I got a question from a reader last week asking me if I knew of any good resources for writing NGSS aligned lab reports. At face value, this seems like a very simple question. But with the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards, many of the things that used to be common practice need to be re-examined. Below, I discuss why I don't do lab reports in my NGSS aligned classroom anymore.
What I used to think about NGSS Lab Report
I thought about formal lab reports quite a bit when I first started looking at NGSS in my classroom. I was teaching high school chemistry and biology at the time. There was very little information on the standards besides the pdf of the standards and not much else.
The Science and Engineering Practice of Planning and Carrying Out Investigations stuck out as something familiar. Therefore, it seemed to be a good starting point. I thought that if I required students to write up their procedures and create formal lab reports I'd be meeting this standard.
The Problem with Traditional Lab Reports and NGSS Alignment
Unfortunately, instead of aligning with NGSS, I was teaching students to follow the scientific method. I have written more about why I stopped using the scientific method in my classroom in this blog post. You can get the main idea from this quote from the K12 Science Framework, the parent document to the Next Generation Science Standards.
A focus on the practices (in the plural) avoids the mistaken impression that there is one distinctive approach common to all science- a single ‘scientific method'. – A Framework for K-12 Science Education
An NGSS Approach to Experimental Design without Lab Reports
Instead, of writing up lab reports, students should be learning to use the Science and Engineering Practice. These practices should be used separately before they are using them together. Students should regularly be Asking Questions, Planning and Carrying Out Investigations, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, and Constructing Explanations.
Students should learn to use these practices like tools in a toolbelt. They should also learn to use the practices like tools on their tool belt. Students should select the proper practice to investigate or explain a science concept.
What about a lab write-up?
Students should show mastery of the individual practices before they use them together. Then, we should help students to understand the relationship between the practices. Once students are showing mastery, I suggest having them use two practices together and then build from there.
Next Steps for Students Who Demonstrate Mastery of the Practices
Students who demonstrate mastery of the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices won't need to follow a lab report template. Instead, these students should be allowed to choose which practices they will use to communicate their investigative design, data, and conclusions. For example, students may choose to collect move quantitative data or use modeling to show their observations from their investigation.
I think that, in most cases, students aren't ready to put multiple practices together in elementary and middle school, especially considering that most of our students are new to NGSS and haven't experienced it throughout their scientific careers. However, in higher-level courses, students should be taught how the practices are related and how they can be used together to effectively design investigations and communicate information.
Are you ready to learn more?
Check these out to get more information about the scientific method, NGSS, and the Science and Engineering Practices.
- Why the Scientific Method Doesn't Align with the NGSS
- Teaching Science in 3D Podcast: How You Can Ditch the Scientific Method
- A Framework for K-12 Science Education
What are your thoughts on lab reports in an NGSS aligned classroom?