Alright, GO!

My grade 9’s are doing ecology first this year, and like last year, I kept the number of teacher-led lessons down to a minimum. But this year, instead of everyone working with invasive species, they are allowed to choose their own project (or projects, the number is unimportant) as long as it address the effects of human activity on ecosystems (one or many), water, and soil, and it must include one original hands-on investigation.

Since the investigation part seemed to be the part that was throwing them, the other day I told them that by the end of the 80 minute period they had to submit a description of what, exactly, they intended to do as an investigation, where and when they would perform it, and what specifically, they would be looking for (qualitatively or quantitatively).

I then told them we had a set of microscopes, dishes, jars, pond water, random soil samples from around the school, and a few litres of simulated acid rain. And then I said “alright, GO!”

I was pleasantly surprised by the inquisitive chaos that ensued, and by the end of the class I had detailed descriptions of most of the investigations, as well as at least a dozen experiments actually under way.

It was a frenetic, chaotic, inquisitive class. As a science teacher, I couldn’t have been happier!

2 thoughts on “Alright, GO!

  1. April

    I’m a first year biology teacher and I would love to do more open ended labs like this. Not only does it gets the kids more excited because they get to think for themselves and aren’t told what to do, it feels like real science. I try to have rubrics that I can grade them with, but the other teachers at my school often discourage me from taking the time to do this- even the teachers that claim to be “inquiry” based. Do you have any tips for a beginning teacher on the best way to handle open ended labs? Or ideas for inquiry labs for other biological subjects? Thanks!

    1. ed Post author

      First of all, while it can be useful to take the input from more senior teachers under advisement, it should not be adhered to just because they have been at it longer. Though at least a modicum of support from a department head is helpful.
      There is no magic formula for open labs or investigations, but I would start with something that you are comfortable with, and that can be explored without too much background information, and cut them loose. Then take the time to see how each student is doing, point them to information as needed, and perhaps most importantly, point them to each other – “Have a look at what Tina is doing, she has a great leaf sample under the scope”.
      Open labs take longer, and it is much MUCH harder to have specific, intended outcomes that each student much achieve.
      Good luck!


Leave a Reply