Labs with SBG

How to handle labs and lab assessment always seems to be an issue with teachers who use standards based grading (SBG).  Wednesday (9/11/2013) night during the Global Physics Department meeting about SBG this was a topic of conversation.  Like with most issues that arise with SBG there is as many different answers as there are teachers that utilizes the grading practice.  In this post I intend to share with you my practices and ideas.  As with most things I do in my classroom, these ideas and practices are always subject to change.

Importance of Labs
As a modeler, labs are EVERYTHING.  This is where knowledge and understanding of the subject is gained by the students.  Units usually begin with a model building lab and everything else goes from there.  I need my students not only to perform controlled lab experiments, but understand exactly what the data obtained is telling them.  I’ve come to realize that after about the 2nd or 3rd lab students “get that” and they are motivated to participate and complete labs correctly, including whiteboard discussions and model building.

For all of my years, except the first, but who counts the first year teaching anyways?  I try to block those memories of awful teaching out of my head.  Anyway, for all of my years prior to SBG I utilized a Lab Notebook in my chemistry and physics classes.  Students would be provided a “Lab Notebook Criteria” in the beginning of the year, and I expected all labs to be set up and written in a uniform format.  This included; heading, problem, equipment, procedure, data, analysis of data, and conclusion sections.

I like this setup for my labs.  It keeps students organized, and forces them to take some responsibility for their own lab write-ups.  However, giving points for the notebooks was always an issue.  Because I never wanted to collect 50 or so notebooks after every lab; I didn’t.  I would wait until the end of the quarter and collect all the notebooks then.  From there I would flip through each notebook looking at all of the labs we completed from that quarter.  I would “grade” each lab on completeness by using a checklist type rubric.  Basically the only way students lost points is if they didn’t do something, like forgot a heading, or didn’t attache the graph, or didn’t answer the conclusion questions.  (I didn’t even read answers, just checked to see that something was written down.)  This process usually made for a couple of hours sitting at school on a Saturday or Sunday to “grade” each notebook.

This process troubled me for several reasons.  By the time I scored a lab we might be 5-6 weeks past talking about it in class.  Getting points for the notebook was just a “game.”  If you wrote something for each section you got your points.  This never really showed me what a student learned in the lab (granted I assessed for that in different ways throughout the quarter.)  It didn’t hold them accountable, or give them the constant feedback they need.  Plus those couple of weekends a year really sucked when I was at school just flipping notebook pages.

SBG Labs 1.0
Last school year (2012-13) was when I started SBG, but only in physics classes, so the following only pertains to that class.  Chemistry followed the procedure above.  When I was planning for SBG I relied heavily on Frank Noschese and Kelly O’Shea.  By reading their blogs and stealing files I saw they had a nice set of lab goals, so decided to create a set of 5 Lab Goals myself.  They were this:

LAB.1(C) – I can design a reliable experiment that tests the hypothesis, investigates the phenomenon, or solves the problem

LAB.2(C) – I can record and represent data in a meaningful way.

LAB.3(I) – I can analyze data appropriately, by representing data graphically, and by using the graph to make predictions.

LAB.4(I) – I can identify a pattern in the data, and represent the pattern mathematically.  I can give physical meaning to the slope and y-intercept of a graph.

LAB.5(A) – By using the results of an experiment I can propose an appropriate model for the situation.

These five goals seem to be the essence of what students should be able to do by participating in lab activities.  The problem I ran into was how and when to assess these goals.  The idea of SBG is that I want to see students accomplish these goals by the end of the semester or year.  These goals would be constantly reassessed throughout the year, and only what you have shown at the end counts..  What I decided to do then was not use lab notebooks, but try to find ways to include items on quizzes that would address these goals.  (Except I found the first two to be difficult to assess that way.)  Instead of lab notebooks I included lab forms in my unit handouts along with practice sets and other activities.  This caused the problem of never being able to conveniently collect the labs, because I wanted to students to have their packet for practice throughout the units.  Overall, this system worked out alright, but some students figured out there weren’t really being held accountable to actually write anything down during labs.  I saw this as an issue.

SBG Labs 2.0
The following describes a work in progress.  I’m working with a lot of theory here, hoping some changes will address some issues.

Overall I liked the idea of having general lab goals so I’m keeping that.  I did make a couple of adjustments though.  This summer I consulted with Terry Schwaller, an awesome modeler from Shiocton, WI, to help develop Modeling Chemistry Goals.  His ideas merged with mine and I settled on the following six lab goals:

LAB.1(C) – I can recognize the precision of a measuring instrument, and record data in an appropriate, organized manner.

LAB.2(C) – I can design and/or follow an experimental procedure that tests a hypothesis, investigates a phenomenon, or solves a problem.

LAB.3(I) – I can analyze data appropriately, representing data graphically when necessary, and use it to make predictions.

LAB.4(I) – I can relate the results to the purpose of the experiment, and include appropriate analysis (slope, y-intercept, % error, % yield, etc.) when necessary to show if the purpose was met.

LAB.5(A) – By using the results of an experiment I can propose an appropriate model for the situation.

LAB.6(A) – I can connect experimental outcomes to the content of the course.

I’m using these goals with both my chemistry and physics classes, so I needed to keep them a little flexible in their interpretations.

I also realized this week that I missed a couple of important goals for chemistry so I added them:

LAB.S(C) – I can follow accepted laboratory safety procedures.

LAB.E(C) – I can recognize and properly name commonly used laboratory equipment.

The main reason for this addition is that I like to have a “Safety Quiz” on file that shows me, and administrators, that the students know basic safety procedures and equipment.

What I’m going to try to do this year is not do labs in a lab notebook OR in the unit packets.  My thought is that I will provide students with lab handouts for each lab.  Some labs will have written procedures from me (chemistry) and some will be more “design you own” where students need to write about their procedures (physics).  The general lab handout form is here: General Lab Handout.

As of right now my thoughts are that I will be able to easily collect these when I feel it is appropriate without worrying about hauling a ton of notebooks around, and at the same time not “stealing” other valuable stuff from students in packets.  I’m also going to only assess a few things at a time.  Maybe for the first 2 or 3 labs I’m only going to assess students on goals 1 and 2.  By lab 3 or 4 I might look at graphs (goal 3).  By the end of the semester I will be able to assess on all the items contained in the lab.  I could also use this form as a guide for students to turn in a more formal lab report.  Something I’ve never done before.  I also will also still be able to add assessment items on weekly quizzes or unit assessments.  Especially items that assess goals 5 and 6.

Like I said, this is all very fresh in my mind and hasn’t been classroom tested yet.  If you have any thoughts or ideas I would love to hear them.  Comment below or tweet @MrBWysocki

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