Our primary goal is to teach students to think on their feet. At this
stage, that's more important than making good measurements. You can tell
the process is working when the student starts to 'hack'. This happens
when she performs the "generate hypothesis" and "draw conclusions" steps
of the scientific method in her head. Often, she will no longer feel it
necessary to document debugging steps as thoroughly. This should be
rewarded, because that's exactly what professional scientists do.
Conditions leading to full (or nearly full) credit:
- The experiment worked, and results look like what they're supposed to.
- The student did everything you asked her to do after last week's
- The experiment was a complete disaster, but the student documented all
the steps she tried to make it work, including why certain steps were
- The student satisfied most of conditions 1-3, and writes "I worked on
this for 4 hours and now I am going to sleep." Part of good experimental
technique is knowning to quit before you get hurt. We want to encourage
this behavior at this age. Perfection will come later.
- The student put a lot of effort into the lab, and her report
is much better than in previous weeks.
Conditions leading to no credit:
- The lab book is late (without prior arrangement or a good reason).
- The lab book was sneaked into the middle of the pile on the desk in
your office (as if you don't count them when you pick them up).
Things you should ask the student to do differently next time:
- Did the student make a prediction at the beginning and review it at
the end? If not, subtract one point. Quality of the predictions should
improve with time. They'll figure out this rule pretty quickly.
- "Your experiment spans three orders of magnitude! To do it faster,
take one measurement at the beginning, one at the end, and one or two near
where you think the interesting bits will be."
- "Where do you think the interesting bits will be?"
- "Did you calculate where the interesting bits will be?"
- "Next time, sketch what you think the result will be BEFORE you take
- "It's OK to say I DON'T KNOW."
- "Use numbers! Make a table, not a paragraph!"
- "More pictures! More tables! More lists! Less text!"
- "Scientists should know when they can afford to be sloppy."
- "Do you see a pattern? If not, rearrange the data until you do."
- "Where did you attach the voltmeter? Please draw a picture next time."
- "Congratulations, you have data. Please make a plot next time."
- "What are the units on this graph?" (Axis labels are not always
- "Do you really think you have 5 significant digits?"
- "This picture/graph took too long. Next time, make it sloppier."
- "Write bigger. You paid for the whole lab book. You don't have to
squish everything onto one page."
- "Why do you think it didn't work? Write down as many different reasons
as you can. What experiments could you do to test them?"
- "If I can't read it, it must be wrong."
- "Great job! This is better than last week!"