Monday, July 16, 2012

They Were the Best of Times...

Lab days were usually the best of science days!
What did you enjoy most from your science education? What science memories endured from your classroom experiences? I would wager that for most people, one of the two or three things that come to mind, "labs" or "lab work" comes to mind. I loved labs. An aside...

I spent the first part of my career teaching. Coaching basketball was a second vocation. I have always believed that coaches provide far superior teaching strategies that are individualized than common classroom teachers. One key to this is "doing" time. A good coach will spend 10% of his time teaching in front of a group, and the other 90% providing practice and feedback. Practice, practice, practice. Bobby Knight, the volatile but revered former coach of Texas Tech and Indiana commented many times: "Perfect practice makes perfect."

Let's return to our science experiences. Dissections, titrations, and modeling were activities that most of us enjoyed more than the day to day lecture from a teacher. The images, interactions and stories that remain with us indicate that the learning that took place was "sticky". I even recall vividly that my lab partner spilled hot cabbage juice indicator all over my light-colored pants in 10th grade, and the explosion that resulted in my college lab when a fellow student did not quite clear all of the sodium out of a test tube before cleaning it (it ended in a bang!). Still, do we remember why we were doing these things? Did we get out of those experiences much more than good memories?

I would suggest that the answer is "no" unfortunately. I have to admit that on these days, the most memorable, enjoyable days of my science learning, I found myself lost almost all of the time. I was simply hopeful that I might get enough data to complete the lab subsequent lab report, or complete the activity without looking foolish. In my physics class, I was so lost based on the results of my lab work that I did not submit several labs! I loved labs, but I something about the experience left me feeling woefully inadequate.

Now that I have outlined a major, well understood challenge in science learning, in my next posts let's explore together some potential solutions - I am hopeful that as we do this, you might come up with some observations, suggestions and practices that I might not have thought of. That's why meeting at a "crossroads" can lead to a productive, enjoyable dialogue. Let's have a cup of coffee and chat about making labs better.

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