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WWU Leads Statewide Effort to Link Science, Literacy

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BELLINGHAM - A group of education leaders from across Washington State, led by the North Cascades and Olympic Science Partnership at Western Washington University, has developed and released a web-based resource to help teachers use science notebooks to improve student achievement in both writing and science.



The new Web resource was introduced at the combined Oct. 13 joint conference of the Washington Science Teachers Organization (WSTA) and the Washington Organization for Reading Development (WORD).



The Science Notebooks Web site can be found at http://www.sciencenotebooks.org/ .



Every teacher struggles to use the limited hours in the school day to teach all core subject areas well. But there are strategies that can get more out of each of those hours, helping students learn more in multiple subjects. The use of science notebooks, a relatively new practice, is one such strategy.



Science notebooks are a place where students hone their writing skills to formulate and refine questions, make predictions, record data, describe procedures, compose reflections and communicate results. Most importantly, notebooks provide a place for students to chronicle new concepts they have learned.



When students are encouraged to describe their understanding of concepts through writing in science notebooks, these notebooks become an effective strategy to help students learn science. Research has shown that such writing also strengthens students' language skills.



The use of science notebooks in classrooms across the country has grown steadily in recent years, yet few resources are available to support teachers in using this important teaching practice well.



"This new resource provides teachers with everything they need to see ways to connect their science and writing instruction. Being web-based means that teachers across the state can access the resource at a time and place convenient for them," said Dennis Schatz, vice president for Education at the Pacific Science Center and co-director of Washington State LASER, a statewide science education reform group.



By reviewing hundreds of actual student notebooks, the group of education leaders explored how teachers were asking students to record their ideas in their science notebooks. Analysis of the student work revealed eight distinct strategies or "entry types," each used with a specific purpose in mind. The Web site was constructed to describe these entry types and illustrates each with multiple samples of student work stored in a searchable online database. The samples come from students of all grade levels, demographic groups, and geographic regions.



"Teachers are looking at the samples of student work on the Web site to better understand what students at their grade level are capable of producing. When they show those samples of student work to their own students it increases their motivation and improves the quality of their work," said Peggy Willcuts, Elementary Science coordinator for the Walla Walla Public schools and science specialist for Batelle/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.



The site also includes classroom lessons, research citations, and frequently asked questions about science notebooks to provide teachers a robust resource. In almost every section teachers can submit new samples of student work, assessment tools, writing templates, or other resources so that the site can grow and evolve based on the needs and interests of its users.



The Science Notebooks Web site was developed through the work of the North Cascades and Olympic Science Partnership, a five-year National Science Foundation funded project led by Western Washington University, that is focused on improving the teaching and learning of science at all levels.



The partnership consists of all of the school districts in Whatcom and Skagit counties, plus 13 districts on the Olympic Peninsula, Western Washington University, the Northwest Indian College, Whatcom Community College, Skagit Valley College, Everett Community College, ESD 114, ESD 189, and Washington State LASER.