How can I help my students get the most out of their lab experiences?
A lab that follows a step-by-step “recipe” does not challenge students to think much. Allowing them to design their own experimental procedures and identify variables and controls is a very powerful teaching method.
- Safety is always first! Educate students about this.
- Teach students how to ask a scientific question.
- Integrate questions throughout the lab to guide and elicit thinking.
- Remind any student who asks, “Is this right?” that there is no “right” or “wrong” answer, just data to be collected and analyzed.
- Peer review and group self-evaluations often motivate students to work more diligently.
Before the lab:
- Test labs yourself well ahead of time to identify issues including safety, equipment needs, most likely errors, possible substitutions, and potential bottle-necks. Time the lab and add extra time for students to set up and clean up!
- Have students read over instructions and ask/answer questions.
- Teach the skills students will need (titrating, measuring, cutting, and so on).
- Assigning students to groups may minimize socializing.
During the lab:
- Have students set out and put away equipment
- Provide a timeline with milestones for the period
- Circulate, observe, and check on progress
After the lab:
- Conduct a post-lab debrief. Discussing errors and contradictory results are excellent teaching moments.
- Reflection and writing typically have more ‘minds on’ value than filling in blanks.
- Pay attention to the process more than the product.
- Give students examples and a list of resources to complete reports.
- Explain expectations for reports, give exemplars and a list of resources. Provide a scoring rubric.
Hope this helps!
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