- More focus on inquiry. As a teacher, having the kids keep a lab journal forces me to consider whether my labs are the most appropriate for journaling. A lab where kids confirm things they already know or simply enter numbers into a bunch of blank boxes often makes me stop and think: “how could I add more inquiry to this lab?”
- Novelty. I was told during a workshop this summer that the average student takes over 1600 tests and quizzes between grades one and twelve. Why should my test be anything special to them? A journal, however, is different—I guarantee you no student has written over 1600 journals!
- Personal choice and creativity. I was reading the book Drive by Daniel Pink and was reminded how important autonomy and choice are as motivating factors. Journals are a tool that, when used well, allows students to determine how to best accomplish their lab goals. This choice fosters creativity, investment, and motivation.
- Authenticity. Real scientists, like my uncle, use lab journals. I didn’t ask my uncle the last time he bubbled in answers to a multiple choice test, but I’m guessing it was a long time ago.
- Evidence of progression. A test or a quiz is a snapshot at one instant in time. Often, the only data that is recorded in a teacher’s gradebook is a percentage. Here’s a challenge for any teacher. Look at your gradebook from last year. Let’s say you find a student who got an 80% on a quiz. Can you tell me anything else about the student’s compression? Did that student understand 80% of the material perfectly and know nothing about the other 20%, or did the student understand all of the material somewhat but just not completely? There is not enough data to determine the answer from just the percentage score. Look back at a student’s lab journal and you will have a much better picture of the student’s progress and understanding.
This month's article is contributed by Debbie Berlin. Debbie is a graduate of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She has been a high school physics teacher for 12 years. Debbie currently teaches Regular Physics and Honors Physics at Glenbrook South High School in Glenview, IL, where she has taught since 2004.