The first lab of the year is always exciting for new Middle School 6th graders. My first year teaching, I was all geared up with my perfect lab directions – step by step, perfectly measured, perfectly worded. All the equipment the lab wanted them to use was laid out, ready to be measured the way the lab wanted them to. My goal – have my 6th graders execute a lab as to get the perfect lab result. I had to teach the Scientific Method, and the lab title was “Effects of Crowding on Radish Seed Growth” and I was bent on having every single student succeed in having that lab “answer” be crystal clear. Hypothesis, Conclusion, Data, Analysis – these are the words that guided me. Eyes on the prize. Of course, nothing turned out as planned. Seeds all over the floor, dirt spilled, students forgetting to label their containers- and all the while, me ignoring important insights like, “What if I pack the soil down too tightly?” or “Is it bad that I used the tap water instead of the distilled water you put out, Mrs D?”. I was too focused on that single lab objective. “Radish Seeds student, – Hypothesis – crowded or not?”
Fast forward 18 years. It’s amazing what you learn to hear after years of teaching, and where just listening to your students can take you. There’s learning in mistakes, in questioning, and in cleaning up mistakes. It’s a much different lab today. I still love the radish seeds – it’s hard not to love a plant that is mature in only 28 days for science. It’s different though – the lab is open for them, nothing laid out, just ready. The seeds, still sitting there, waiting to be used. The lab has evolved into THEIR experience. What do YOU want to experiment with? I ditched the photocopy of Lab #1 in the lab book. The student ideas were awesome this year –
– does playing different kids of music affect the germination rates of the seeds?
– does adding food coloring to the water change the color of the mature radish?
– Does soaking the seeds in dye change the color of the radish?
– Will adding caffeine to the water increase the germination rate of the seeds?
In the end, 15 different experiments, 30 different hypothesis, 28 excited science students doing labs that THEY invented. There was still spilled dirt, errors in measurement, and some confusion about adding too many variables. I wonder what a blue food colored watered caffeine plant exposed to heavy metal music looks like? I may never know but it’s great when students can have ownership of the science they perform. Teaching science is experimental and experiential.