Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lab Skills 8...What to Do with It...

I have never understood how someone could teach science without including labs as a part of that teaching. I mean, really, isn't that the whole point???

Now, I will be the first to admit that I have not always done my kids justice when it comes to the labs. Like so many others, I "did labs" without clear goals in mind. With any luck, kids could get some decent results and probably be able to decode the conclusion questions at the end. The lab didn't really mean much other than they would maybe get a better visual of the book description and I wouldn't have to talk all day.

In the last couple years, my focus on labs has shifted. A large part of that shift is a direct result of the Modeling. Here, labs are vital. This is where we get our information. We don't read out of a textbook that density is mass per unit of volume, we actually measure that relationship and define it later on. So if Group 4 doesn't get a graph that is at least somewhat linear, we can't see that relationship, and therefore, can't define it. 

Taking good data has become important

The problem is, my kids have virtually no lab skills. They just don't do labs in middle school.* What few labs they did do were more of a "hands on" let's take a break from reading kind of thing. You know, what I used to do...

The lab skills didn't matter. 

So what if I should have gotten 7.8 grams of salt and I ended up with 23.4 g???** This was okay because the teacher is going to summarize what we should have gotten and if I pay close enough attention, I will get the answer right on the test.

This has always bothered me. A lot. I just wasn't sure what to do about it. So this has turned into my year to really focus on what I need to teach my kids about precision, accuracy and basic lab skills. This has not always gone smoothly, but taking a few minutes during a lab to teach some of those things has made all the difference.

So enter Lab Skills 8. Originally, I wrote this skill to assess whether or not kids were rounding correctly. We would discuss significant figures and what accuracy and precision were appropriate to record. I ended the summer with it written as: 8.  I can recognize accuracy and precision of data depends on instruments used. (ΔHS.1.3.3d)

I never liked that wording, mostly because I had to explain it to every single person who read it. Before school even started, Bryna suggested this: I can use significant figures to appropriately communicate the precision of data and calculations.

I liked this wording so much better, so I changed it to begin the year.

Now, I like significant figures just as much as the next science teacher, but with all the upheaval I had going on in my room, I didn't focus on them very much. And really, do those rules REALLY make any sense?? Not, at least, to a teenager. They tend to focus so much on the rules that they miss understanding why those rules exist. So basically, I told my kids to round to least precise decimal place and be done with it. Even with that we were still struggling, but for the most part, my kids are rounding to a reasonable place and I am okay with that.

Then I actually started assessing with it. The more I got into it, the more I realized I wanted this target to assess more than what it was. The original idea was to assess only on the recording of the data, but as I mentioned, I wanted kids to be held accountable for the accuracy of their data. 

I debated quite awhile about how I wanted to handle this change. I thought about leaving this skill alone and adding in a separate skill specifically for data collection. I didn't like this for a number of reasons***, but I really thought those skills should go hand in hand.

We started a new trimester last Monday, so I took the opportunity to yet again rewrite that skill. I think I like this one, but I guess we will see how it plays out.

So here it is...the new and improved....

Lab Skills 8.  I can report data and calculations in a precise and accurate manner.

*I KNOW!!! I have issues with this and have made them known...I am working on that.
**Actual results.
***Not the least of which is that then I would have 11 lab skills instead of 10 and my OCD would not allow that to happen.


Kathryn J said...

Is there another part of your lab skills that deals with organization? I am always stressing data tables and it seems like that would fit right on the end of this statement "precise, accurate, and organized manner".

Not that you asked or anything... Keep posting - I love reading!

Tracie Schroeder said...

Hey Kathryn
I have a separate target for data tables for exactly the reason you mentioned. I have so many kids who feel the need to scribble naked numbers along the sides of their lab margins.

4. I can record and represent data in a meaningful way. (ΔHS.1.2.2d)

I have all of my targets listed here. Feel free to modify as you see fit.

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