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Nature of Science

Performance Benchmark N.12.A.2
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Nature of Science
Scientific Inquiry


Science, Technology, and Society
Content Areas
Nature of Science (NOS)
Life Science
Earth Science
Physical Science

Students know scientists maintain a permanent record of procedures, data, analyses, decisions, and understandings of scientific investigations.  I/S

This performance benchmark addresses both the processes of science (procedures, data, analysis, decisions) and the documentation of those processes (permanent record).  Both topics will be covered in the following discussion.
Science Notebooks and Documentation
Scientists over the ages have always documented their work.  Prior to the Renaissance (which began near the 14th century) philosophy and religion were the science authorities. Aristotle’s philosophy was a significant basis of how people understood the world.  Beginning with the Renaissance a new scientific philosophy began to develop during which scholars/scientists put more credence on experience, experimentation, and observation rather than on philosophy and religion.  From the time of Bacon (13th century), da Vinci (15th century), Copernicus (16th century), Galileo (17th century), and others who followed, scientists began to use what we now consider “scientific methods” to study, gather evidence, and support hypotheses and theories using that evidence.  Philosophers and religious leaders documented their thoughts and ideas in writing but their knowledge was usually based on their own interpretations, without scientific evidence.  The scientists began to use notes and notebooks not only to record their interpretations, but to also record questions,  ideas, research, experiments, data, and more.  Many original ancient scientific documents are in museums and other secure archives.  Images or translations of some historically relevant science observations and experimentation can be found in books, journals, and on many internet sites. 

For some examples of early science documentation, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s, go to

or Galileo’s go to,

As an example of a renowned scientist who put great care in their recorded work, the following was written by Linus Pauling before he died:

"I made the decision to place my personal papers, medals, and other materials, and my wife's papers, in the OSU libraries. I did so because I had confidence in OSU's [Oregon State University’s] ability to preserve these materials and to make them available to scholars around the world for generations to come."

 As a scientist, Pauling used his science notebook to record activities he completed in the lab.  The image below shows two pages in one of his notebooks from 1922.

Book 01 Page 002 Book 01 Page 002

Figure 1. Page from one of Linus Pauling’s science notebooks
documenting substances that he made.

Engineers, such as Orville and Wilbur Wright also documented and tracked data during their development and testing of aircraft.  


Figure 2. A sample of notebook from wind tunnel experiments conducted by the Wright brothers. The signature, date and other historically valuable information can be seen on this notebook page.  (from:

Today, the acts of recording observations, procedures, experimental results, and thoughts are all considered required parts of doing “good science”. Science notebooks used by scientists today are usually permanently bound.  Scientists record their activities daily using non-erasable ink, number and date the pages, and can even have another scientist periodically read and review the entries.  These scientific notebooks are often kept private—used directly only by the scientist and the laboratory or organization involved.  Sometimes science notebooks are used in patent, copyright, or invention disputes in courts of law. 

Even though science notebooks are generally private, scientists do value and respect peer review of their work.  Therefore, scientists will often make parts of their work public.  This is evidenced by the thousands of scientific journals published by the world’s scientific communities.  A scientist publishes work either formally or informally to strengthen and validate their findings.  When research is documented and made available for review, credence is given to the value and truth of the research.  Some scientific work that is not published in journals may be shared in committees, focus groups, regional and national workshops and conferences.  Although very little of what actually occurs in a science laboratory gets published, careful documentation of the scientific work that is done in a laboratory is still critical in order to document procedures, data and analyses.  Decisions based on this documentation can then be carefully and appropriately made. 

An example of an online scientific journal is the Astronomy Education Review, which is found at

With the widespread use of computers today, some organizations use electronic science notebooks.  Although electronic notebooks have not yet developed widespread acceptance as legal documentation, it is still worthwhile for science teachers to introduce students to their use.  For teachers who use probeware in the classroom, electronic data-gathering, storage, and reporting can be a natural step.

