14 Apr 2014

The science notebook

We don't know much about Charlotte Mason style science notebooks.  I'm inclined to think that a lot of what we call science today would have fitted into the general nature notebook with a more serious study of science topics integrated with general nature observations, but we don't really know.

 In her book on note booking, The Living Page, Laurie Bestvater mentions seeing science notebooks in the Mason archive, so at least we know that they are not contrary to her philosophy:

There are science notebooks present in the Mason archive wherein House of Education students recorded notes on all different science topics within one cover, simply dating the page and adding the appropriate headings, "Botany," "Astronomy," and even "Architecture," and presumably these teachers in training would have set up their upper year students in the same integrated manner.
Laurie Bestvater, The Living Page, p 26
What I do know, is that if I try something and it works, the likelihood is that Mason has been there before me. For us, science notebooking works.

Here she goes again, I hear you mutter.  One student, only one term into secondary school, and she already knows it all.  Well, I don't, of course, but Jemimah's science study has been one of the great successes of this year so far, and a lot of that is due to her science notebook.  And so, even though I most certainly do not profess to be an expert, I thought you might like to see it and hear a little bit about how it's working.

Okay, here are a few pages.  As you can see, they're an eclectic mix, because we have been doing the type of integrated science that Laurie describes Mason's students doing.  All-in-one science of this type is the norm in Australia, and the UK, where our schools do not follow the US system of one science per year. This past term we covered introductory classical genetics, the botany of carrot plants, astronomy, the history of immunology, the physics of light and how you see, Linnaean classification, and much more.  Pages from all these subjects appear in the notebook, all in the chronological order in which they were studied.

Each entry comes from a living science book, and I'll tell you about those in another post. Jemimah reads a chapter or so of her assigned text, narrates orally, and then makes a notebook entry.  What she chooses to illustrate is up to her, but the task is not optional.  We study science most days, so she makes four or five entries per week. Mostly, she enjoys this part of her day very much.  I must say, I enjoy seeing what she comes up with as well.

She is expected to date the entry.  Some of the examples here cover more than one page, and the date is earlier; on other pages she has just forgotten.  I can live with that.  Illustrations also must be explained.  It is the written explanation that shows me that she understands what she has drawn.

Mason valued neatness and perfect execution highly.  Sadly, you will not always see Jemimah's best work in these examples.  What I did discover, though, is that the neater the drawing, the more time she invested in the work, the higher the accuracy of the illustration, the better her retention during her end of term exams, and the more scientifically correct was her answer. We will remember that next term.

Science note booking takes a long time, and reduces the number of pages of science pages that can be covered in a term.  When you add to that the requirement to perform experiments wherever possible, the low page count that we see in Mason science programmes makes more sense.  I must say, though, that we did do a few more pages this term than Mason's students did.

Science in total takes about half an hour a day.  This includes special studies, which are also illustrated in the science notebook, but does not include a longer weekly nature walk.  A couple of times Jemimah also illustrated a reading from her natural history text in her science notebook, but most weeks she found that they fitted more readily into her normal nature notebook.  That choice I left to her, and for the most part it has worked well.

So there you are.  Our first term of science note booking the Charlotte Mason way.  I have noticed heightened accuracy and retention using this method, and I am really impressed with how it is going.  We'll be working on neatness next term, but otherwise we'll continue on just as we are.  It has been great.

You can see some much neater science notebooks in this post of Nancy's. She keeps me humble.


  1. Loved seeing these--I can imagine they are an effective tool as much as they are a delight.

  2. Oh, even better!--hard to choose. Would you rather have this one in the carnival?

  3. Which ever you think is more interesting, I guess. I don't mind. This one maybe?

  4. Wow those pages are inspirational :) Thank you for sharing :)

  5. Far neater than Thea's science notebooks. Gives me more ideas, though, as to how to help her improve.

  6. I will have to share both posts with the elementary teacher at my school. It is taking a long time to years of undo "worksheet" mentality in the students.

  7. Oh, thanks for sharing this! Seeing all of those illustrations makes me want to go read a science book. :)

  8. These are great examples! kudos to your dd...my dd was worried that she "is the only one who has to do science this way" and was quite happy seeing this post!

  9. Jeanne
    Just wondering, where did you get hold of Laurie's book here in Australia? Having trouble getting it from my normal sellers for a reasonable price.
    and love J's notebook!

  10. I ordered mine from Amazon, Erin. Sorry I have no clever local hints. It is very good, though.

  11. There she goes again, promising us a post about her living science books... :P But this post is very useful. Thank you.

  12. Claire, I know. I'm sorry. Why do I find that post so hard? Baby steps, bit by bit, I figure. I will get there.

  13. Reveling in Jemimah's notebooking! How inspiring!!!

  14. Reveling in Jemimah's notebooking! How inspiring!!!


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