Can we teach our science students how to be successful conducting open-ended labs?
As teachers, we can teach the steps of the scientific method until we are blue in the face. Many times, all we succeed in doing is having the students memorize the 6 steps to the scientific method and then repeat them on a test. Too often science teachers conduct laboratory activities in which students follow a list of steps and record an observation at the end. I need to be one of the first in line to say "Guilty!".
Today's science educators are pressured to have successful end of course scores. Sadly, a student can often perform well on these standardized tests without every doing any "real" laboratory work. One of my goals this year is to change the focus of my class. I am going to devote the time it takes to allow my students to write and carry out open ended lab experiments.
I have been back in school with my students for one week now. I have covered the scientific method and gone into great detail on how to design an experiment. We have mastered (I think!) how to define the experimental group and the control group. My students can identify the independent and dependent variables. They understand that only one variable can be changed at a time, and that all other variables must remain constant. They can write a hypothesis and a conclusion. We are just about ready to put all we have learned into practice.
FREEBIE ALERT! If you will allow me to pat myself on my own back, I have written a PowerPoint that my students responded to extremely well. It covers the scientific method with slides that are bright and colorful and visually attractive. You can download this for free from my store, Science Stuff, on TeachersPayTeachers.com. It comes with a set of notes for the teacher and a notes outline for the student. The student fills in the notes as the lesson is being taught. I feel that this PowerPoint goes beyond just listing the steps to the scientific method. Students are given practice problems in which they have to apply what they have learned. Here is the link to my free PowerPoint and notes: Scientific Method PowerPoint with Notes for Teacher and Student.
You might also want to consider:
Scientific Method Homework
Applying the Scientific Method and Scientific Writing
Coming up this week.... I am taking my students to the lab to conduct their first open ended experiment. It is going to involved the germination of seeds. It will be a simple idea and will use only simple supplies. Perhaps it may end up being more of a "guided" inquiry, but we have to start somewhere, right? Later this week, I will post about how this goes and have some pictures as well.
Have fun teaching!