“Yes! We’re doing a lab today!” - said just about every student ever.
As a science teacher I have never struggled with getting kids interested in performing labs. Students are always very eager to get their hands “dirty” and try out the equipment. The difficulties with doing labs comes when students are held accountable to recording in their notebooks, drawing up data tables, collecting and analyzing the data, and then making data based conclusions. Often labs are approached with a recess mentality and any real learning is strongly rejected. It’s a frustrating cycle for a teacher. Due to time constraints during the class period many hours are put in outside of the school day to prepare the labs. When the hard work that was invested in preparation is met with enthusiasm only for doing and ambivalence for accountability it can be discouraging.
Over the years a once eager teacher can wane in enthusiasm after reaching the “it’s just not worth it” conclusion. Perhaps the students weren’t wrong to treat the lab like a disconnected part of the curriculum. The way many labs are done in the cookie-cutter style do seem random and irrelevant. One way to assuage this problem is by using inquiry based labs. What inquiry accomplishes with engagement it still often lacks in relevance. An exciting way to add relevance to content is by working citizen science research projects into your curriculum. Citizen science projects are active research projects sponsored by scientific or governmental organization that rely on non-scientists to assist with data collection. The data is then used in research and adds to a growing body of knowledge.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has a course that connects you to actual ecological research in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. Gorongosa is a national park that was once thriving but was all but destroyed from years of war. A long-term restoration park is currently underway that is working to restore the park’s ecosystem. To quantify the recovery, scientists have set up cameras on trails that take photos when an animal moves in front of them. The cameras have collected more data than the scientists can dig through themselves and so that is where the students help comes into play. By participating with this ongoing research project they will gain a deeper understanding of ecology, the process of science, and with global issues.
Another citizen science project out there is the FoldIt project. This project enlists puzzle enthusiasts to help discover the structures of proteins. Scientists have a backlog of genomic data and need manpower to help solve these protein puzzles.
Today's thoughts come from Ms. Leslie Sitzman. Leslie has taught at Pike High School for 8 years. She began her teaching career with the transition to teaching program Indianapolis Teaching Fellows and has taught Integrated Chemistry Physics, Pre-Ap Biology (Honors), AP Biology, and IB Biology. In her free time she loves to spend time trail running with her husband and children.