scientific method labs - student's experience

Tina Wambach twambach at
Thu Aug 7 14:30:34 EST 1997

> At 9:37 AM -0400 8/7/97, Anne Heise wrote:

> >At the end of such a lab I have students do a very quick "poster session".
> >I supply overheads and markers s  and have  them  present one of their
> >experiments to the rest of the class.  They don't love this, but I think
> >it helps make the lab seem a little more important.

I am a third year undergrad. In the past I did what is described above in
my Plant Breeding lab. The lab of about 20 students was divided into
groups of five students, each group was given an experiment to work on for
about 1.5 hrs followed by 30.min prep.time and 15min presentation time for
each group. The 15 min presentation time included a 5min question period
in which the prof and TAs were also 'challenged' in order to clarify
points and establish a connection between the experiments undertaken. 

Similar projects in my first year included a list of questions to be
adressed which was handed out to the students before the experiment. The
questions aimed at points/aspects that need to be included in scientific
reports which helped me to give me a feel for what content to include in
later 'full-blown' lab-reports as well as which language to use. To
further show how a lab-report/article is structured the prof could ask
that posters used for presentation of the group's work to the class need
to be structured the way a lab-report would be ( clearly the
hypothesis, short introduction, results and conclusions). 

No marks were given on the students' work done during the lab time but we
were given a short description and data from another experiment on which
we had to write a lab-report (to be handed in the following lab). From my
experience I can say that students had fun since the work allowed them
to recognize their mistakes without them reflecting on their marks the
first time; instead the homework was used to produce the marks. 

> >Another thing we do, I guess in the second lab, is critique a lab write-up
> >done by a student a few years ago.  This write-up has some good things and
> >some that aren't terrific, and my hope is that if students take the time
> >to figure out for themselves what is good and bad about someone else'e
> >write-up, they'll start producing good ones of their own a little sooner.

> >What else do you all do to help students write up labs well?

I have gone through this exercise as well and want to say that one TA once
had the brilliant idea of typing up a list of points that are to be
included, in general, in a lab report in the specific sections. The
list was given to us and two years later still trades well to friends from
other courses who spent the last two years loosing marks simply due to
'structural' weakness of their reports. Basically, having a guideline of
what should be included and what not helps a lot when criticizing a
'mediocre' article and writing reports in the future!

* Finally: I have also seen the experiment with the apple in class which
did not work since the instructor had chosen the wrong kind; even after
50min of letting the cut apple sit in air! 

A long but hopefully helpful message! 

Tina Wambach, 
University of Guelph

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