Science, Education, and Science Education

classroom applications

Archive for the ‘In the Laboratory’ Category

September 23rd, 2014 by Luann

Lab Clean-up

This is the year I organize the lab.

Teaching kids to work efficiently and keep their work area neat is pretty intuitive. Washing glassware, however, is not. I’ve outfitted every station with a small plastic bin that contains a sponge, a towel, and a spray bottle of table cleaner provided by the custodial staff. There’s nothing to clean glassware. So, I added a medium-sized test tube brush to the can in each cupboard, and placed a salt shaker (2/$1 at The Dollar Store) filled with Alconox in each bin:



Alconox is my glassware-cleaning detergent of choice, when a cleaner is needed. Students usually wash their own glassware at their lab benches. They will dump a handful of Alconox in one beaker when only a sprinkle is needed. The shakers are about 12 cm tall, plastic, easy to refill, and yes, they are color-coded to match the table color scheme.

Update, November 24: Working quite well.

June 24th, 2014 by Luann

Skillz for the Future


Framework for 21st Century Learning, Charles Fadel, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

We are asked to teach 21st Century Skills – Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Communication and Citizenship, to name a few. The last two schools in which I’ve worked have advisory classes. The point is career education and the relationship-building that increases chances for student success. We do prescribed career activities. We do grade checks and students reflect on their progress. I’ve been through many iterations of advisory during my tenure in 2 schools in 2 states over the past 10 years; and we are not yet sure what shape  I’ll be getting a brand-new batch of grade 9 lambs this year, and I intend to help them become as successful as possible.

To support these skills, and  state/district/building career-related activities and relationship-building activities, I’d like to suggest we consider the following possibilities for valuable use of advisory time:

Digital Literacy, Part 1

I see two components to Digital literacy. The first, easy component is establishing some accounts and learning to use current tools. At our school and in my classroom, as a minimum, these would currently be

  • Google apps including Blogger,
  • Prezi, and
  • Evernote
  • Disqus


My building has dabbled in Project-Based Learning. A part of our work, an authentic audience is important. It’s amazing how the quality of students’ work becomes a big deal to them when they know it will be seen by others.

As digital portfolios become important, students could maintain their portfolios easily in Google sites, and later transfer them to a personally owned account. The advantage to Evernote is its portability and flexibility with media. Evernote could be used for quickly storing info from recordings, links, photos and clipped images such as those students take of their lab work and whiteboarding adventures (see Plagiarism, below) and drafts of projects and work. Many teachers ask students to use Prezi, and class/project time is used just setting up an account and learning the app. Prezi could also be a platform for the digital portfolio. Many classes, particularly art, also use Blogger for photoblogs.

Digital Literacy, Part 2

Safety and etiquette.  That is all. No student may publish anything in my class to a public account with his/her name on it without parent permission, signed, and in my file.

Plagiarism: It’s not just for English class anymore.

Students must learn to vet every source they use for licensing. Creative Commons wasn’t around when most of us were in college, so we first need to learn the ropes.  Wikimedia Commons is a great starting place for images. Google Search now offers the capability to find usage rights (in search, select images > search tools > usage rights and then follow the rights granted for your intended use.)

Financial literacy:

As 9th graders, perhaps a look at the cost of a cell phone contract, fast food, and driving a car, including a look at the good driver discount they get on auto insurance for keeping a B average. By 10th grade, looking at how to budget money from a part-time job, including savings, and the cost of college. By 11th grade, a look at taxes and more college costs. As seniors, they need to be looking at their actual expenses vs income after graduation. And then, there’s my personal beef that we’re teaching kids there’s actually such a thing as “good debt.”  Hello.

There are others, of course.  What are yours?


