Before I ease my students into using a science notebook, I am scaffolding the process for them. Our first inquiry investigation involved finding out the density of water. I provided the focus question for them (which I realize is not ideal in true inquiry), but let the groups identify the variables involved and design their own experiments. Student groups measured the mass for different volumes of water.
This was all standard for my class and nothing new. However, their measured data used to stay within each group. On this day, all data was shared via a class data table and graph. Students could see the results of everyone. We discussed class trends and explanations for possible outliers. This made the data more meaningful.
One of the key concepts in an inquiry investigation is the use of claims and evidence. Once all groups recorded their data on the board, students made claims and used the class data as the evidence to back up the claim. Just like in a court case, a claim is meaningless unless you have the evidence to back it up. Students can use their own data as evidence or the data from anyone else in the class. Depending when you reach this point, students could also use evidence found in a textbook or another activity.
While the conclusions and reflections students generated were really good, this idea of claims and evidence is what I found the most beneficial. It really makes them take a solid look at the results and whether they had meaningful data or not. It also helps that the ELA teacher on my team also teaches the students that they need specific textual evidence when analyzing a passage in a book so they are hearing the same message in two very different contexts!