more projects on the way to great lab assessments

Back in August I unveiled my plan to improve the way I teach the scientific process by breaking down my lab assessments instead of asking my students to produce a complete lab report right off the bat.  In the first unit, for both physics and chemistry, I focused on just making hypotheses.  We talked a lot about dependent and independent variables in different experiments until the students felt comfortable identifying them.  Controlled variables still seem a little on the vague side, but I can review those when we get to procedure design.  Then they can see that their procedure should be designed in a way to control any variables besides their dependent and independent ones. 

For my next unit, different skills seemed appropriate for physics and chemistry.  Chapter two in chemistry introduces elements and compounds, and in previous years, students have done elements projects where they do things like make posters, pamphlets, or skits informing their classmates about a family of elements.  Well, I found them to be really dry and report-like after a while.  Last year at the NSTA conference in Philadelphia I saw a presentation from pre-service science education students on creating a scientific symposium in the classroom.  Last year for the final physics project, I asked students to come together in a symposium to discuss which physicist has had the most impact on society.  This year in chemistry, I'm asking them to choose an element and explain why that element is the most useful for society. 

In physics, I'm moving on to evaluating graphs and data tables.  We've seen some data tables in our first chapter, and now we're ready to make some graphs of our own and learn how to describe them in words.  I always find that students make a graph, and then never refer to it in their writing.  Sometimes it seems like they feel the graph is so self-evident it needs no explanation, but that's not always the case!  Explicitly teaching graph interpretation will give me another powerful tool for assessment of skills in the scientific process. 

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