Academic journal article Science and Children

Reinvigorating Science Journals: Nature Books Sharpen Children's Scientific Observation Skills and Put the Spark Back into Science Journaling

Academic journal article Science and Children

Reinvigorating Science Journals: Nature Books Sharpen Children's Scientific Observation Skills and Put the Spark Back into Science Journaling

Article excerpt


When three teachers asked me to join them in a grant project focused on integrating literacy and science, I could not wait to begin. As a teacher educator, I offer courses promoting literacy and courses encouraging inquiry-based science. Possibilities for connecting these two goals gave me high hopes. As we met to brainstorm ways to make these connections, we recognized that in some ways journals had been overused and become boring to students. We realized that several science-themed books would be wonderful tools for emphasizing the importance of observation and journaling. They had potential to excite students again and to help them become better observers and recorders. This article shares a selection of these books and the ways teachers and students used them.

Inspired Observations

Fourth-grade teacher Jon Serenius displayed a chart inspired by the book Keeping a Nature Journal (Leslie and Roth 2003) as a model for students to become better observers and journal keepers (Figure 1, page 26). The book presents sketches of various natural objects along with handwritten notes about each one. Modeling one of the book's entries, he described a sketch of leaves and buds shown in the book, pointing out the veins in the leaves, the texture as represented by black dots, the point at the end of the leaf, and lines on buds. Then, he asked students to describe another sketch from the book. After his example, students pointed out such things as veins, points, shading, and curved stems.

Figure 1.
Information on nature journals chart.

Nature Journal Entries Should Include:
* Context
* Written Observations
* Drawings
* Reflections

* Date
* Time
* Place
* Weather
* Temperature
* Cloud Cover
* Precipitation, if any
* Wind
* Humidity

Written Observations
* Qualitative
* See
* Hear
* Smell
* Touch (Be safe. Ask first.)
* Taste (Be safe. Ask first.)
* Quantitative
* Count
* Measure

* Accuracy is important!
* Be detailed.
* Use color.
* Include a big-picture view and a close-up,
  magnified view.
* Include labels.

* What is something I discovered for the first
time or something surprising?
* How do I feel?
* What am I reminded of?
* What am I wondering now?

The students gathered around the horseshoe table where he modeled writing a journal entry about his own object--in this case, a curled-up leaf brought in from outdoors. Using both colored pencils and a regular pencil, he drew the leaf, explaining how the stem is probably better represented as two lines, not just one. To his drawing, he added veins and dots to represent texture, reminding students as he did so that these ideas came from the book they just discussed. He explained how he looks back and forth from the leaf to his drawing as he sketches. When the drawing was finished, he asked students about words to add. Students suggested writing where the leaf was collected and a few questions they had about the leaf. In this class discussion, he reinforced the need to be good observers. He told students that scientists are good observers and that observations lead to questions, which lead to research.

Next, he shared a student's journal entry from the previous day as another model. The student had included observation data, questions, and a small drawing of a flower from a meadow, but it was hard to tell much about the flower from her picture as it was quite small. He suggested that students make their new pictures larger so they could add detail.

At last, students prepared to put their modeling into practice. Following their teacher's directions, the students gathered up sealable plastic bags, magnifying glasses, colored pencils, and science journals. The class walked outside to a field filled with wildflowers. Follow district policies for safety when taking students outside during the school day. The teacher told students they could share during the last 10 minutes of their outside time. …

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