Tweak Trad. Labs to Inquiry Excitement.
Okay, well that’s overstated. But seriously, are you tired of having 3 of the 4 kids at a table check out and fool around with equipment while the one keen student follows the tediously detailed directions, 10pt type, both sides. The principal comes in to observe and asks ‘What are you doing?’ to a student and they answer ‘Number 6.’ Sigh.
It’s SO much work setting up a lab. And so frustrating to have this experience. Here is some help with how to take a good basic idea embedded in all the verbiage of a traditional cookbook style lab, and make it more engaging to more students. Engaged students = 1/discipline problems. By the way, this approach also works to pull a general cool idea from, say You Tube or something you see on the telly into a workable lab sheet that will free you up to coach your students instead of nagging them every step.
The central piece is phrasing a clear and concise challenge. Everything else falls in around that. For example “Who has the fastest reaction time? Use a dropped ruler to find out.” Anyone can instantly see how to go about answering that.
Here’s an attempt to systematize what I do, followed by an example of a before-and-after friction labs.
Some questions to consider as you select, edit and write lab sheets:
1. What equipment and sheets are in use at your school site?
2. What concept is the lab teaching? If it’s more than 2 concepts (preferably 1), consider separating out one major concept per lab section. One thing at a time is much clearer for students and is more likely to be retained. Confusion = chaos, danger and disengagement.
3. How does the lab relate to student’s lives? Could it be edited to be more relevant?
4. What is the central or driving question the lab could answer? Phrase the driving question as a clear and inviting challenge. This is the keystone of a successful lab.
5. What is the least amount of structure needed for your students to be able to work independently to find the answer to the driving question?
6. Will re-writing a lab create a problem with your colleagues? How can you head this off? (Consulting/ collaborating/keeping quiet/picking your battles/doing it anyway.)
7. Does the lab make a clear link to student’s prior knowledge, and to the concepts currently being studied?
Here’s the basic format (which I shorten/modify depending on the intent of the activity.)
Unit and sheet #
Title – fun but clear about the concept and the activity.
Teacher name with copyright symbol, today’s date
‘Gestalt’ of the activity – what they will learn and do. Helpful for parents, tutors, special ed teachers and students reviewing the sheets. Don’t give away what should happen in an inquiry activity though. Brief.
1. Link to prior knowledge often with a prediction question.
2. Challenge question.
3. Structure of how to solve the question, depending on student’s prior training. Start by fill-in-the-blank hypothesis, what variables are what in the experiment and a pre-made data table. Work towards being able to design a whole experiment with just the sub headings.
4. Analysis questions: What does your data say? Maybe with some ranking, some statistical analysis and/or a graph. Lots of blank space for student’s own work.
5. Conclusion questions:
a. Does the data support or disprove their hypothesis?
b. What does science have to say about the answer to the challenge question?
c. How do their conclusions based on their data fit what science has to say? –
d. What are the errors in their method? Their accuracy of measurement? How well they controlled their variables ie how fair it was? And any other errors they might have made.
6. Application: What does the answer to the challenge question mean in the real world? Why is the conclusion important?
7. Extra credit/Extensions – ex. Take a photo of something in their lives that relates to this challenge question and explain it. Find out more about the science with a reputable site online.
Friction Lab before-and-after Example:
Entry filed under: Class Management, Experimental Method, Inquiry and critical thinking, Physics Topics. Tags: 8th grade science, Friction labs, how to write lab sheets, inquiry, inquiry labs, middle school, physical science, science activity, science instruction, science labs.