This past week I did an exploration lab with my biology students. Over the course of the year, I had observed that their observation skills were sorely lacking so I wanted to give them practice observing things.

The lab was simple enough. Since we were concluding a unit on plants, I set up six stations with various parts of plants for the students to examine, take notes on, and eventually develop a simple report. I had one primary objective and two secondary objectives. The primary objective was for students to learn how to make a detailed observation about something. The secondary objectives were for the students to look at different kinds of plant parts as a follow up to learning about the monocots and dicots. For the non-science geeks, a monocot is science speak for a plant that germinates with a single seed leaf, like corn or grass. A dicot is a plant that germinates with two seed leaves, like a bean, almost all flowers, and most trees.

I created 6 stations that related to either monocots or dicots and one station that compared the seeds of monocots to the seeds of dicots. The students went to each station made two observations, one connection and one drawing at each station. Because this was the first time I had them do this kind of thing, I did not make them describe, draw and make sense of the function of each sample. The lab lasted three days.

Day one, I gave them the general overview of the expectations and let them go to town.

Day two, I reviewed the nature of the observations that they made and helped them self critique. I got observations, about flowers for example, like it is multicolored. I pushed them to be more descriptive. What colors? Where are the colors? How are the colors arranged? And similar questions. I asked them to explore the texture, the shapes, the surface features and so on and I sent them back around the stations. Some kids sat down when they reached the station where they had begun, saying they were done. I prodded to get them back and look again. Some did.  I sent all the students home with the assignment to begin to put their data into a neat, organized, presentable form.

Day three, I did a quick review of some of their observations, which had improved. Then I talked about what I meant by “make a connection”. For example, what do you think the purpose of some structure on the plant might be. Another example is that this structure reminds me of____________. One girl observed that a juniper twig reminded her of a Christmas tree when she crushed it. I asked her to consider what that could say about junipers and Christmas trees. Finally, I gave them a format for what needed to be included in every final report of their observational data, went through a non-plant example of a simple observation might look like and told them to write up their final observations. I left the stations up so they could return to them if they wanted to refine their observations. Many did.

Tomorrow, I’ll have the chance to begin reviewing the work. But, based on my observations of the kids at work, I think it was a good beginning. I wish I had more time between now and the end of the school year because I would like to do this kind of thing again. I think it helped the students learn to look at things critically and to take more charge of their learning. I think the kids enjoyed the activity and I think, because I had not told them what to look for, it gave them the opportunity to be look at what they found interesting.

I’ll let you all know.