directly onto their left side, I can check whether they have done the work or not.

17. What does a good critical comment look like?

  • A well-crafted critical comment should be of two parts. First, you need to comment on what the student has done well. What target are they hitting. If they are not hitting a target too well, what are they at least approaching. Then, you need to discuss what it is that they need to work towards.
  • Some Critical Comment starters might be:
    • What do you mean by?
    • I am not sure what this drawing is showing.
    • Labeling would help the reader know what your diagram is showing.
    • Why do you think you got these results?
    • What is so important about this result?
    • How can you explain this data?
    • What feelings do you have about this issue?
    • Describe each step of the process.
    • Before a lab begins, the students need to put into their notebook the title, the hypothesis, materials and the methods with control of variables and the manipulated variable and responding variable along with the data tables they plan to use. I individually check each team before they begin, write hints, correct and revise before they begin their experiment.

18. What kinds of things can a Science teacher and a Language Arts teacher collaborate on when it comes to strengthening the writing done in Science?

  • Obviously communicating with each other about what is happening in Science and what could be practiced in Language Arts would be extremely helpful. Also, using the learnings in Science to write an article for a newspaper checking for all six traits of high quality writing.

19. What strategies are teachers using to assist the students in marking where they leave off?

  • Students can use a post-it to mark the last page. They can place a ribbon with a bead on it to mark like a Bible, where they have finished.
  • Other people have the students use a bookmark. Some folks have the kids clip off the corner of all pages that are used. They then turn to the next available full page without the snipped off corner.

Site History

In 2005, the North Cascades and Olympic Science Partnership (NCOSP), a National Science Foundation funded Math and Science Partnership project, convened a group of education leaders from across Washington State. They developed the first version of the STEM notebook website (which originally only focused on science), which was maintained by NCOSP and hosted by Western Washington University.

In 2014 Washington State LASER took over management of the site and integrated the content into the pages you see here. This work would not have been possible without the contributions of Brian MacNevin and Peggy Willcuts to the content, Ginny Vacchiery and Stan Orchard for the website, and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.