Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New Life for Old Labs

"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.


Ellena Bethea said...

Great post!

Just wait until you meet the BCA table. Ended my struggle with teaching (and students learning) stoichiometry!

Anonymous said...

I love reading these posts! Since you are writing from a participant's perspective, I think these posts do a much better job conveying the importance and impact of Modeling Instruction than if I wrote them as a practicing Modeler.

If you don't mind, I'd love to share these posts with other modeling teachers and with my Twitter PLN. I'll wait until I hear from you.

I know I said this previously, but thanks again for writing about your workshop experience. I know it will have a huge impact on other teachers who are interested in attending a Modeling Workshop.

Can't wait 'til the next post!

Tracie Schroeder said...

Ellena - I have looked at some of the curriculum we will be covering and can't wait to try it out!

Frank - share away! I think this will fit in perfectly with the way I already teach. Anything you can do to let people know that this is out there, please do.

Jason Buell said...

Yargh. So jealous right now. Tell your modeling folks to send a workshop to San Jose right now. I feel like I'm soooo close to what you're doing but all those little probs I have have been worked out.

Tracie Schroeder said...

Jason - I know EXACTLY what you mean. Just like with SBG, this is where I wanted to go, but couldn't quite get there on my own. I was trying to reinvent a wheel that I didn't know already existed!

Steve Kluge said...

Great stuff! Just to add to your new approach to labs: As a geoscience teacher, I would use real time or near real time data in my labs, and have kids analyze it looking for patterns, concepts, etc. One year, after a weather unit that relied heavily on a particularly active (and concurrent) hurricane season, one kid remarked that, "you didn't teach us about weather, the hurricanes did!"

maddogdelta said...

Coming from a different direction here... someone put your blog on the "Modeling" Listserv, and I decided to come on over.

Brief history here: Spent 25+ years in private industry, decided to teach when I got laid off (IT, the only job specialty that gets laid off quicker in a downturn is corporate trainers.. yes I was a corporate trainer for 10 years).

The school I'm getting my masters from teaches modeling to their physics candidates. Last year when I tried it out, I got a lot of push back, so I gave in to the whining. Big mistake.
This year, I will not give in to the whining, and will see the modeling all the way through.

Good luck!

Tracie Schroeder said...

Steve - I also teach Earth Sciences and am looking into ways I can model with those as well. One year, teaching Meteorology, it seemed like everything we talked about happened within 48 hours. Snow, thunderstorms, hailstorms, you name it. We all got REALLY nervous the day I said we were going to talk about tornadoes! Sometimes, it just works.

maddogdelta - Oh the whining! Modeling is similar to how I teach any way, so I have heard it before. My favorite day of the school year is when someone in class finally tells his partner, "she's not going to tell you the answer." I have done my job :)

Troha said...

Tracie, Thank you for these posts! I agree with Frank that your perspective and insights as you are going through the workshop are fabulous. I am hoping to have other non-modeling teachers from my school read your thoughts to help the conversion :)


Mrs. Tenkely said...

Tracie, this is transformative! I am looking forward to your observations of how the modeling technique works with your students. What I like about it, is that it gives your students a framework for the vocabulary and concepts, they have already seen it in action so they have something to connect the vocabulary to.

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