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Home / Science lessons / How to Keep a Laboratory Notebook
  • How to Keep a Laboratory Notebook

    Keeping Experiment Notes

    To keep notes on the experiments you perform for junior high or high school Apologia curriculum or any other science course that does not include lab worksheets, all you need is a notebook and a pencil.   We recommend using a 1-subject notebook with a sturdy cover to help keep your notes safe from splashes or spills.  

    For students: As you watch your teacher or go through the steps of the experiment yourself (thoroughly reading the instructions in your textbook before you begin), take brief notes for each step.  Describe what is happening and record your observations, hypothesis (what you think will happen), and what the results are. Including a short explanation of why the results are that way, even if you just summarize the conclusion in your textbook, can be helpful. Your notes may look something like the following (experiment taken from Exploring Creation with Chemistry).

    Experiment 1.2 - Air Takes Up Space
    The procedure: Turn a glass with a paper towel squished into the bottom of it upside down in a sink full of water. 
    The hypothesis: Since the sink has a water level taller than the glass with the paper towel, the glass will be filled with water. What happened: After submerging the glass upside down in the water so that it was nearly touching the bottom of the sink, I was careful not to tip the glass at all.  After a few seconds, I removed the glass without tilting it to either side. When the glass was out of the water, you could see that the paper towel was still dry! The water had not reached the bottom of the glass at all.
    How it happened: Air takes up space.  The air in the upside-down glass could not escape (because the glass had not been tipped to either side). Since the glass was full of air, water could not enter it, and so the paper towel stayed dry.

    You may also wish to record the results of an experiment with a sheet of graph paper, or even draw a picture of each step. Doing this can help you remember the details of the experiment, and why what happened was important.

    Recording failed attempts at the experiment is an important part of learning, too!  If your experiment doesn't work out the first time, look at your notes and decide whether you followed the procedure correctly or missed a step.  Try it again, and record the results.  What did you do differently this time? All of those details are helpful in understanding the experiment.

    Why Keeping a Lab Notebook is Important

    Writing notes can help you understand the experiment the better, as you see how it all ties together. Writing down what you did and what happened can help you understand the scientific process.  Lab notebooks encourage thinking about the "what happened" side of each experiment and understanding the science principles that make the results what they are.

    Also, keeping notes can encourage students who are not as scientifically-minded to think about the experiment in a different way.  If a student does not like hands-on work, but doesn't mind writing down what happened, the lab notebook is a great tool.

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