Fitting It All In: 6 Tips for Science Experimentation on a Shortened Schedule


So you've figured out set-up, take-down and storage of your lab materials using some handy tips from our previous blog post. You've just gone over the directions and your kiddos are ready to get elbow deep into a frog exploration when the bell rings. Wait... WHAT?!?!? What happened to your class time?  Where did it go? You just looked at the clock and you had at least a good half hour left. How can anyone get through an elaborate lab such as a dissection or an inquiry lab from start to finish in a 50 minute (or less) block of time? In this day and age of "go, go, GO!", teachers have to be flexible. Over scheduled students are changing classes, heading to constant testing which alters schedules for weeks on end, participating in plays, sports activities, and the like which pulls kids from your room on a whim. So, how do you ensure that every student experiences experiments and labs in this kind of chaos? We've got some teacher-tested tips for you for when time is of the essence!

1. Smooth Review: To ensure a well organized lab day, go over lab expectations, rules, consequences, procedures, materials, etc. the day before the lab takes place.  Allow students to complete their hypothesis and ask them to read over the procedure again for homework. The following day, do a quick overview of the lab by letting students summarize what you discussed the day prior, quiz them with a few of the most important questions and then set your kids loose! They should be ready and set to go.


2. Work Together: Don't be afraid to work WITH your students in coming up with a feasible hypothesis or logical conclusions. Students can still develop their own inferences, but when the class brainstorms ideas together, the process can go much more quickly. For summarizing or analysis questions, answer them as a class or allow them to work with their groups. This will speed up the time that's often wasted "thinking stuff up" and will help lead those that were a little lost down the right path to the big picture.


3. Pre-fill and Pare Down: Another great way to fit labs into shortened classes is to have graph paper partially filled out with the correct data range so students can easily create a title, identify their x and y axes and fill in their plot points (provide two versions and you have a great differentiation tool you can use for your students who just don't quite get science or math concepts as quickly). Where possible, reduce the number of trials during an experiment. You can also limit results and conclusion questions to those that are most important to the lab. Simple recall assessments are time wasters.


4. Split it up: If you're able, complete one half of the lab one day and the other half on the following day - this is especially helpful for labs like dissection when exploration is really necessary to gain a full understanding of the concept at hand. Wrap up specimen in a gallon ziplock bag with the group name written on the outside for storage overnight. Have time to complete the lab, but not the analysis? Ask students to answer important questions for homework. The next day, spend 5-10 minutes reviewing the main takeaway of the experiment and revisit any misconceptions students may have. Whatever end point you reach, be sure to incorporate a little time for closure because you never want to leave your students hanging when it comes to understanding the big picture.


5. 'Round Robin quizzes: Dissection is a major component of what life science and biology teachers do, and ensuring identification and understanding of the many working parts of an organism is key to success in our labs. Unfortunately, time constraints often limit our ability to ensure each student sees each organ and understands location and function - to this end, we do group quizzes. Create a quick checklist that you can hand out to each group and have students put their names at the top of the sheet.  Prior to exploration, inform your kids that a verbal group quiz is how they'll be graded for their participation. The checklist can also be a guiding handout, with a graphic of what kids should be locating. Once you've visited each group and observed they are on the right path, use the last 15-20 minutes of the lab to visit each group and quiz the students about where each structure is located and what the function of each is. It saves time and your sanity as you try to assess their level of involvement in and comprehension of the lab.  


6.  Demonstrate it: When time is really crunched, there is no better way than to do the lab yourself with students assisting throughout the process.  Tell students the problem at hand and have them help you brainstorm the best procedure to achieve the desired results.  Set-up the lab at your desk and ask for student volunteers to help complete the lab.  Formulate a hypothesis and answer analysis questions together as a class.  While it may not be as hands-on for the students, in a shortened class period it can be a real time-saver and still allows the students the experience of the concept you are demonstrating.   




Please feel free to comment below and let us know what kind of shortcuts you've incorporated in your classroom when you're in a time crunch in science! 

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