To read an article discussing electronic notebooks, see

The National Science Teacher’s Association position is that laboratory investigations, including the use of science notebooks need to be part of the assessment process in the science classroom.  Specifically teachers need to learn to “develop assessments that reveal and measure inquiry skills – the ability to design, conduct, analyze, and complete an investigation, reason scientifically, and communicate through science notebooks and lab reports.” 

The NSTA’s entire position statement can be found at:

Additional information and commentary on the value of using science notebooks as an assessment tool can be found in the article called “Science Notebooks:  Tools for Increasing Achievement Across the Curriculum” at:

The writing process that occurs when using notebooks requires reflection which is an important piece of inquiry.  The use of science notebooks daily in the science classroom can be a tool both for literacy development and to mimic the journals that real scientists use in their studies and investigations.  Science notebook entries can and should be varied to model different types of work real scientists do.  Research by the NCOSP (North Cascades and Olympic Science Partnership) revealed 8 different strategies used most frequently in the context of science notebooks.  Use of these various strategies will help students to model what real scientists use in their notebooks.  The following table describes those 8 strategies:

Entry Type

Definition and Purpose


Student generated drawings of materials, scientific investigation set-up, observations, or concepts.  Three common types of drawings used in science notebooks include:

  • Sketches:  Informal pictures of objects or concepts created with little detail.
  • Scientific Illustrations:  Detailed, accurate, labeled drawings of observations or concepts.
  • Technical Drawings:  A record of a product in such detail that someone could create the product from the drawings.

Students use drawings to make their thinking and observations of concrete or abstract ideas visible.  Drawings access diverse learning styles, allow entry to the writing process for special needs students and emergent writers, and assist in vocabulary development (e.g. oral explanations, group discussions, labels).

Tables, Charts, and Graphs

Formats for recording and organizing data, results, and observations. 

Students use tables and charts to organize information in a form that is easily read and understood.  Recording data in these forms facilitates record keeping.  Students use graphs to compare and analyze data, display patterns and trends, and synthesize information to communicate results.

Graphic Organizers

Tools that illustrate connections among and between ideas, objects, and information.  Examples include, but are not limited to, Venn diagrams, “Box–and-T” charts, and concept maps. 

Graphic organizers help students organize ideas to recognize and to communicate connections and relationships. 

Notes and Practice Problems

A record of ideas, observations, or descriptions of information from multiple sources, including but not limited to direct instruction, hands-on experiences, videos, readings, research, demonstrations, solving equations, responding to guiding questions, or developing vocabulary.

Students use notes and practice problems to construct meaning and practice skills for current use and future reference. 

Reflective and Analytical Entries

A record of a student’s own thoughts and ideas, including, but not limited to initial ideas, self-generated questions, reflections, data analysis, reactions, application of knowledge to new situations, and conclusions.

Students use reflective and analytical entries to think about scientific content from their own perspective, make sense of data, ask questions about their ideas and learning processes, and clarify and revise their thinking. 


Inserts are artifacts placed within a notebook, including, but not limited to photographs, materials (e.g. flower petals, crystals, chromatography results), and supplemental readings (e.g. newspaper clippings).

Students use inserts to document and to enrich their learning. 

Investigation Formats

Scaffolds to guide students through a controlled investigation, field investigation, or design process.  Examples include, but are not limited to investigation planning sheets or science writing heuristics.

Students use investigation formats to guide their thinking and writing
while they design and conduct investigations.  Students also use these formats to reflect on and discuss their findings and ideas.

Writing Frames

Writing prompts used to focus a student’s thinking.  Examples include, but are not limited to, “I smelled…I felt…I observed…”, “My results show…”, “The variable I will change is…”, or “I think that because…”

Students use frames to organize their ideas, prompt their thinking, and structure their written response.  Frames help students become more proficient in scientific writing and less reliant upon the prompts. 

