Since reading Adam Boxer’s excellent blog on the Slow Practical, in which he explores the cognitive demands placed on pupils by practical work, I have been carefully guiding pupils through experiments. As Adam points out, one of the disadvantages is that it takes more time and while practical work does need to be guided for safety and effectiveness, I have been feeling the need to explore alternatives.
This week, on a CogSciSci email, Dave Paterson shared a link to his integrated instruction approach to practical work and also some slides explaining the methodology behind it from a CLT point of view.
Inspired, I decided to make a set myself for my usual “lab rat” group in Y10 who were due to learn how to test for halide ions in solution.
To make the instruction sheet I used good old PowerPoint (often unfairly maligned) and the fantastic & free Chemix lab diagram drawing website.
The main benefit is the avoidance of the split attention effect which would be present if pupils had a diagram of equipment next to a step by step method. By integrating the instructions within the image the extraneous load is reduced as pupils aren’t forced to switch their attention between images and text.
After the usual recall quiz and sharing of learning intentions we looked through the integrated instructions sheet together. As this was the first time that they had seen instructions in this format, I decided I would model how to use them. I also demonstrated the practical work, discussing what I was doing and why, on my visualiser. I also asked for feedback on how easy they thought it was to interpret what to do.
The group could comfortably work out what order to carry out the instructions and were able to describe to me how to use the sheet and then successfully completed their task, identifying the halide present in some unknown solutions (thereby rehearsing their knowledge of how to perform the tests) without any fuss and also very efficiently. I gave them five minutes to complete the practical and be sat down again writing their conclusions. They nailed it. One pupil spontaneously commented that “she really liked” the format of the instructions.
This gives me the confidence to, in future, just give them the sheet and let them get on with the experiment guided by the integrated instructions; this masquerades as independent learning though it is of course being guided indirectly by me and will hopefully have a positive impact on motivation (as espoused by proponents of discovery learning!).
For groups who are less confident with practical work, I will still use the Slow Practical approach (in tandem with the integrated instructions) but, as they gain more experience, aim to give pupils greater numbers of steps to complete at a time meaning they rely more upon themselves interpreting the integrated instructions. This differentiated approach for different groups will still allow all pupils to achieve the same goals in terms of practical work. Building their confidence through increased “independence” in their practical work will lead to gains in motivation which will hopefully spill over into their theory lessons; often a barrier to learning in lower attaining groups.
After sharing and improving conclusions, allowing a short time to improve their writing, we embarked upon a (really) short multiple choice quiz so they could independently rehearse using the knowledge again.
A Spot of Spaced Practice
Following this they began working on a set of questions on gas tests which we did in class a few weeks before. Next lesson they will compete the questions on cation testing (flame and chemical) which we learned about over the last fortnight and then by next week they can take on some anion testing questions which we have covered more recently. Then revision, then test. Boom. Job done.
As always please do comment, share and challenge and if any of you can share useful knowledge from your own experiences that would be gratefully received!
You can follow me on twitter if you like. @MrTSci409