Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The science lab notebook

Science is really nothing if you can't describe what is happening and what you did to make it happen. All good scientist should keep a lab notebook full of their experiments. It also acts as a diary or journal about all the fun things you did and saw!

J is a little too young to keep one all by himself, but I want lab notebook keeping seem like an easy thing. I also found a super cute composition notebook for under $1 while stocking up for school supplies a year ago. J was thrilled for his new, ice cream covered science notebook.

I introduced the concept to him on the day we planted our garden and did our water density and floating egg experiment. I did the writing, but as I was writing, I was asking him questions and having him fill in the blanks. I drew some diagrams too, and he completed the drawings.

Parts of the notebook:

Front cover: I learned the hard way, after my lab notebook disappeared for a week, that you always want to put your name and if it's really important to you, a telephone number in case someone else finds it. Luckily, my notebook was placed on a ladder in the lab while I was distracted by impromptu visitors. Once found, my name and cell # immediately went on it.

Table of contents: I think for little kids, you're okay skipping this, unless you want a quick way to find what experiments you conducted. Leave a page or two blank in the front of the book and fill out the table of contents as you go. If you do a table of contents, I'd highly recommend numbering your experiment pages as you go.

Experiment pages: Follow the description below for each experiment. Some experiments will be much more elaborate or detailed than others. Some will be very simple. Work with your kid on a format that works for you. I like to ask J a lot of questions to see what he thinks as we go. I write his answers to my questions.

Generalities for notebook keeping: Always write in pen so your entries cannot be altered by you or someone else (falsifying information is never okay as a scientist). If you make a mistake, do not use whiteout or black it out with a marker. A single line through with your initials and date and the correct information written nearby will work. On professional notebooks, you want to sign and date every page. If it's important, like you are inventing something, you also want someone else to sign as a witness. Also, it is important to be neat. If you can't read and interpret your work, how will anybody else know what's going on?

For each experiment follow the format below:

Really, at a young age, simple is better. Here's the example page I worked on with J:

Date and Name of the Experiment

Introduction/Scientific Question: Why do you think what we're doing is important?

Hypothesis: What do you think is going to happen?

Materials and Methods: What did you use to do the experiment? How did you do the experiment? Drawings or pictures of how your experiment looked as it was set-up is very useful in this section.

Results: What happened? Drawings and graphs/charts are useful here too. On the graphics above, I drew the cups, and J drew the eggs (circles).

Discussion: Why did that happen? Was it what you expected/guessed/hypothesized? Can you explain why or why not? Do you have more questions posed by the results of your experiment? What can you do differently next time?

I hope you enjoyed this introduction to scientific notebook keeping. It's now a fun part of our science activities. J asks for his special science notebook all of the time.

Related post:
*Setting up a science fair display.


  1. Love this. I need to get my kids some lab notebooks!

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