Writing About Science – Teaching Kids How
My STEAM Notebook is an elementary science interactive workbook that brings the past into the future in a powerful way. Primary source documents from 150 years of American scientists provide an amazing look into the practice of keeping a science notebook. Featuring notebooks from ten scientists, students learn how to write and draw in ways that help develop their understanding of science.
The workbook helps teachers implement the Next Generation Science Standards, the Common Core State Standards for ELA, and the STEAM initiative. Historical documents are interspersed with notebook pages for students to use in recording observations.
Writing About Science: Historical Mentor Texts
Historical documents will:
• Emphasize the importance of writing in science and model effective writing and drawing to record observations
• Introduce students to eleven American scientists who have made lasting contributions
• Introduce students to a variety of scientific fields
• Demonstrate the importance of notebooks across a wide variety of science specialties including ornithology (birds), behavioral evolutionary biology, malacology (mollusks), botany (plants), entomology (insects), zookeeper, epidemiology (infectious diseases), agrostology (grasses), ichthyology (fish), and taxidermy (preserving specimens).
Using the interactive notebook pages, students will learn to:
• Record observations through writing and drawing
• Develop explanations and arguments based on evidence
• Write narrative and informative essays
• Understand the interconnections between drawing and writing to provide information
The notebook pages are deceptively simple in their organization. Headers encourage careful recording of important information, and a Table of Contents keeps everything at the student’s fingertips. Odd-numbered pages provide a grid for math or handwriting help. Even-numbered pages are for free-form writing, drawing, or gluing in teacher-provided worksheets. Each scientist inspires suggestions for how to work in the notebook.
Sample STEAM questions—Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math—are included for each scientist. This is a nuts and bolts interactive STEAM notebook that will help elementary science come alive for students.
Writing about Science: Skills Students Need to Learn
The book uses the notebooks of these American scientists to discuss a progression of writing skills that can be used to teach students how to use notebooks for scientific observation. Here’s the progression of skills explained in the introduction:
- simple lists
- drawings + text
- interdependence of drawings + text
- description and scientific language
- botanical illustrations/using magnification
- using color to add information
- visual details
- informational writing
NSTA Recommends This Book for Writing About Science
The National Science Teacher’s Association publishes a site that recommends books for teaching science, NSTA Recommends. This is their review of MY STEAM NOTEBOOK (emphasis added).
Reviewed by Steve Canipe
Director, Science, Mathematics & Instructional Design Technology
This book, written by Darcy Pattison and entitled My STEAM Notebook: 150 Years of Primary Source Documents from American Scientists, at first look might well draw a startled reception from teachers and parents. The reason for this is that the book is mostly blank pages. A reader might well think what is this? Ms. Pattison, the author, explains her reasoning for blank pages in the well–written introductory notes. She has poured through many scientific notebooks used by American scientists, ranging from those in the mid–1800s to the end of the 20th century and it appears her purpose is several fold. One, she wants to introduce the idea that all scientists keep a journal, notebook, or other record of their observations, experiments, experiences, etc. Two, she wants to inspire young scientists to start or keep doing good record keeping and has provided a blank template to follow.
The presentations of the 10 historical scientists and their notebooks/journals are very short and each occupies only two facing pages. Following each scientist’s two–page description, there are10 blank pages for doing recording, making observations, etc. The first notebook described was one done by Alexander Wetmore who started his journaling at the age of 8. He published his first article at age 15 describing his observations of red–headed woodpeckers. As an adult, he became the sixth secretary of the Smithsonian Museum from 1925–1952. Pattison uses a mnemonic of shadowed and outlined letters (STEAM) to help readers identify the STEAM aspects contained in the work of each of the 10 scientists she describes. She describes both process and product notebooks/journals. The point is clearly made that the process–type notebook is most useful for formative feedback and that product–types are most often used for summative feedback. The book’s blank pages are designed more for process than product, but as the author points out, additional document pages can be glued or stapled in the notebook thereby making it a sort of hybrid notebook and more useful for a summative assessment.
The book has 36 blank glossary spaces where the student scientist can record any unusual or unknown words. In addition to the glossary, there are discussion questions posed for each of the10 scientists’ work. These questions are divided into the various STEAM areas identified and focused on in the readings. Additional helps in the form of photo permissions and references for further exploration are provided at the end of the notebook. Inspiration garnered from the scientists’ work being described is a focus for all young scientists. The author notes that the reading level is geared to the third grade, making this book useful for early grade and older students. Parents and teachers would benefit from using this book to guide observations and further study from their young people. Perhaps the next Wetmore is using this book as a guide right now.
Young scientists are taught to record not their feelings but observable things like taste, touch, smell, sounds, sight. Feelings are subjective, like “I love hearing red–headed woodpeckers making a sound” but observations are objective, for example “Red–headed woodpeckers make a hammering sound when they are searching for food.” This book is a well thought out presentation and one that, even if not used for each person (it is meant for individual student use), can serve as a model for a teacher or parent to have students do their own STEAM notebook. It is a nuts and bolts process book. Users can use illustrations in this book or in their personal versions using drawings and sketches or even digital photography. Keeping good records is the point that is made throughout the book. The historical notebooks/journals pieces point this out. With the use of the outlined STEAM words, it’s easy for students to see the linkages of each of the fields (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) to the observations and experiments. Keeping journals is strongly recommended for all scientists but especially for young ones and this book has a clear–cut process for getting this point across for the beginning scientist. The book or its equivalent should be used as a guide for everyone interested in getting more scientists started on the research path.