"Your kids will be shocked and angry when they first realize there is information on the test that came from the labs." This is a quote from our modeling instructor.
My initial reaction is shocked disbelief. Why wouldn't they be expected to recall information over the labs? Why would I not expect my lab class periods to be just as important as everything else?
Then it kind of dawns on me. Um...I don't do that.
In my classroom (as in lots of others), labs have been used to reinforce information that is given to the student usually in a lecture format. Here is a typical "learning cycle":'
Me: OK class, today we are going to learn about *drum roll, please* DENSITY!
Kids: *Grab pencils and notebooks ready to copy down every word I say.* Well, those who aren't texting, anyway
Me: Density is the unit we use to describe the amount of matter in an object. We use the formula D=m/v and the label is g/mL or g/cm3. Let's do some practice problems. Let's go do a lab to prove I know what I am talking about.
Kids: Do we get to blow anything up today?
Me: No. But don't forget to wear your goggles, because we all know they are oh so important when working with aluminum and water.
Everyone does lab and extremely simple (and sloppy) graph. They hurriedly copy their conclusion from the 'smart' kid and turn in the lab as the bell rings.
This is how I learned chemistry. This is how I was taught to teach chemistry. This is how I have taught chemistry.
I have known for a long time that this isn't how I wanted to teach. For goodness sake, if I am bored, my kids must be comatose. But up until this point, I haven't been in a position to sit down and really analyze my teaching methods (whole other blog post, there).
Herein lies the brilliance that is modeling.
The kids are going to do the SAME lab I have used for years. Except they are going to do the lab before the concept (or even the term density) is introduced. After we do the lab, all the groups come back together and record their results on a whiteboard. Each group gets to explain their procedure and their results. When we did this in our workshop, all the groups put all their data together and graphed all of it. (More on that later.) Then, instead of the instructor showing the graph and explaining what the data meant, the STUDENTS interpreted the graph and explained what the data meant.
This is the key difference. They are not 'proving' that I gave them true information and then memorizing the equation. They are proving to themselves that there is a relationship that needs to be defined. And they are discovering and explaining that relationship on their own.
Now the really hard part. You as a teacher are going to become a wallflower. You become the facilitator of the discussion and ask the kids to think about what they have observed and what it all means. In this system, there is little room for the teacher that likes to be the center of attention. So many of us like to hear ourselves talk. I spent a lot of years and thousands of dollars to learn this stuff and by golly, I'm going to impart some of it to my kids. But that isn't what education is about. It's about learning. And I have found that kids don't truly learn when they have to take notes for 62 minutes.
There HAS to be a better way.