You're right about them losing their notebooks. Happens in 6th too. What I do is, they have a FOLDER with notes and papers in it. They have to keep all their papers in the folder until the end-of-unit test. I put a folder "table of contents" on the overhead, and we update it every day.
Each student has a 1/2" white presentation binder that becomes their lab notebook. THOSE, they are required to keep in the classroom, and each class has its own plastic crate where lab notebooks are kept. The crates are pushed up against the back wall of the classroom.
I get TONS of ideas from www.middleschoolscience.com
. This is a website created by a 6th grade science teacher and she has all of her units, lessons, labs, and procedures there for you to look at, as well as print off. That website has been a lifesaver for me.
I post the daily routine on the board for my kids. So on a typical day when we are doing a lab, the board would say:
1. Write your homework in your agenda.
2. Get your lab notebook from the bin.
3. Take 2 papers from the front of the room.
4. Have last night's homework out to be checked.
5. Update your table of contents and organize your folder.
6. Look up, fold hands and SMILE!
The kids go through all these steps as I go around the room and initial that they've written their HW down in their agenda. This way they always have something to keep them busy for the first 5 minutes and they always have class time to organize their papers in their folder.
I never hand out papers...I have bins on a front table, and the papers that the students need for that day are stacked in the bins. That way, I can tell them to pick up whatever papers they need (step 3 above), instead of me wasting time handing them out.
Another great science site is www.sciencespot.net
. One of the best ideas I gleaned there was to have the student's lab partner fill out a "while you were absent" paper if their lab partner is absent, and staple any assignments missed to the paper, then put it in a bin at the front of the room. Saves the teacher TONS of headaches and time. Also, I change the seating chart (and lab partners) on the 1st of every month. The kids really like that.
Good luck with science. You'll love it as you get into it!