First posted on: 24/12/2014
For my first blog post on Christmas Eve I'd like to share with you one of my personal studying strategy, which is keeping a science 'sketchbook'.
Why you should have a science sketchbook?
Creative artists keeps a sketchbook where it is filled with sketches, rough works and unfinished art whenever inspiration strikes and they have new ideas. Writers have journals for very similar purposes where they write random drafts, pen down their thoughts and record events.
When it comes to studying science, I do something similar too. I have two sketchbooks just for physics and mathematics alone where I will take note of everything relevant I come across, plan an assignment, outline proofs, attempt to work hard problems etc. I really enjoy filling them up!
The key here is that there's no structure of what is written in the sketchbook and I just write whatever I like; it is just a collection of raw, unprocessed information and ideas I've came across and came out with. If you're to read my sketchbooks, you'll have absolutely no idea what is being written in there; random equations everywhere, very rough working to problems, half-done proofs and derivation. Here are some pictures of some random pages in my sketchbooks:
And I advice my students to do the same too. The benefits of having a science sketchbook is that it provides an avenue to pen down your thoughts, observations and learning without constraint, and keeps you engaged. Over time, as the content in the sketchbook grows, so will your knowledge, understanding and thinking capability. It also allows you reflect and process all the information you've gathered in a neater way.
Usually my students do have a notebook for summary and assignments, and they're instructed to keep it neat, show proper working in them and work on every textbook exercise.
I have nothing against this, but in my experience it hinders the learning process, have a separate more formal notebook for this purpose. When it comes to learning science, making mistakes and experimenting around with concepts is crucial to making progress, as we have to learn from it.
Having a notebook where you're trying to be neat and structured encourages a perfectionist mindset where everything written in it must be A-grade, intelligent material. This incite a fear of 'ruining' the notebook. So the sketchbook is where you make all the mistakes, play around with the concepts and learning from it.
I used to keep a very neat notebook with all the assignments and summaries written in it nicely, with all the sketches done on blank papers. Although this served me well for a while, the papers started stacking up and become very very messy. It also made it difficult for me to look back at what I've done, apart from stacks of paper filled with equations that makes me feel like a big nerd:
How to keep a science sketchbook?
Now to the next question: how to keep a science sketchbook?
The answer is in any way you'd like it to be. Write whatever you want in it! (Of course keep it relevant, don't write poems or draw anime figures in your science sketchbook).
As mentioned before, the key is that there's no structure, the messier it is, the better because it shows you're thinking and staying engaged. That doesn't mean the sketchbook serves no purpose. The purpose of keeping a science sketchbook is flexible; to stay engaged and unhindered, gather information, experiment around with concepts and formulas, taking notes to aid your memory, plan out for a problem etc.
Of course a sketchbook is entirely personal and not meant to be shared; you'll still need to be able to write up a proper working and explanations for problems when the situation demands it, like handing in an assignment or writing a science book. This is the reason why I differentiate understanding the concepts, and being able to write out working and explanations to problems as two separate skill-sets. Have a sketchbook entirely for yourself and another notebook for more formal purposes, such as writing out a proper chapter summary, assignments etc.
Here are some images of my separate physics laboratory notebook where I everything is written out neatly and with structure:
And the solution to question 2 in one of my assignment from thermal physics meant for submission:
So that conclude today's post on keeping a science sketchbook! I hope you'll get one yourself, start building up on it and you'll be pleasantly surprise how much more engaging and fun studying science is!
Merry Christmas Everybody!