Keeping a great laboratory notebook - an epic lesson

Laboratory notebook

High School / College

Keeping lab notes, who said it best?

"Trust nothing to the memory, for the memory becomes a fickle guardian when one interesting object is succeeded by another still more interesting."

Or, "A naturalist ought to acquire the habit of writing very copious notes…as a guide for himself; no follower of science has greater need of taking precautions to attain accuracy; for the imagination is apt to run riot when dealing with masses of vast dimensions and with time during almost infinity."

None other than the famous scientist, Charles Darwin, said both quotes. When it came to keeping scientific notebooks, Charles Darwin set the bar!

During his epic voyage of the Beagle (1831-1836), Darwin made detailed records of all his activities, making his notes some of the most valued documents in the history of science. The voyage of the Beagle notebooks include observations on geology, zoology, botany, ecology, and barometer readings.

Following in Darwin's footsteps, your students can use laboratory notebooks to record and reflect on their observations, activities, investigations, and experiments. Just picture it, the notebooks of the brilliant future scientists in your classroom handed down to their children and their children's children, and one day published for the benefit of all humanity! Well, we can dream, can't we?

In the meantime, teaching your students how to keep consistent and accurate lab notes is a great way to help them organize and keep track of their learning experience.  Students learn how good lab notes help others follow their experiments step-by-step so they can recreate them. Reproducibility is extremely important in science and is very difficult without an accurate roadmap.

Hey, take note: you'll also be helping your students stand out overall since science notebooks are the perfect way to integrate science experiences with literacy and mathematics because they combine science inquiry, written communication, and data using measurement (Gilbert & Kotelman, 2005; Klentschy, 2005; Yore, Bisanz, & Hand, 2003).


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