Virtual Labs to the Rescue

Experimental design is something that many middle school students  have trouble doing independently.  For years I have done the same lab to teach this concept to my students. The students love the lab, but I don’t love the results.  This year I decided to try teaching experimental design  with a virtual lab. My students chose to do the sound advice lab from Discovery science.  Their mission was to find out if listening to rock music on an MP3 player  causes  hearing damage. My students used the explore section to research sounds and  to learn what decibel levels are. They learned how to read graphs that demonstrated the level of sound  decibels reach that can damage a person’s hearing. Then the students set out to design an experiment to test their hypothesis about the damage that MP3 players can cause if played at a loud volume.The lab was relevant to their world. The virtual lab made it easy for me to have 80 students researching, testing and writing at the same time.  When the students finished writing up their experimental design plan they turned it in to me to critique. In the past, I  would write notes to my students about what they did right or wrong on their experimental design plan.  This year I made a change. I used my Ipod touch to give each student an individual critique. Using garage band I made a simple podcast file of what the student did right and wrong on the experimental design write up.  I emailed the podcast file to my students.  They listened to their crtique in class on the computer, and then fixed any parts of the design that was incorrect.The students did the best job they have ever done on designing an experiment. Many of them told me that this method of conferencing helped them know how to fix their writing mistakes, or correct design flaws.  I haven’t felt this good about teaching scientific writing in a long time.  Try a virtual lab this year, and you’ll say what I say: “Virtual lab to to the rescue.”

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