Sunday, September 28, 2014

Why Classroom Laboratory Activities Foster Learning

So you are debating when or how or how many labs you should implement into your classroom. There's a very easy answer to that, as many as humanly possible and which will still allow you to provide your students with content they require in order to meet the subjects expectations. Why you ask should you devote your precious classroom time (time which is in short supply for everyone already) to activities that deliver mediocre data at best. You say to yourself that you could deliver 10x the information provided during a lab in a 75 minute lecture. The main questions isn't how much content you can deliver, it is how much content the students absorb from the delivery. Furthermore, one must think about the other consequences of hands-on laboratory work.

- Students learn to work with others
- They practice safe working skills
- They are permitted to "experience" learning, not just see what their learning is supposed to look like.
- They learn to make mistakes and analyze them
- They develop planning, writing and critiquing skills needed for pretty much any career.

However, the main reason that you should be devoting a significant amount of your class time to labs is that it gets the students interested and engaged in the material you so badly want to convey to them! Students wont take away that amazing lecture you gave on the types of chemical reactions, but they may remember the time they mixed lead (II) iodide and potassium nitrate and saw that beautiful yellow followed by a stubborn precipitate that they couldn't extricate from the test tube.

Students love labs, they love experiencing with their own senses what they are learning in school and it really hooks them. You ask most science students what they'd rather be doing in class and they will say labs. I know this because I'm constantly being bombarded with "When will we be doing another lab?" or "Why don't we do more labs?", etc., etc.

Here's a reason to avoid those labs and I know we are all guilty of thinking it, they are difficult to mark and you already don't have enough time to mark what you have. Well that's an easy one too, who says you need to assign a formal lab report each time your kids do an experiment? Change it up.

- Setup a handout that they need to fill-in during the lab (pretty much an observation sheet). 
- Have your students submit the lab but only mark one component. 
- Instead of having them submit a lab, have a quiz the next day regarding specific things that happened. 

There are lots of ways to reduce your marking while still providing your students with the opportunity they need.  Be creative and give yourself a break.  

Lab Requirements:  
- Make sure the lab is hands-on and allows them to find something tangible.
- Allows each group member to get involved. The worst is when there's one person who simply takes over. Assign jobs, create smaller groups, etc.
- Let your students see why/how the lab connects with the curriculum. This will increase their engagement in your lessons as they see that what they are learning has some actual real-life implications.

One lab that I love is my Eco-Bottle lab. It touches on the things I've mentioned above as it allows your students to create and carry out a hands-on, engaging experiment on how humans affect the environment. It utilizes the steps in the scientific method to scaffold learning and allows your students to come to a conclusion based on findings that are tangible. It also reduces marking by having you complete a rubric which clearly and easily breaks down the lab for both you and your students, fostering success. If you are interested CLICK HERE or the picture below.

Ecobottle 1

Teach With Fergy -

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