I recently visited a high school that is immersed in their personalized learning journey. Of course I was curious about what it looks like in their science classrooms. I met a science teacher that was about my age, a bit seasoned like myself. He was very excited about what personalized learning and student choice brought to his classroom.
During the site visit I observed him fully implementing the student choice components. The part that I took away from our talk was how he reviewed lab reports. The traditional way is to have a paper or digital copy that a group of 3-4 students complete the objective that is supporting the science standards. In many cases there are one or two students that do the bulk of the work and understand what the lab is really about. Then there are students that aren't as engaged or are performing more like traditional lab participants, copy the results from others.
This high school science teacher struggled with this lab process and this happens in my classroom as well. He did away with the traditional paper lab reports and replaced it with face-to-face support of their lab learning. He said it was quite liberating to say the least and found students to hold themselves much more accountable. I could see how his eyes lit up with excitement telling about the success he is seeing and I was anxious to try it in my classroom.
So this week we did a lab trying to get a better understanding of density and average density. This is always a challenging concept for 6th graders. The lab itself was written much like any other lab that I have done in the past. Each lab table had to do the tasks, document their findings and support with the data they had gathered. Instead of the paper support and summarization I was going to use the face-to-face method.
I informed students of this new method of lab report before we started. At the conclusion of the lab, each table of three or four students had to explain their findings with me. Then support their data with how it connects to the science concept that we are attempting to learn. I could see some confused faces as I explained.
The new process was fun as I watched the discussion at the lab tables as they prepared for me to come to them. Most of the lab tables had a good understanding of the objective. Each student was able to expand on what they learned and how it connected to the concept. It was fun to dig a little bit deeper, asking some questions as to “Why” and support their “Why” answer.
In each of my classes there were a couple tables that had the traditional performance of a couple students not getting it or not apply themselves. It was a struggle for them to make eye contact with me because they knew they didn't have the answers that I was looking for. I calmly told them that they weren't quite there yet. The collaborative learning group had two options. One was for the entire group to go back and redo the lab, discussing the steps for better understanding. The second option was redoing the lab for the people that didn't apply themselves and didn’t understand the concept.
Each of those lab groups went back, did the lab again. There was much more energy and better collaboration. By the end of our time together all of the lab tables had successfully completed the task, hitting the learning target and defending the results of the lab. They felt their success.
The whole process was quite liberating and really fun to have lab discussions with each table. The seminars differed from table to table yet they understood the learning target and what we had hoped to gain from the lab. I will definitely continue face-to-face lab reports in the future. I am very grateful to that science teacher that shared this simple process that is extremely effective.