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Assessing Laboratory Activities

Laboratory settings can provide students with the opportunity to apply their content understandings in new situations and apply the skills that geoscientists use when working with Earth materials, images and data sets. Laboratory work usually entails an element of group work, so let's begin with some of the differences between individual and group assessment. Usually laboratory settings are favorable for small group, collaborative work. This work increases communication and application of content knowledge to the task at hand. Before planning an assessment strategy decide if roles in the group are going to be interchangable, that is, will each student be expected to know every role, or will you ask students to become "experts" in one facet of the group effort. Assessment of the content element can either be performed individually for each group member and the group process grade factored in or alternately, the instructor may assess both content and process for each group as a whole. For more insight into the assessment process for group projects, view "Assessment of Cooperative Learning".

Assessing a Group Activity Using Global Carbon Dioxide Data

The activity Carbon Dioxide Exercise introduces students to the process of plotting and interpreting graphs. The exercise has several learning objectives. These are:

For this assessment model let's assume that we will assess each group on the process of developing a graph and individually on the writing of a reflection/response to the Mona Loa data set. Groups will be directly assessed as they plot their data points and produce a transparency to place on an overhead projector. A lecture will follow using the student developed graphs as a springboard for understanding the variability of atmospheric Carbon Dioxide concentartion. For homework, students will need to develop a paragraph summarizing what they have learned about the Mauna Loa data set. If the students are given the assessment criteria prior to writing the summary they will know what will be assessed and the products will be easier for the instructor to grade. What will those criteria be? The first three bulleted learning objectives above.

Individual Assessment of the Short Report

The instructions given to the students need not be complicated or time consuming, but should be detailed enough to provide everyone with the ground rules for good writing. Here is an example: The summary report you are preparing this evening should be at least a paragraph in length and include the stimated changes in global carbon dioxide concentrations over a 5-year span; the reason for the variation we see in the annual carbon cycle driven by photosynthesis; and the how important sampling interval can be when studying changes over time. Each assertion you make must be explained by supporting evidence. Cite the source of all supporting evidence (your group graph, your lecture notes or any additional sources). In this way assessment serves as a model for scientific writing as well at the vehicle through which student attainment of the activities learning objectives is measured. For additional ways of assessing laboratory activities see the resources below.


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