We all know a large stressor for teachers is the worry that STEM labs, kits, and activities will not “teach” students concepts they need to know to be successful on tests. This fear is legitimate and should be addressed using statistics, beacuse most STEM kits are student-centered, meaning the students are responsible for their own learning.

I challenge you to make a 5-10 question quiz on content you plan to cover using a lab or kit. Give your students the quiz before the lab. Collect the following data:

  1. Percentage of grades A, B, C, D earned overall: A 5% of students, B 20% of students, etc
  2. Data for % correct for all students on each question: EX Question 1: mass: 50% (Question; topic; % correct) Note: the reason I include “topic” is so you can quickly identify topics you need to reteach or review.

After students complete the lab, be sure you review answers to lab questions and data or provide an answer key and discussion time for any questions associated with the lab (not the quiz). Our two favorite tactics for achieving question review are:

-Tactic one: you review each question as a class and discuss why the correct answer(s) are correct. Call on students to share answers and any drawings associated with the answer. This tactic allows you to correct any misconceptions on the spot while allowing students to contribute.

-Tactic two: provide students with an answer key, have them check and correct their answers and discuss them as a group. You can monitor this process and jump into discussions where needed. You can also assign this as homework instead of classwork and group discussion. This tactic is usually less time consuming than tactic one.

Now, regive the quiz and collect the same data. Compare the data.

  1. Did your percentages of As and Bs increase and Ds and Fs decrease?
  2. Did you see a higher percentage of correct answers for topics the students originally answered incorrectly?

If you answer “no” to either or both questions, you probably need to try a different type of kit or lab. I already feel some of you thinking “If my students have already seen the quiz before of course they will perform better.”, actually NOT TRUE. You are not providing an answer key for the quiz, and I bet they won’t even remember what’s on it. Just trust me. I’ve done this hundreds of times. I’ve used the same exact questions on a test as in class that have been reviewed and my data is always around the same. Kids don’t tend to remember specific questions. BLOWS MY MIND! Anyway, when you give the quiz the first time, you aren’t going to make a big deal about it. Explain they will be taking a 10-minute pre-quiz and will not be graded on the quiz. I usually set a little time limit too. Give 60-90 seconds per question. I don’t stress about accommodations because the quiz isn’t for a grade. You make that choice based on your students.

Let students compare quiz 1 to quiz 2 so they can also see how much content mastery they gained through the activity [UNLESS this is your first activity and it’s a disaster; you need to try something different. I’ll discuss this later]. Your students will love comparing how they answered the first time to how they answered the second time. They will appreciate that % increase in score and will be motivated to continue to see results. The data will also encourage students to actively participate in activities in the future. It’s just like when adults try to lose weight. If you see the number on the scale decrease, you are motivated to continue the diet. Also, if you fall off the horse you are motivated to start again using the same diet that produced positive results in a previous experience. Positive data motivates.

Positive data motivates.

Try a minimum of 3 different types of labs, kits, or activities before you conclude that your students will not gain quality content mastery from student-centered activities. If your data doesn’t improve with a specific brand lab then move on to a new one. Please do give up on student-centered labs, kits, and activities just because the first one you chose flopped. You can find one that works for your students, but you have to be willing to try a variety.

Extra Tips:

  1. Circulate the classroom when students are participating in activities, and ask key questions to be sure students understand the content behind what they are achieving.
  2. Be involved. You cannot sit at your desk and expect kids to be disciplined enough to learn from a student-centered activity. Your presence will be motivation.
  3. Positive Reinforcement. Compliment students on their participation and application of content during the lab. BE SPECIFIC in your compliments.

-Xandy Whitman