How Do I Give Authentic Assessments? The Lab Practicum

I’m planning to have a lab practicum in which my students have to work in teams of three or four to figure out the composition of three mystery liquids (water, salt water, and rubbing alcohol). The content goals of this practicum is for my students to apply their understanding of boiling points (that boiling point is a characteristic property of matter), of lab safety, and of separating solutions. To receive full credit, students will need to be able to demonstrate that they can:

  • identify substances based on boiling points
  • separate a substrate from a solution and accurately calculate the concentration of substrate in the original solution (Each lab group will have to turn in a vial of salt that they’ve separated from the salt solution. Points will be given for accuracy of concentration calculation.
  • act in accordance to lab safety rules at all times (wearing googles, lab aprons, tying hair back, wearing gloves, turning hot plates off, etc.)

My students are already familiar with and have practiced all of the above steps in teacher-guided labs. We will also practice all these skills (particularly the safety related ones) whole-group before they start on the practicum. I have full confidence in their ability to perform.

However, I’m struggling with how to ensure that all students are active participants in this activity and with how to structure the practicum for and to teach good collaboration skills. For example, how do I make sure one student doesn’t dominate the group, or that another student just sits back and lets everyone else do the work? How do I teach students to productively work through disagreements, and how to exchange ideas and divide up work?

Questions that I would love your input in are:

  • What are “real” lab roles that you have as a scientist? Is there a materials manager? A safety monitor? Lead researcher?
  • What were your own experiences like working in teams?
  • What are skills that you utilize to collaborate with others that my students will need to learn and internalize to be successful?
  • How do I keep all students accountable for their content knowledge?
  • How do I teach students to mediate conflicts and disagreements?
  • How do I make sure all students are safe at all times?
  • Am I missing any questions that I should be asking?

Thank you so much in advance for considering this with me for my fifth grade scientists!

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Juan Pablo Candela says:

    How about 1) friendly cold-calling in class to make sure they know what’s going on, and 2) having them all turn in a super brief individual lab report after the lab finishes? That will keep them moving.

  2. debryc says:

    What do you think about having an after lab assessment, as well?

    I could call it SPLIT.

    Basically, the score that each student gets on split is totaled and given to the whole group as a final score. It is a way to check that every student helped each other prepare in content and in skills, and that each team member ensured that everyone in the team was participating.

    SPLIT questions can be:
    – State test like questions
    – Same questions for each team member that asks them to explain or justify a recent lab or project or practicum. For example, explain how you determined which one of the liquids was water. Be sure to justify why this approach was valid.

    I’ll teach students that the point of Split is to make sure that teams are collaborating and that they are living the Big Goal of 100% Knowledge Creators.

    SPLIT questions can also be differentiated. Level 1, 2, 3, 4. Level 1 is at the most essential level. Level 2 and 3 have more vocabulary, perhaps, or ask for deeper application. Level 4 really push students to grade seven or eight work.

  3. Diana says:

    How exciting! It’s just like orgo lab, haha. Good luck with this, Debry. Teamwork is always such tricky business – I look forward to seeing your observations after the practicum. Also, I love the idea of a post-practicum report/assessment.

    What are “real” lab roles that you have as a scientist? Is there a materials manager? A safety monitor? Lead researcher?
    Some roles that might be useful to “implement” are:
    – lab manager: makes sure supplies are available, equipment is being used properly, safety regulations are being followed, etc. I’m sure you could split this into “safety manager,” “equipment manager,” & so on if such a division of labor seems appropriate for your teams.
    – lab tech: might be responsible for particular pieces of equipment or techniques
    – research associate: works, thinks, writes!
    – principal investigator: provides guidance, keeps the “big questions” in mind – prompts reflection & synthesis, suggests new directions for or modifications to research

    What are skills that you utilize to collaborate with others that my students will need to learn and internalize to be successful?
    Listen to others carefully when they’re speaking – take the time to really understand what they’re saying before responding. Be polite, but also straightforward. (A good way to avoid sounding potentially accusatory/bossy, and to emphasize the team effort, is to always use “we” rather than “you/I” – e.g. “We really need to finish up x! Let’s get going” rather than “You really need to finish up x! Hurry up”) If you feel yourself getting tense/upset, pay attention to the fact that you are – give yourself a few seconds to cool down before speaking. Getting upset only makes others upset in turn.

    How do I make sure all students are safe at all times?
    Perhaps print out (or have students create) a lab safety checklist that they’re required to fill out together at the beginning & end of the practicum? (“Is everyone still wearing goggles? Check!”) Maybe reminding them that they’ll have to fill it out again at the end will keep them checking their safety throughout the lab?

    1. debryc says:

      All these suggestions are ridiculously awesome! For example, I’ve already added using “we” as an explicit lesson to teach my kids.

      I need to go to sleep, now, waking up at 2 in the morning to get ready for DC, but will respond in more detail, soon! I’m particularly interested on your take on four person lab groups.

      AS commented on Facebook that there is a clear division between doer and watcher in labs so that any group larger than that is in danger of being “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Whats your response? Do you see the lab roles you sketched out as sufficient for ensuring engagement and contributions from all students?

    2. Diana says:

      Oh hurrah, I’m glad these seemed workable to you! It’s interesting thinking over my observations and trying to crystallize them into concise pieces of advice.

      any group larger than that is in danger of being “too many cooks in the kitchen.”
      I agree, having experienced that even with a two-person lab group. With labwork, sometimes it’s just not physically feasible, or wise, to have more than one or two people working on at the same thing once. This can be balanced though by having everyone in the group be proactive about asking, first, “Can I help?” And if not, “What else could I be doing that would contribute to our finishing this project?” Focusing instead on the “thinking” and “writing” components is usually a good answer – jotting down observations (for the impending lab report?), thinking carefully about what will need to be done next and making preparations for that, etc. Oh, and keeping the workspace clear & tidy, of course.

      In response to “Do you see the lab roles you sketched out as sufficient for ensuring engagement and contributions?”, & perhaps complementing your “100% Knowledge Creators” framework – when it comes to engagement, what matters is not so much the names/functions of the roles per se, especially since there can be bleedover among them. At a basic level, what matters most is that every researcher is *equally invested in (and hopefully excited) about* a) fulfilling the obligations of their role, whatever role it is; and b) accomplishing The Project itself. Part a feeds into Part b, of course.

    3. debryc says:

      *What’s
      *And, not just sufficient but real-world and relevant?

    4. Diana says:

      And yes, I would say that these roles are very relevant to how science is done. There’s no such thing as a one-person lab: science is collaborative partly of course because of the value/necessity of sharing ideas & findings, but also because of the immense *variety* of the kinds of work, both physical and intellectual, that have to go into it.

      I hope this is all useful! Please let me know if you’d like anything clarified.

    5. Diana says:

      *variety, and time-intensiveness!

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