Consensus Notebooks and Defining Variables

Today we finally passed out the Consensus Notebooks I prepared for students to take notes in. This is what’s emerged from a long journey trying to find a way to facilitate better note taking in a class that’s so discussion-centered.

The notebook is broken up into topics (cvpm, etc.) and sections, with prompts of questions that need to be answered by consensus. There’s space for example problems, etc. but we have to decide as a class which examples from whiteboarding we want to include.

The first section in the notebook asks two questions – How can we tell which is the independent variable in an experiment? How can we tell which is the dependent variable? These questions were part of the homework practice sheet, and students were primed for the discussion. We talked for a while about which wording would be most useful, during which some students started to write down wording that made sense to them. Eventually, everyone had something in their notes, but it’s up to them to make sure it’s useful.

We also had a good conversation about when we can draw conclusions, and whether we should be surprised by variability in our data. A few sample whiteboards from this discussion:

##expdesign ##consensus ##physicsfirst ##whiteboarding


4 thoughts on “Consensus Notebooks and Defining Variables

  1. Is there a link to be able to download this book? Or at least a picture of a couple of the pages to see how you formatted it? I have been thinking of implementing something similar to this. Thanks!

    • It’s a work in progress, of course, but here’s a link to a public DropBox folder with all the pieces:

      If you want to just check out the content, the PDF of the notebook itself is here:

      I tended to include as text anything that I felt need to be in specific words (For example, “Force is an interaction between two objects.”), but any of the actual interpretation, examples, etc. (the real *thinking*) is recorded through consensus. My hunch is that there’s too much text in this first round, and that I’ll be able to take a lot out in the next version. But I’m working with ninth graders, and they can often need things to be made very explicit!

      I’ve been working with these “Notes Outlines” for a while, and have had a lot of success developing some more conscientious note-taking skills. This is the first time that I’ve put it all in one place, though, and I’m excited to see how the kids respond!

  2. Thanks a lot for sharing this! It’s almost like a DIY textbook for the students. Do they also have a separate notebook for “notes?” This is phenomenal because you can use it to highlight big ideas by putting them here rather than in a student notebook that is filled with in class practice, lab data, notes from other classes, etc. Please keep us updated on how it goes with these notebooks.

    • Thanks Andy! I’ll definitely make updates on my progress on this 180 blog, so stay tuned!

      I’m planning on allowing students to use this notebook on all tests and quizzes. There are quite a few blank pages for extra notes, but it’s not so much space that they can write down literally everything we do. They’re encouraged to record corrections on practice sheets, observations and interpretations on lab sheets, etc. and these are kept in a three-ring binder which is NOT accessible during assessments. My hope is that they’ll see the need for a concise collection of useful information, and thereby make their own decisions about what information is the most useful!

      I’m hoping this can be a way to practice conscientious note taking at the same time as practicing physics. Since we’re deciding by consensus what’s important, the “write down what’s on the board” paradigm goes out the window…

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