Labs, Grading and Sanity....

Tri fold for labs

What am I doing to help kids achieve?

How do I know when they are there?

What is the evidence?

     First, let me say to anyone who is reading this who is a classroom teacher. If you are doing your best to provide your students with a hands on and minds on science experience, are a super star. The last thing I would do is to pretend that "my way is better".  If what you are doing is working for you and your students...great...don't stop. If not, or if you want to try something a bit different, here is something that you might want to try that I stumbled upon.

     I am fortunate to work with a wonderful AP Biology teacher by the name of Jim Smanik. He has his students do some of their labs as "tri folds".  First, what is a tri fold and why bother?

     A tri fold is a way for students to present a lab. Students take two file folders, over lap two of the sides and staple them together to make a tri fold. Think of it as a mini science fair tri fold.

     Next, each side has a format for students to follow. It is like a story with a beginning, middle and end that explains the experiment.

     Page 1  Page one starts with a question.  This is usually provided by the instructor and is not a "yes" or "no" type question. A question might be something like, "How is it possible to come up with a list of reactivities for metals? What would this list look like?" Next, there are five to six sentences of researched background information. Then comes the hypothesis. This is not an educated guess. This resembles and "If, then, because..." statement that is a testable prediction. The next topics are the safety portion, materials and procedure.

     Page 2  The top of page two starts with the title and the names of the students. The abstract is a 5 sentence "Spark Notes" version of the experiment. It tell students to write this last. To help students with the abstract, I tell them that if they were passing someone in the hall and their friend asked, "What did you do in Chemistry today?" the abstract would be their answer. After the abstract comes the data table(s).

     Page 3  This begins the conclusion and discussion along with any calculations or answer to questions. I have a formula that I give students for the discussion. It goes like this...."Theory/Answer = Data + background information". Essentially, first and foremost, answer the question. Then students should use background information to back up the answer along with data and possible calculations. This is also the place for rebuttals or any  other questions.

     So here is the next big question...why bother? I have found this type of lab method helpful for several reasons. It is easier to grade than you think. I usually lay the labs across the dining room table and grade all of the first pages, then all of the second pages and then the third pages. It is easy to create a rubric if you start with the best lab and the rubric rarely changes much from lab to lab. Next, this method tells the story of the experiment. This is also like a mini formative assessment. I might find out at the beginning of the year that students are good at constructing data tables but struggle with the hypothesis or discussion section.  This provides an area of focus for the next lab.  Finally, we have several kids who want to try Science Fair. It is a simple transition if they are used to presenting labs this way. Also, later on in the year, I might ask students to present their work. This format helps them organize their thoughts and presentation because there is a beginning, middle and end.

     Again, if you are doing labs the research shows that hands on and minds on experiments are good for kids. Every school, class and science room is slightly different with a certain type of culture. You should be applauded for trying to do labs...the set up and take down can be crazy. If you want to try something a bit different, try a tri fold to mix things up.  Trust me, I am not the first to come up with this ( a quick google search will show several types of ways to do tri folds). You can give your students as much or as little structure as you want. You decide. Regardless of the format, labs should be a great way to tell the rich and exciting story of science....good luck!!!