Lab Stations

Today I had a lab that had 5 different stations for my students to work though in order to experiment with the ideas of force.  They explored the forces that are in ordinary interactions through using rubber bands with weights and bathroom scales.  I wanted to try out self paced work in class so that the students who want to work can do everything and not be slowed down by students who fool around. Each lab stations was simple enough that students didn’t need a group, but could use one.  I hoped that allowing students to do work at their own pace would allow for more differentiation.

In the actual class,  I found that there were a lot of people not working and messing up the set up of the labs.  This made it difficult for others to do their work and added to the chaos of the classroom.  A lot of students did some of their work and did learn during the class, but there could have been a lot more order.  Tomorrow I think I will try giving each group a station and then giving them a time limit and pushing them on so that everyone moves as a group and has a place to be working.  There was a lack of accountability and that made it difficult to keep everything under control. I think another issue was the size of each group.  In the future I think I will try to have multiple sets of materials at each station so that students can be in groups of two or three instead of five or six. 

My students all seem to be very good when it comes to writing something in a worksheet.  Even in my difficult classes, the end activity where we summarized what we did and how it connected to the concept of force got everyone in the seats, quietly writing.  I am amazed how well trained the students are in some areas, and how difficult they can be in other activities. 

I believe I made a mistake by not spending more time working on the instructions for each lab activity.  My instructions were all text and there was definitely some confusion with a few stations.  My goal is to give students the tools to be able to work as much as they can without my direct help, but that doesn’t work if the instructions are not clear enough.  As soon as things get confusing, many students lose focus and begin off task behavior.  I need to work on adding visuals to lab instructions so that the task at each station is very clear.

I am very happy with the day summary sheet that I made and I think it will help keep students focused better and help them reflect on the day and think about how what they do in class helps them learn.  I didn’t have time today, but I want to budget more time so that we can share out what students wrote and I can help guide them towards more in depth and meaningful responses.  It may be useful to take what they say and then write out a detailed description from everyone’s ideas and tell they class to add anything that isn’t already in their response.  This might help them early on and then I can just ease off until the only feedback they hear is from my reactions to what they say if I call on them.

While today was frustrating at times and I felt like they didn’t get as much out of it as they could, they still were successful at talking about forces and were able to reason through forces being applied when there is no motion.  In the next class there will be a mini lecture that will introduce free body diagrams and hopefully the concept will become more and more clear.

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