journals and wonders

Where do we start to do science? I think this is a good question because it is one of those that seems like it should have an obvious, maybe trivial answer. There’s this presumption that “science is nothing more than a refinement of every day thinking,” as Einstein is frequently quoted with saying. But, even as you continue to read more Einstein and other science thinkers, it’s clear that it’s not just an extension of the kind of thinking we may be used to doing, but some kind of thinking and doing that we’ve invented. Sure, we can all do it, but we have to work at it. This is why we have science classes, after all, and why I have a job.

There’s another even more important consideration, though. We don’t just think about and create science out of nothing. We have to have something to wonder about. There has to be a natural world to observe, and we have to do that observation. That’s where we employ the most important scientific tool in this history of humankind: the pencil. Of course, along with the pencil (or any other writing tool) comes paper. But the essence of it all is that we have to start making observations and making sense of them in a way that we can share the ideas with others and maybe even start to see the ideas laid out in front of us, letting them take on a new light.

I encourage you to have a notebook that’s dedicated to observations and making sense of the world. In fact, it’s likely that you’re taking a course from me that requires a dedicated notebook for the class. I like to carry a small journal or notebook around with me to make sense of the world, and recently I’ve been inspired by seeing how an artist, Lynda Barry, uses a composition notebook to craft, teach, and document her classes. Here’s her product next to my own composition notebook:

Adam’s and Lynda’s notebooks, side by side.

Lynda is an artist, and she sees the world and makes sense of it through an artist’s lens:

A sample of Lynda’s course pages, incorporated into her notebook.

But I don’t think that this means that the concept and tool is only for the artist. In my own notebooks, I’ve started to use the space of the page not only to record something I don’t want to forget, but to start to work through the idea. Based on the idea of a friend of mine, Andy Gilbert, I’ve had some teachers I work with promote these as “Wonder Journals” for themselves and with their elementary students. It’s not just a record, but a place to start to create questions and even to see new things.

My own wonder journal for the course, next to Lynda’s composition notebook as well as my own everyday notebook.

Your first step: Get yourself your own, dedicated notebook. I got a relatively fancy one with thick paper and “quad ruled” squares on it so that I could write in different directions as well as make graphs and other sketches. This cost me about $3.50 at the bookstore, but with options to spend even less or much more. It doesn’t matter — whatever suits you and your style and workflow. Then, start breaking it in. Put your name on it, crack the spine a little, and see how the pencil or pen feels on the page. Go ahead and write in it as you start to see and wonder things, but rest assured that we’ll start filling things in with vigor starting on our first day of class.

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