Examining Teacher Content Knowledge in the Context of Science Notebooks
Authors: Carole G. Basile, Doris Kimbrough, Sharon Johnson

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Key findings show that instructors had some experience with science notebooks but not with teachers. STEM faculty had either used science notebooks themselves in their own research or had used them with undergraduate or graduate students in traditional college classrooms.

Education faculty had used science notebooks with middle and high school students. None had used them as part of teacher professional learning. Although they were familiar with the concept of science notebooks, they had used them for different purposes.

Purpose of the Notebooks

Faculty representatives had similar viewpoints about the purpose of the science notebooks within teacher professional learning. Initially, they all stated that the purpose of the notebooks, generally, was to provide teachers with a place to keep their lab notes, their reflections, new understandings, and self-reflect on their own learning. As the courses progressed and notebooks were used, faculty stated that the notebooks fulfilled multiple purposes beyond what they originally thought. For example, two of the faculty noted that some experiences (i.e. in-class labs versus field based labs) exuded different purposes for science notebooks.

Presentation of the Notebooks

The next set of questions focused on how instructors presented the notebooks. Given the general purpose stated for the notebooks, it's no surprise that most instructional teams did not provide any formal or explicit presentation of how teachers were to use the notebooks or specifics about how they would be assessed. In all cases the notebooks were introduced by education faculty and were seen throughout the course as an "education faculty" responsibility.

Science Notebooks as an Instructional Tool

Every faculty member was able to point out at least two examples that illustrated some of the ways they encouraged teachers to use the notebooks during the class. They discussed graphic representations, notes, new understandings, and reflection of content. All of them noted evidence of their ability to discern a teachers level of content knowledge or explicit misconceptions about a topic that enabled them to re-teach the topic or provide feedback in the notebooks that helped teachers understand the concept more fully.

Science Notebooks as an Assessment Tool

There was a lack of consistency among faculty teams related to assessment. However, faculty were clearly aligned as they talked about the notebooks as a critical assessment tool. Only two of them collected the pages on a regular basis, but they all talked about constant monitoring while teachers were working in small groups or out in the field. A few were surprised at how much they learned not only about the teachers' content knowledge but general organization and problem solving skills as well. None of the instructional teams used science notebooks as part of a grade, but rather as an on-going alternative assessment of teachers' content knowledge and skills. As much as possible, given time constraints, faculty teams used the science notebooks to inform their teaching and did some re-teaching especially where they continued to see big knowledge gaps.

Science Notebooks as a Self-reflective Tool

As instructors were asked to reflect on their use of the notebooks, what they learned about their own teaching and about the content knowledge gains of their teacher participants, there were consistent themes. Instructors had a lot of "next times" and every one of the teams would definitely use the notebooks again. They were amazed at how much they learned about teacher's content knowledge or misconceptions of what was presented. They found themselves re-teaching more than they had before and found the tool informative as a formative assessment.

All agreed they would definitely use the science notebooks again and felt that they learned a tremendous amount about their own instruction, the depth and breadth of teacher content knowledge, skills, and dispositions about various, sometimes controversial, science topics. And finally, we heard reflection from instructors thinking about what's next for science education in general and how the use of the notebooks has made them think in different ways about their teaching.

Even though science notebooks were presented differently, there were consistent common characteristics of the notebooks that illustrated how teachers were learning, their new understandings and continued misconceptions, and how they were thinking about applying new content in the classroom.