Session S9a (Sunday, 2pm, Life Sciences 013)

P51: Decisions, decisions, decisions: Student uncertainty in procedural design

Wendy Elcesser (Indiana University of PA, USA), Anne Kondo (Indiana U. of PA, USA), Philip Palko (Indiana Senior High School, USA)

In our general chemistry laboratory, we teach a concept in week one, and have the students solve a “real- world” problem in week two, modeling “Working With Chemistry”. Experiments differ in detail of directions and the decision-making required. Expectations of the students increase between weeks. The program meets goals we set, including: excite interest in scientific investigation; learn to obtain and interpret data; develop skills in designing procedures. These goals require students to make decisions. Students have difficulty committing to action when asked to develop a procedure, even to decide upon an appropriate sample size. Despite having completed directional pre-labs, students spend significant time musing about what to do. We discuss student decision-making, and what faculty can do to help, without directly providing students with answers. How are the benefits (learning outcomes) of making decisions measured? What is an appropriate way to assess experimental design skills, including “failed” experiments?


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