December 12th, 2013 by Luann

Candy 2013: A First Adventure into PBL

For years, my chemistry classes have made candy right before winter break. In years past, we spent a day investigating solutions, then I handed out a recipe and we made the candy. This year, with the blessings of  grant from NBPTS to investigate project based learning, I began to learn how to integrate content into a project. I’m working on using more true PBL instead of simply asking students to do projects. In addition to the integration of academic content into making candy, students blogged about their learning and their work. Some students worked in Evernote and when they finished, posted their work using is now a paid app, and the features available for free may change before we use it again. Commenting must be done through Disqus, yet another sign-up and sign-in, so most students opted not to use it. I’m not going to lie – getting kids set up on Blogger through their school Google apps accounts was a challenge, and I’m on the hunt for something better. Next year, I will consider WordPress unless I find something better in the meantime.

Sophia C.
Shawna D.
Marcus D.
Hap F.
Makayla G.
Robert H.
Kearsten H.
Isabel K.
Tallan K.
Victor L.
Alex P-C.
Charlette Q.
Annika R.
Devin R.
Joscelynne S.
Emily T.
Sierra Y.
Ryanne B.
Jacob B.
Bronwyn B.
Donovan B.
Grace B.
Calliope B.
Dylan C.
Micheal E.
Klarissa E.
Marcus G
Alexis G.
Luke H.
Cuyler H.
Morgan J.
Jade L.
Kyle L.
Jason M.
Andrew M.
Ivette M.
Camile R.
Alisha S.
Jessica S.
Benjamin U.
Matthew W.
Maria E.
Devon E.
Lindsay G.
Gage H.
Sandra V-J.
Robert M.
Sasha P.
Shane R.
Martha G.
Luis S.
Makenna S.
Chantel S.
Esmerelda T-C.
Madison Z.
Jessica M.
Haley W.
Brad A.
Kayla B.
Skyler C.
Rachel C.
McKenna C.
Kylee D.
Ashyton F.
Colin G.
Jessica J.
Taylor L.
Rosa N.
Tori W.
Tyler P.
Jose P.
Chase P.
Deanna R.
Eduardo R.
Owen S.
Paige S.
Colin S.
Kylie T.
Keeghan V.
Joseph Watson!!!
Eugene W.
June 23rd, 2013 by Luann

The Paper Mill Project 2013

This post might well be titled “Adventures in Project-Based Learning.”

Students Working with Sludge


You have to start somewhere.

It was an experience in jumping in feet first, and fortunately, also an experience in collaborative problem-solving. Based on the student excitement level, the student-initiated collaboration, and the chemistry-rich discussions involved, it was also a very successful experience.

I’ve learned that students find a final project more relevant than just a final exam. I’ve used either or both together as a final assessment.  One favorite in the past has been the scavenger hunt. Most of my Chemistry kiddos had done the biology version last year, so I wanted to provide them with a different experience in Chemistry.

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May 24th, 2012 by Luann

Scavenging For Science

Many years ago, I needed something engaging for AP Chemistry students once their exam was over.  I found a scavenger hunt, hard copy as this was the olden days, handed out by the late Dr. Cliff Schrader at a conference.  I’m forever grateful to Cliff for so many things he gave out freely to anyone who asked.  Among so many other things, he taught me to share.

I reworked the list a little to reflect some things my students knew or in which they had shown interest.  The first few years, the kids worked in groups and competed to see which group could collect the most items the most quickly.

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December 17th, 2011 by Luann

Crystallization of a Supersaturated Sucrose Solution

Research: Solutions

Recipe:  Supersaturated Sucrose Solution

Response: Documenting the Process


October 10th, 2011 by Luann

Writing and the Lab Report

Oregon requires students to complete an inquiry work sample (here’s the one we will use this year) at some time during high school.  Our classes function on an inquiry basis at some level almost daily.  I’ve played with many strategies to help students write about their work in a manner that facilitates their learning while documenting their work in a manner that survives the scrutiny of a scientific peer review.

Most recently, I’ve incorporated the work began with Linda Christensen (from Lewis and Clark) and the Oregon Writing Project. Freshmen begin keeping all lab and inquiry work in a bound theme book, AKA fondly as “my lab book.” My vision for the appearance of student lab books has morphed over the years.  Some things change very little, though, because good science is good science and good science writing is good science writing. At my current school, I’m blessed with like-minded colleagues who have helped me refine my vision as it is shared in this post. Here’s our current plan…..