This table was taken from the following site:


Scientific Process and “The Scientific Method”
Documenting scientific work means documenting all steps of an investigation.  Although there is not ONE scientific method, various components of scientific inquiry and scientific processes are used and should be documented.  Some of these components and processes are:

  • asking questions
  • making observations
  • developing hypotheses or possible explanations
  • designing procedures to investigate a question or problem
  • recording results of an investigation
  • discussing of results, conclusions, and further questions. 

Not all of these steps are necessarily completed by a scientist during an investigation, but all are used at various times. In addition, the steps scientific processes are not always completed in a specific order.  Science processes are dynamic and interactive as demonstrated in the following concept map:  

conceptmap.gif (9636 bytes)
Figure 3. A concept map showing connections between methods used by scientists.

For additional information on scientific methods that are used in real science, see

Student must also be taught that sometimes scientific discoveries are made serendipitously, and that all observations, data, results, even if not apparently directly related to a scientific study, should be noted and recorded.  Several major discoveries were made by chance, and the scientist’s permanent records of these accidental discoveries led to scientific breakthroughs.

For more information on discoveries that occurred “by chance” or serendipitously, see:
By recording data carefully and permanently, and by repeating investigations, a scientist is able to compare his work with his own work or with the work of other scientists.  This enables scientists to determine the precision and accuracy of their work. 

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Performance Benchmark N.12.A.2

Students know scientists maintain a permanent record of procedures, data, analyses, decisions, and understandings of scientific investigations.  I/S

Common misconceptions associated with this benchmark

1.  Students incorrectly think that a “formal lab write-up” is the permanent document in a science investigation. 

Students think that a “formal lab write-up” is the permanent document in a science investigation.  A common classroom requirement for high school science students is a “formal lab write-up”.  Because of this, students often think that this is the method used to demonstrate their understanding of the value of permanent records in science.  Science teachers need to help their students understand that a “formal lab write-up” could be a model for a published report or journal article.  However the day-to-day use of a lab notebook models what a scientist does on a daily basis.

To learn more about the use of a notebook in a scientific lab, see


2.  Students incorrectly believe that “the scientific method” is rigid, that the steps are followed in a specific order, and that it is used only by scientists to prove or explain things. 

The Scientific Method is taught by many teachers in all the disciplines of high school science.  While the steps of “The Scientific Method” are important to scientists, the process of science is not rigid, and the steps should not be taught as the only way to do science.

To read more about the myths associated with the methods of science and scientific processes, go to

National Science Education Content Standard A states that students “should develop abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry and they should develop understanding about scientific inquiry.”  It is important that a science teacher provide opportunities for students to conduct meaningful scientific investigations.  It is also important to provide students with the opportunities to further engage in the scientific processes such as discussion, evidence-based arguments, and providing explanations for laboratory results based on data and evidence.  Through inquiry-based activities, students will begin to learn how science works and that science does not always follow a rigid set of steps or rules.  

See for additional details on National Science Education Content Standard A.

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Performance Benchmark N.12.A.2

Students know scientists maintain a permanent record of procedures, data, analyses, decisions, and understandings of scientific investigations.  I/S

Sample Test Questions

1st Item Specification: Recognize proper data collection and recording procedures in various scenarios.

Depth of Knowledge level 1

  1. In 1989, two scientists held a news conference to announce to the world that they had observed controlled nuclear fusion in a glass jar better known as cold fusion technology. It was later determined that their findings were false.  Of the following which is NOT part of the scientific process?
    1. Peer review of scientific work in research journals.
    2. Validation of scientific results through repeated trials.
    3. Making claims about unsubstantiated experimental results.
    4. Allowing other scientists to review scientific procedures.
  1. Maintaining permanent records of all experiments including their multiple trials, helps scientists to do all of the following EXCEPT
    1. look for patterns in collected data and discover new information.
    2. apply for competitive grants and hire new staff.
    3. verify that experimental results are accurate and repeatable.
    4. allow peer review of work to extend scientific understandings.
  1. All of the following can be found in a scientist’s notebook.  Which of these is considered data?
    1. Signature and date on every page.
    2. Possible answer to a question that the scientist has.
    3. List of possible questions that could be investigated.
    4. Measurements recorded during an experiment.

