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The Science Journal: Writing and Inquiry Development

From the Fall 1997 sciencelines

By Susan Dahl, Fermilab and Pat Franzen, Madison Jr. High School, Naperville, IL District 203


As science teachers, we are in a most exciting (and challenging) time in history. Content level information is accumulating faster than any of us can possibly process. A recent study suggested that our knowledge base in science and technology is doubling every 16 months! We can no longer pretend to be able to provide all the information. What is the answer? Perhaps a critical look at the process we use to teach, as well as the process by which children learn. One answer may lie in exploring the questioning and information analysis skills students develop through doing, reading, and writing.

Grade Level: Intermediate through High School



Student journals can be kept in loose leaf notebooks, spiral binders, or computer disks. Be sure that the format of the journal will allow the student to bring the journal to and from school. If the journals will be used as a student reference for test taking, computer disks may be impractical.


Students should begin developing science journaling and writing skills early. They can develop their organizational skills, their questioning skills and their writing skills through journaling. Teachers can move toward inquiry teaching and learning scenarios as they see the questions their students write in their journals.


Standard features of the journal may emerge and could then be consistent with each unit studied. Look to the scientific method for consistency. You may want to vary the approach of writing in the journal with some of the units studied. Students may grow in their writing and organization skills as you and they try new approaches.

Intermediate students: Use drawings and diagrams.

Encourage students to write questions about process or outcomes of explorations. Discuss how to develop and identify good questions. Use discussion time to share the questions and decide if some of their questions should be explored together further. Students may want to investigate some of their questions independently.

Middle/Junior High School: Students can add graphs or data charts as they collect data.

As an interdisiplinary correlation, suggest the lab report be written as a letter.

Students may enjoy writing a dream report. In their dream, how would they solve a problem.

High School: Suggest students write their lab reports as a scientific report or conference paper. Bring in examples.

A group or independent interdisciplinary project may take the form of a lab report in the form of a newspaper or magazine article written to the layman.


Gannon, Robert, Best Science Writing, Readings and Insights, Oryx Press, Phoenix, AZ, 1991. (ISBN 0-89774-592-2).

Kanare, Howard M., Writing the Laboratory Notebook, American Chemical Society, Washington, DC, 1985. (ISBN 0-8412-0933-2).

McKenzie, Jamie, "Framing Essential Questions," From Now On, v. 6, no. 1, September 1996. http://www.fromnowon.org/sep96/questions.html.*

McKenzie, Jamie, "The Question Is the Answer," From Now On, v. 7, no. 2, October 1997. http://www.fromnowon.org/oct97/question.html.*

Worsley, Dale and Bernadette Mayer, The Art of Science Writing, Teachers and Writers Collaborative, New York, NY, 1989. (ISBN 0-915924-20-X).

*See Bookmarks section


Journals may go home for extra credit and school to home communication. Parents' response is positive.

This strategy effectively weaves together three critical components in the learning process - students, parents, and teacher. Students are in a position to learn the power of organization and attention to detail in their own writing. Parents are no longer "out of the loop" and feel very much a part of the science education of their child. You may even find a valuable resource amongst the parents.

Use the following letter or draft one of your own.

Dear Parents,

I am sure that by this time you are familiar with the science journal your son or daughter is keeping. It is an integral part of the science experience this year. As our students are placed in the role of student researcher, they should already appreciate the benefits of a ready resource into which they may write essential information and essential questions. The journal is not only a compilation of their lab experiences, but it is a collection of class notes, homework, and vocabulary that students may tap for any test or quiz. A well-organized and complete journal contains all the information needed for labs, tests, and quizzes.

In an effort to encourage students to keep up with their journals and to maintain good positive parent/school communication, I am asking for your assistance. I would like you to peruse your child's journal with him/her and look for the following:

1. A dated and properly labeled entry for every day.

2. Complete sentences that make sense even to someone not in class everyday. If the materials aredone incompletely, it is of little use to the student when a unit test is given.

3. Vocabulary lists for each unit. This may be done as a running list or simply terms incorporated into notes.

4. In addition to the students notes, questions, and other writings, the journal will include graded materials such as labs, quizzes and handouts.

The parent evaluation is designed to be an aid in communication between home, school and student. It is intended to provide an avenue for discussion and encouragement. The diligent students' efforts can be applauded and the hesitant students' behaviors can be supported in a positive manner. If your child's efforts do not meet your expectations, please encourage him/her to take the task seriously. A well-written journal will reap benefits.

Your student will receive extra credit for a returned signature indicating "EXCEEDS" (15 points), "MEETS" (10 points), "DOES NOT MEET" (No points, No penalty - Go for improvement next time.).

Please look over your son's/daughter's journal together.
I have read my child's journal and find that it (Circle one)

my expectations in most areas.