Student Voice in Science

I have been thinking about ways I can invite student voice into my Science classroom. Here are a things I have found valuable so far this year.

Revisiting Lab Notebooks
Many years ago, I asked that my Chemistry students keep a lab notebook to use for lab work. The purpose of the notebooks, at that time, was for students to record their data during the lab activity, then to write their ‘lab report’ in the notebook when the activity was over. I abandoned this practice at some point, finding the stack of lab notebooks made a formidable marking pile that I dreaded tackling. I think now that it may have been the monotony of marking 30 or 60 identical labs that I was actually dreading.

This year, my grade 12 students are using lab notebooks for some of their lab activities. Their first use of their notebooks was during our first learning cycle when they were asked to design and perform an experiment to electroplate a metal object. I made it clear to my students that their lab notebook was a place to record their questions, summarize research findings, create (and modify) a plan for their experiment, record and analyze data, and answer a few questions about their experiment, results, and process. I asked that they make their thinking clear and organized in the notebook, with headings to help guide the reader through their thinking process.

It was wonderful to have so much student thinking visible during and after the lab activity. These photos were taken when I was assessing the lab activity, and aren’t great quality, but illustrate a couple of things I really liked. This first image shows some great student thinking. This student actually labeled some of their ‘Questions:’ (right side of page) and based on their questions and preliminary research came up with an ‘IDEA,’ I love the science thinking that is visible in the left margin as the student wonders about experimental variables. The diagrams make the planning process more visible, as I can see the student’s revisions along the way.

This second example shows some very detailed notes a student made during their experiment. Rather than create a formal observation table (there will be a time for that; this lab was not that time!) this lab activity involved a great deal of tweaking and experimentation, and students made good use of the freedom to record and report results in whatever manner worked best for them. Notice that this example is ‘Attempt#1,’ followed by ‘Attempt #2,’ and that ‘Attempt #3’ is referenced near the lower right side of the page. Great example of iteration and attention to detail.
Marking these labs was a pleasure, as I could learn a great deal about how a student’s thinking evolved throughout the process. Usually, this evolution in thinking has been invisible to me, hidden behind a shiny, polished lab report. Another advantage is that the notebook lets me into the thinking of all students, not just the ones who ask the most questions during class time. I am definitely looking forward to revisiting the lab notebooks throughout the course to get a taste of student thinking.
Feedback for Me
This year I have been trying to make sure I give students opportunities to give me feedback. I already shared some survey answers from my 12U classes in a previous post, and thought I’d share some of my grade 9 students’ comments from a round of feedback they gave me last week. As with my grade 12 students, there are some mixed feelings about the lack of number grades, but the comments made me smile. I’d like to make this a regular thing; I like that all students have a voice when I invite written feedback rather than verbal feedback. Students seem much less shy about sharing their opinions.

Students Mapping the Curriculum
Last week as we started our study of Space, I asked my grade 9 class to consider the benefits and drawbacks of space exploration and share questions they had about the possibility of humans colonizing Mars. We compiled a list of questions, and students then worked in groups to identify curriculum connections that related to the questions they had generated. The most exciting part of this process was that we were not only mapping expectations from the Space strand; I included expectations from Ecology and Electricity as well, so as students investigate questions about Mars colonization we will be uncovering curriculum for three different strands of Science.

Most students didn’t have too much difficulty identifying connections between questions and the curriculum expectations; the expectations were in the original language, so there were many words they needed to unpack through discussion with each other. The following day, the students’ questions went up on the wall with the related curriculum expectations. The expectations are colour coded by unit so we can see how the topics relate to each of the strands.

OK, that’s it for now. 🙂 More on gradeless classroom next time!

2 thoughts on “Student Voice in Science

  1. Hey Amy,
    I have been thinking about the user experience of the curriculum lately and your post is a great example of what’s possible. Too often we keep the curriculum to ourselves and only dish it it out on a ‘need to know’ basis according to our timeline. When we own it like that, we rob kids of opportunities to make their own connections and pathways to mastery.
    I’m interested in your thoughts (and those of your students) about a better format and interface for the curriculum. How can we change the UX so students, teachers and parents can access the curriculum and manipulate it to better serve learning? Two possible features I have been thing about are:
    “People who chose this expectation also chose …”
    “This expectation is connected to these expectations in …”
    There are plenty of examples of sites out there that help us make sense of large sets of information and options. What could a better curriculum interface look like?
    Thanks again for the post.


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