1. How do you ensure that students do fun experiments, play with variables, write their own methods, ask their own questions, decide what and how to collect data, organize data, manipulate data (tables, graphs, diagrams), and make informed judgments and conclusions referring back to their data, suggesting improvements for future experiments?
2. Who would be in charge of keeping this work from lab period to lab period? What if it is lost? How are organizational issues handled? Compliance? Chasing students who did not hand in their lab reports? Or chasing students who missed one or more lab periods? How will they be assessed?
3. How do you manage time as the teacher in the classroom so that everyone gets time to do all of the above?
As the saying goes, 'necessity is the mother of creation.' I was teaching Grade 7 - 9 science where lab periods were maximum 1 hour or less (50 - 55 minutes). Compliance was an issue and the question of who would carry the lab papers including data etc ... the teacher or the students until final submission. If the teacher kept the stuff, it would pose logistical issues and students would be denied having the opportunity to look at their data outside class. If the students kept the stuff, there was a high chance they might lose it or forget to bring it to the next lab. How could this problem be solved?
I decided to make the labs 'paperless' and go digital.
Aim and Accomplishments:
To maximize student hands-on experience, reduce redundancy and routines, and go paperless, and teach students 21st century digital skills.
My classes switched to using Google Classroom and specifically Google Sheets. Aims of the experiment were provided on the whiteboard and explained during prelab. As well, a template for the lab was shared with students on Google Classroom ahead of time. During the lab, students had access to a chromebook. Teams of students (pairs usually) work at their own pace and filled in Aim, Hypothesis, Typed their Methods, received my approval, and continued on to collect data all typed in Google Sheets. They subsequently, at their own pace, in class or outside class, proceeded to do data analysis and manipulation including creating charts, tables, graphs, diagrams, and wrote their conclusions. When complete by the midnight of the Friday that week, they would click final submission on Google Classroom.
This experience was truly transformative and it redefined the laboratory experience both for me as the facilitator and for the students. Students who missed a lab could still have access to the data from another group and finish their lab write-up online. Redundancies like creating tables and graphs manually (important skills but not necessary to be repeated over and over at the expense of hands-on experiment work) were removed. Last but not least, students learned and sharpened digital skills important in the 21st century job market by using Google Sheets to record, analyze, interpret data. As well, they readily had access to the Google Machine during the lab for asking questions and finding answers, comparing their results and data etc ...
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