Too late and too neat.

One of the classes I am teaching is a master's level lecture/lab class all rolled into one five hour session per week. It is quite a challenge to fit the lab into that time frame, not because 5 hours isn't enough time, but because the class only meets once per week. When planning the syllabus, I thought five hours would be plenty of time, and I arranged it so that the class would be finished in time for me to get my daughter off the school bus. Well, I was being naïve. The first class went over by half an hour; the second class went over by an hour, and the third class went over by 3 hours. Three hours! Not because I took too long; in fact, on week 3 I only gave a very brief lecture in which I went into extreme detail about the day's exercises. I wrote out a summary, explained it verbally, and demonstrated what was to be done. And yet it still took 8 hours. For some perspective, if I had to do that particular technique, it would have taken me 20 minutes.

At 2:30- which is when the class is supposed to end- one of the student came up to me to clarify the details of the protocol. This was five hours into the class, when I expected everyone to be done. He hadn't even started. I have no idea what he was doing for that whole five hours; he looked busy; but busy doing what?

As frustrating and tiring as that was, the real worry for me is that this week 3 exercise was just setting up our cell cultures for week 4. Just plating the cells. Nothing else. My students will have to plate their cells every week, and do the experiment as well. How am I possibly going to get it done? I am more than a little bit concerned.

The other problem I have is with the laboratory notebook. They are using lab notebooks that have duplicate pages, and hand in the pages from that day at the end of lab each day. My problem is that the pages are too neat. I know, as I am working with them, that they don't always get the calculations right the first time. Yet I don't see this in their notebook. Often I see them taking notes on scraps of paper, and then copying into their lab notebooks at the end of the day (which kept me 20 minutes late, week 2). I have told them that under no circumstance are they to do this; that I want them to write everything directly into the lab notebook, that it has to be legible but not pretty. They will each hand in formal reports as they finish each experiment; the lab notebook, as we all know, is a record of their progress, but not a formal presentation of the data. And yet they are fixated on the neatness factor. They protest "But I don't have the results yet!" Last week I crumpled up and threw away one girls' notes. This week I fear that I am going to have to be even more dramatic; I am going to forbid any other notebooks or papers in class, and I am going to have to tell them I will deduct points each time I see them writing on scrap papers. They are always asking "How many points is this worth?" of "Is this on the quiz" (Which is an irritating question because as I have told them over and over… there are no quizzes. To me it is more important they get the technique and understand how to interpret the data.), so this tactic should make an impression.



Lisa said...

It's shocking to me how much your stories sound like my third graders.
Except for the whole neatness thing. Third graders don't often worry about that. But they do worry about whether they are being graded on everything.

ME said...

I would recommend quizzes at the beginning of lab (over the protocols/reading for that day). Only one or two are needed to get them on track. Also, you can require them to copy the protocol into their notebooks before class, (no handouts in lab) then they at least have to read it as they copy and leave spaces for the data.