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August 14th, 2011 by Luann

Collaboration, Lab Work and Student Roles

Group Roles

Neurology Students in Berlin, a long, long time ago.

My introduction to assigning student roles in group work came in 1994 at a Project Discovery summer workshop. I didn’t question the value of this practice. More experienced teachers and university professors shared their expert guidelines.  As teacher participants in the workshop, we used these canned roles as we worked our way through canned labs intended to inspire student discovery. They appeared, we decided, to be a pretty effective method for managing students in lab settings and for facilitating student communication about their work. The checkpoints added strategically to canned procedures helped me check for understanding while students were working.

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January 1st, 2009 by Luann

How to do “half a lab .”

This post is dedicated to special education professionals everywhere, with my apologies that you have to work with science teachers.

Many students in special education have IEP’s specifying a reduced work load.  This specification was perhaps meant to minimize the frustration from an overwhelming number of practice math problems or with essays of unmanageable length.  Doing ‘every other question’ isn’t practical when the task is a laboratory investigation.

To better help students learn scientific investigation, I started to focus on just one significant part of the actual investigation and report at a time.  Here are the components of the lab write-up:

  • Experimental Question – what you want to know and can find out with an experimental design
  • Hypothesis – possible answer to question; testable, potentially falsifiable
  • Introduction – background information needed about the topic to be investigated
  • Materials (written as the investigation is designed)
  • Procedure – written in short steps as a set of directions.  Include everything on the Score Sheet list, linked below.
  • Safety – apparel, MSDS info on any chemicals used, equipment cautions.
  • Data table
  • Data analysis – includes graph or other alternative representation of data, and discussion of hypothesis as supported or not
  • Calculations and calculations table – calculations done in format of describing what is to be calculated, an equation, and a sample of the math.
  • Conclusion – answer the experimental question, use data to support your answer ( numbers! use high and low average of 3+ trials) and explain how the data answers your question.

Now if this looks suspiciously like the standard for investigations in some state’s standards, I will agree.  Students must write in this format to receive a high score on the high-stakes test.  It’s also not bad science, overall, so we just do it.

How to do half of this?  We start the year with a lab activity to which pretty much everyone knows the answer:  How does exercise affect your heart rate?  We walk together through all the parts and everyone writes each component into his or her lab book during class, working in groups, over 4 days.  During this time, we talk together about the variables that might affect heart rate, such as the type and speed of exercise and what variables we can keep the same, or control, for everyone.  We also talk about what we can’t control, such as the food eaten for breakfast, body size, leg length.  We decide on an experimental control as a student who does not exercise at all yet whose heart rate we record at the beginning and end of the exercise time, with everyone else’s.

Examples of the student handout for our Photosynthesis lab, with directions for the introduction and data analysis are here.  The score sheet checklist is here.  I copy the documents back to back and hand to students as we begin the lab write-up. It;s the 5th investigation we do, so most are pretty good at it.  Help yourself; I’d love your feedback.  I know the score sheet is labeled “rubric” when it is really more of a student checklist, but it’s progress….

The focus for this lab is the design, or procedure, itself.  Options for students needing a reduced assignment include:

  • writing the hypothesis to a given experimental question
  • reviewing the introduction material with teacher or lab group and writing a statement telling the purpose of the lab
  • safety must be written by everyone, period
  • writing the procedure and materials together with the lab group.
  • directions on how to re-work the data, or interpretation of a ready-made graph of the data
  • analysis questions are easy:  select depending on the student’s needs and focus.  Perhaps the student is already good at identifying variables, so select other questions.  Perhaps the student needs to learn to identify variables, so select the variable questions and one other.
  • the conclusion is pretty basic – if the student has had guidance with the data, the conclusion is surprisingly easy.

Maybe this isn’t exactly half a lab.  It’s a ‘reduced assignment,’ though.  It’s been my experience that even struggling students will accept this version if given guidance and the security net of a lab group at first.  Can they go through life with a security net?  Probably not.  This one is just a step inthe direction of self-sufficiency and using one’s resources.  We don’t all walk that direction at the same pace.

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