Teaching Science with Summative Labs

Summative labs are the epitome of creativity, innovation and application of science. In short, they connect "Learning to Life" In an era where many education reforms are piloting multiple layers of standardized testing, summative labs are skills-based demonstrations of how students might approach a question using the scientific method. Despite these assessments being "tests" students really enjoy them. What they learn to appreciate is that:
  1. In science, it's OK to be wrong. That's how we learn!
  2. There are many ways to design an experiment. There is no one "right" way.
  3. A constructivist approach to learning allows students to create and find their own meaning.
Our summative labs for our biology this year allowed students to focus on one of three questions related to living things. The offering of three questions gives students to challenge themselves based on their current level of understanding. Such options provide opportunities for all students to meet the curriculum but also provide an opportunity for gifted and accelerated learners. Our three questions that students got to choose from this unit were:

Green: Are protists more active in bright or low light conditions?
Blue: Do fish respond to music?
Black: Do snails prefer to eat meat or vegetables?

The labs are administered like a test. Students don't know what the questions are until they come to class so they cannot design an experiment with help from others. They have one period to do their experiment which is graded on the following rubric based around experimental design. The students had used a similar rubric for their group project on amphibians to help students get use to designing experiments on their own by scaffolding it's practice. Summative Lab Rubric-Diversity of Life

I love the open-endedness of summative labs and like that students seem to enjoy them. Through providing the opportunity to investigate intriguing questions, students start to develop a love of science as a practice rather than simply memorizing a series of unrelated facts. Although understanding basic underlying science content is essential, students must be give the chance to "be scientists". Only then will we produce learners that are intrigued by curiosity, ask essential questions, take risks, and stretch the forefront of our understanding.

I'm trying to blend some elements of summative labs with more content standards to replace the traditional test that I normally supplement with these labs. However, I'm working out the details as to implement them so there is no academic dishonesty or grade inflation. 

Any suggestions? Comments?

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