At one point I hated labs. I hated them in school. I even hated doing labs with my students. Allow me to list the reasons why:
- finding good labs, not just the ones with the book
- making sure you have the supplies for labs
- setting up labs takes forever, especially if teaching more than one type of science class
- students READING then FOLLOWING all instructions during the lab
- lab safety
- cleaning up...always a mess
- oh, and did I mention grading?
Not only this, but most of the labs involved absolutely NO creativity. They were all cookie cutter labs that had the following prescribed steps: Pre-lab questions, read all instructions, do lab, answer all post lab questions. Don't get me wrong, there were some good questions to answer, and some of the labs did offer a learning experience, but there was no real experimentation going on. There were not multiple tests run, hypotheses were often lacking, variables were not identified, data was acquired but students merely filled in premade tables, graphs were often not generated, conclusions were made but didn't solidify understanding. In other words, the students were doing an activity, but NOT a true experiment.
One day, an educator challenged me to let students design the labs themselves. Well, I told him that my students could not and would not be able to do that. I was wrong. I was also still early in my teaching career and working with students that were a bit rough in the classroom management category. Though I was a trained research scientist, I truly did not think that teenagers had the capacity to do actual experimentation. I slowly warmed up to the idea and eventually developed a method for students to use in order to design their own labs. You can get the PDF of this document HERE.
I now provide the experimental purpose (sometimes I give the question) and have the students design the labs. LOVE THIS! Works so amazing! Kids love it too. It gives them freedom of creativity and allows them to be the researcher, not just a participant in the process. I have used it time and again, presented it at the CSTA conference, and have heard nothing but great feedback.
I wanted students to do labs all the time but I didn't want to grade a lab report every single time they did a lab, so I devised a method so that I wasn't drowning in grading. First, ALL students must keep a lab notebook. For every single lab they are to have the following:
- Results (table and graph)
Then, after about 6 weeks, they will self and peer grade with a rubric. They have to have a table of contents, pages numbered, labs completed and then 1 lab is chosen to be graded in depth. I pick the lab. After they peer and self grade, it then comes to me. I have my TAs grade the notebook then I am the final eyes. This once every six weeks process of grading saves me a TON of time. When I do want them to do a formal lab write-up, I use this lab report HERE.
Sometimes, the students will design a lab that isn't successful. Students will ask, "Does this mean I fail?" I laugh and say, "Of course not. Welcome to the world of science. You just found one way that doesn't work."
I believe that NGSS wants us teachers to incorporate inquiry experimentation in our classes. We teachers need to find clever ways to deliver these types of laboratory activities, because if students are not DOING science, then what are we doing as teachers?
Regardless, labs are definitely a way to see if kids can "DO" science. Heck, one of the Science and Engineering Practices is: planning and carrying out investigations. And if done well, the kids will cover the following SEPs as well: obtaining, evaluating and communicating information; engaging in argument from evidence, constructing explanations and designing solutions, using math and computation thinking, asking questions and defining problems, analyzing and interpreting data, developing and using models. Hmmmmm....that's all of the Science and Engineering Practices (at least with a science spin).
My point is, having kids do an inquiry style approach to an experiment will offer more learning opportunities and embodies the nature of NGSS. Whether it is a lab practical, an original experiment, a tweak on a lab done earlier in the year, whatever...students will appreciate science more! They will not only be DOING science, they are forced to apply their THINKING and their KNOWLEDGE.
Looky there...3 Dimensional Learning.
Would love to know others thoughts on using labs for NGSS!