Depth of Knowledge level 2

  1. In her laboratory journal, a microbiologist enters the following information: “Some mold & growth was seen on the agar plate that was streaked with bacteria three days ago. Bacterial colonies were observed on the plate, but the area surrounding the mold did not show any bacteria.” Which of the following describes the microbiologist’s journal entry?
    1. Prediction
    2. Observation
    3. Conclusion
    4. Hypothesis
  1. Observe the following diagram, which is taken from one of Charles Darwin’s notebooks.  The words “I think” can be seen at the top of the page and a branching diagram is shown below that. 

    The words “I think” represent a permanent documentation of one of Darwin’s
    1. hypotheses.
    2. questions.
    3. observations.
    4. laws.
  1. In 1986, scientists at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the former Soviet Union performed an experiment to test reactor behavior. The reactor overheated and the resulting build-up of steam caused a massive explosion contaminating the region with high levels of nuclear materials. Which of the following best explains what happened?
    1. Scientists failed to follow standard procedures resulting in the explosion.
    2. Too much electricity was being generated by the reactor causing the explosion.
    3. Soviet designed reactors have no safeguards which caused the explosion.
    4. There were no data to support procedures for testing the nuclear reactor.

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Performance Benchmark N.12.A.2

Students know scientists maintain a permanent record of procedures, data, analyses, decisions, and understandings of scientific investigations.  I/S

Answers to Sample Test Questions

  1. C, DOK Level 1
  2. B, DOK Level 1
  3. D, DOK Level 1
  4. B, DOK Level 2
  5. A, DOK Level 2
  6. A, DOK Level 2

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Performance Benchmark N.12.A.2

Students know scientists maintain a permanent record of procedures, data, analyses, decisions, and understandings of scientific investigations.  I/S

Intervention Strategies and Resources

The following list of intervention strategies and resources will facilitate student understanding of this benchmark.

1. Creating and Using Science Notebooks
Lori Fulton, a Clark County School District teacher co-authored a book titled:  Science Notebooks:  Writing About Inquiry (2003).  These authors presented a workshop on “Creating Student Centered Science Notebooks”.  This book and presentation are geared specifically to elementary school students, but many of the ideas can be adapted for high school students.

The book may be ordered on-line through retailers, such as the National Science Teacher’s Association Science Store at

To access the presentation slides, go to


2. Notebook Guide for Scientists
The East Bay Educational Collaborative of Rhode Island provides a “Scientist’s Notebook Guide” which features strategies for using notebooks in science classes.  This site provides examples of types of notebook entries, scientist notebook student guides, and links to articles that support science and literacy.  Although much of what is found at this site was designed based on elementary school research, the material can be adapted easily to high school science classes.

The guide is found at


3. Use of Notebooks by Scientists. 
Teachers could take students to a computer lab and have them investigate actual text (or translated texts) of scientists notebooks.  Using one or more of the following websites, a teacher could have students write/discuss some of the major features of these notebooks (e.g., pages are dated, sometimes sketches are used, data is recorded, observations are noted, etc.). The follow websites contain actual scientist notebooks and excerpts.

Darwins field notes at:

Newton notebook entries (click on “transcriptions”) at: 
Linus Pauling’s notebook excerpts at:


4.  Summary of Science Notebook Topics
The North Cascades and Olympic Science Partnership (NCOSP) in northwest Washington with grant support from the National Science Foundation, has developed a web site that addresses several topics regarding science notebooks.  Many helpful ideas and suggestions on topics such as notebook features, student sample work, and classroom tools, and several teacher answers to frequently asked questions can be found at this site.

The science notebook website can be accessed at   

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