Science in My Backyard

This activity was created by Allison Beauregard for use in the Introductory Oceanography Laboratory course at Northwest Florida State College.
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In this lab report writing assignment, students will use the scientific method to solve a real life problem from their own lives. They see an example of such a real life problem – who/what is digging the holes in my backyard – through a power point presentation, and are then asked to come up with a research question at their own home, work, or school. Students use the scientific method to record observations, develop a hypothesis, and set up their experimental design, which they then actually carry out. After completion of their experiments, students write formal lab reports that are set up exactly like lab reports they will write during the rest of the semester. This is a great activity for non-science majors to walk through the scientific method at the beginning of a course without the intimidation of discipline-specific science content, to prepare them for conducting more advanced labs later in the course. Since implementing this activity into my Introduction to Oceanography course, I have seen great improvement in the quality of lab reports. An outline of the lesson plan, the ppt presentation that I use to set up the assignment, as well as student instructions and grading rubric are provided.

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Learning Goals

  • Students engage in critical thinking by discussing and critically evaluating their research questions and experiment strategies during small group discussions during the planning phase of this activity.
  • Students synthesize their observations to develop their research questions and hypotheses during the planning stage.
  • Students collect data and perform data analysis, including creating graphs and tables, during and after completion of their research experiments.
  • Students gain experience in using the scientific method and writing formal lab reports.
  • Students gain experience critically evaluating scientific writing and insight into both good and poor attributes of lab reports through the peer evaluation of lab reports.

Context for Use

This activity is appropriate for any introductory college science course, especially those with non-majors. It should be completely near the beginning of the course, as an introduction for the scientific method and writing lab reports.

Description and Teaching Materials

Overview of Lesson Plan (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 16kB Jun11 10)
Mystery of the Backyard Holes (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 11MB Jun11 10)
Student Instructions for Lab Report (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 17kB Jun11 10)
Grading Rubric (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 14kB Jun11 10)
Instructions for Grading Rubric (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 15kB Jun11 10)

Teaching Notes and Tips

This activity takes 30-45 minutes to introduce the scientific method and present the example research question on the first day, perhaps 20 minutes for small group discussions on the second day, and 30 minutes on the third day for peer evaluations to be conducted. I generally have lab reports due on the same day as an exam and have students complete the peer evaluations during down time between the exam and lecture.


Lab reports are graded using a grading rubric. Students will receive feedback in the form of the instructor evaluation, two peer evaluations, and a self evaluation. Ultimately, the instructor grade is the grade that students receive. However, the instructor grades are, on average, consistently within ±5 points (out of 100) of the self and peer evaluations. One of the biggest positive outcomes of this assignment is the student feedback on conducting the peer evaluations – students seem to find it helpful to read both poor and exceptional lab reports and have commented that this exercise improves their own lab reports.

References and Resources