Supporting Individual Lab Accountability in Large Science Classes

Lab practicals

How do teachers encourage building individual lab skills in classes of over 30 students where labs are done in groups of five or six students? My science department collaborates daily, and we have been discussing this concern for a few years now. Many trials and errors have occurred. Here is where we stand today:

  • Vertical teaming is key. One year to the next, students develop overall lab skills, hone record-keeping and data compilation skills, synthesize the two in a lab setting, and finally, build formal reports.
    • Biology: At the end of each unit, a portion of the test is a lab practical. Students are individually required to perform a lab skill, analyze data, or design an experiment. The lab practical portion is carefully constructed to mimic a lab or two from the current unit.
    • Physics: Students maintain lab notebooks compiling a portfolio of the semester’s experiments. Regularly, students demonstrate individual data recording and analyzing skills by using their notebooks on lab quizzes.
    • Chemistry: Each unit ends with a lab practical and a test. They are separate assessments. The lab practical requires each student to individually report to a lab station to carry out an experiment, collect data, and produce a conclusion within a limited time.
    • AP Sciences: Students move from lab practical assessments to pre-lab quizzes and formal lab reports.
  • Consistent, constructively-critical grading is a must. Together, we built rubrics and scoring guidelines to hold our students to consistently high standards. We score data tables, unit conversions, use of scientific vocabulary, graphing skills, and application of concepts and theories. In weekly content-area meetings, we collaboratively score and discuss issues or questions.

Student products have improved over the years, and we attribute the growth in understanding to our focused vertical plan and consistency. The average SAT scores have increased recently as well. Are the students better prepared for the exam’s new data heavy questions?

Do you have a structured plan to hold students individually accountable for mastering lab skills? If so, please share.