I have been on a mission lately to make scientists out of my students. I am long past my fears that they are not capable of discovering the world for themselves or that they won’t learn the content if we spend too much time on science practices. What I have to work on now is orchestrating the experience. The pedagogy underlying Modeling Instruction has become the backbone for much of my instruction lately. This method of instruction not only gives my students an engaging, authentic scientific experience but has resulted in deeper content knowledge.
One thing I have struggled with is how to capture that scientific experience. How do I give my students constructive, quantifiable feedback on their scientific habits? How do I incorporate a more formal writing process that addresses the Common Core ELA standards? Some of those questions have been answered through the recently-published Argument-Driven Inquiry in Chemistry, published by NTSA. Filled with thirty “Investigation” and “Application” labs that span the curriculum, this resource helps to formalize the scientific experience. The authors’ suggested instructional methods parallel Modeling Instruction, including self-designed lab procedures and white boarded circle discussions. The labs and accompanying resources then take those Claim-Evidence-Reasoning whiteboard conversations and formalize them into an investigation report.
The lab scenarios are simple, yet engaging. When we did a version of Lab 17 (Limiting reactants), students were seeking out the ideal ratio of vinegar to baking soda. One student remarked “This is the coolest lab ever!” as we mixed these two reactants together much as he probably did in preschool. Students were actively seeking data that would provide them a means to answer the question. They were independently critiquing each other’s data and conclusions. They were asking if they could perform new and different trials to try and gather more conclusive data. When they completed their reports, they really wanted me to be convinced that their claim was correct. They were genuinely proud of their work.
I have particularly enjoyed the investigation report rubric. While there are certainly formatting considerations in lab reports, to me the most important aspect is the content. While the rubric does seek to address format and writing style, the emphasis is on the student’s articulation of their thinking. Do my students’ reports show that they can connect all the dots from a question posed to a procedure that will provide valid data? Can my students analyze their data in a way that allows them to draw a conclusion? More broadly, can my students consider a question that’s a little beyond the forefront of their knowledge and use their skills as scientists to move their understanding forward? I can use the rubric to answer those questions.
This publication is also available as an e-book. NSTA members may be able to purchase this book at a discounted price through the NSTA Science Store.