Alina Avanesyan
Among the redwoods -- Muir Woods

The board is your friend! (part 2)

– January 7, 2013

I liked the idea of writing a lab flow on the board so much, that soon I started to add “Next lab assignment” rubric as well. As I usually need all space on the board during the lab, I’ve decided to write a homework assignment for the next lab in the right top corner of the board. I never need that space, whereas my students always know where to find the assignment.

I started writing the assignment soon after a few students asked me several times about the homework. It was an unexpected question for me; usually all assignments are posted on the course webpage and are listed in the student’s lab manual along with all deadlines. I thought maybe it would be helpful if I would remind them every time what they should focus on for their homework: things such as, for example, reading chapter 3, pre-lab for week 2, bring your computers/textbooks etc.

Again, I’ve found this to be helpful for students: they can ask more specific questions about the homework before they actually start doing it at home. Also, I’ve noticed that a few students from time to time started doing their homework in class. It was the students who finished the lab earlier than the rest of the class and didn’t want to waste the remaining time.

It made me think that they considered the “next lab” note as a continuation of the lab flow that I write on the board. On one hand, it is a good connection between the homework and material covered in class: the students can start doing the homework while they still remember the lab and have an opportunity to discuss it with their classmates and me. On the other hand, I am a little bit concerned about the quality of their work when they are working so fast. I am still thinking.

As for my teaching side, writing the homework assignment helped me emphasize things in the lab flow which students should focus on during the lab and which will help them later in their homework. This approach definitely decreased the amount of questions about the type of the assignments; instead we focus more on specific questions related to the homework’s content. In fact I have almost stopped worrying about how well my students understand their homework assignments, not to mention the decreasing of amount of emails with general questions. :-)

Also, I started thinking about what else I could put on the board to help me in class. Since I used a projector very often for different information, I couldn’t have any notes displayed on the screen for the duration of the lab. Also, I was worried that additional notes on the board might be unnecessary. So I started watching my explanations during the lab and marked (in my mind) the typical moments when I actually need to use the board.

It turned out that the most often I referred to the board when I needed a scheme explaining the order of steps of an experiment: liquid from what tube goes to what tube, what we add to the tube, etc. Another typical situation when I needed the board were group projects: dividing responsibilities between groups and group members. Since then each time I am dealing with a complex experiment or group work I use the remaining space to write what I think is important for the current lab. I’ve found that besides saving time and organizing the work, these notes also provide visual cues for students for understanding the guidelines in the lab manual, as well as seeing their own impact in any team project.