Almost Normal

Another week gone and I finally sort of almost feel like I got a routine going… for now. But I’ll take it. It’s nice to have the madness tempered out. Even though there’s routine, between my placement and STARS, there’s never a dull moment.

In this week’s blog, I want to focus on “laboratory science.” Basically, what makes for a lab that is both geared towards a learning objective and at the same time, is interesting and allows some freedom in expressing their own thoughts.

At my placement, the students did a two part lab with a mystery substance. By observing the mystery substance in different environments, the students had to determine if it was living or non-living by scientific standards (which we had discussed previously. In watching my CT prepare and facilitate the lab, I learned a checklist’s worth of things to hopefully integrate into my own future practice.

1. Mystery is a big motivator for students: The concept of a mystery substance was enough for students to exclaim all types of observations. We let the students make their exclamations, and said that everything they were shouting out made for excellent observations to write down. Not knowing what it was made the initial observation much more fun and productive. Knowing what it was beforehand would have kept the students from making observations that they might feel were ludicrous. Not knowing what they were observing made every observation legitimate.

2. You can never give too much instruction: The way the protocol was presented to the students was both in video form, and a checklist. The video is an excellent idea because one does not have to fumble with materials in real time. Also, it keeps the instruction consistent so you are ensured you don’t miss something from one period to another. Lastly, it also presents the instructions in a different medium, and the change of medium also helps students retain more. However, despite all that there were still some problems with directions. Students were still not as careful as they should have been and some had to stop and start all over because of an error in the protocol. It helps to have multiple mediums, but you still gotta facilitate well. That means organizing lab kits so no one hunts around for materials and prompting students to read the right portion of the directions carefully and slowly.

3. Give the students space in which to express themselves: Have observations be either in diagram or written form, leave things to the student’s discretion, and let them have fun with it. Labs are the cool part of science where genuine learning happens through an experience, so give the students space to do the learning in the way they see best. We had one student, who is normally quiet and indifferent, film the entire 25-minute process of the experiment happening, just so he could make a time-lapse video. And it came out great.

Throughout my coursework at Warner, lab and similar experiences have been hotly debated issue. They nee structure, but they cannot be too rigid and be a cookbook lab. A bit of scaffolding of the terms and ideas combined with a lab that gives students the space to synthesize their own meaning is the best way I can think of going about it… for now.

In other news, I just took my content exam today… There was more cheer in a graveyard than that testing site. *shudders*

Bye for now!

P.S. The mystery substance: Yeast.

2 thoughts on “Almost Normal

  1. Love the post – great takeaways –

    Check out Chapter 1 in the 5 Practices in Science book to see how they authors challenge your #2 and reaffirm your #3. 🙂


  2. I feel the same way: I finally feel like I have a routine going.

    I like your point about students loving a mystery. I’ve been noticing that they tend to love a competition as well. They wanted so badly to win that scavenger hunt yesterday!

    I’ve been debating about the instruction issue. The other day, we had our students do a lab that many of them didn’t understand. For the next period, I thought about asking my CT if I could maybe start out by emphasizing the theme of each page, and that the first page did not require equipment, etc: just kinda giving them clarity on what each page was asking. She was leading the activity, though, and I really didn’t have the chance.

    Part of me thinks that she may have done this on purpose, though. The directions were clear, and learning to read them is an important skill. I want to ask her more about this when we actually have time. How much direction is appropriate for kids this age, and is there a level that is too much?

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