Doing Science First Hand Through Dorm-Room Labs

2014 TIP Winning Innovation, Doing Science Firsthand Through Dorm-Room Labs.




Identifying students’ most common misconceptions is a strategy for focusing interventions that can yield tremendous payoffs in student learning. Dorm-room labs offer a method for moving difficult concepts off the “wrong answer” list. They are particularly valuable in large, introductory science and engineering courses whereby non-majors can fulfill a breadth requirement, yet lack access to fully equipped lab classrooms.
Dorm-room labs consist of short activities followed by a few questions and a highly structured lab report. They cover abstract concepts that are less familiar to students. For example, inexpensive UV Color-Changing Beads enable students to conduct experiments in almost any setting, including their dorm rooms. As they have fun determining which materials block ultraviolet light most effectively, students are practicing valuable skills, such as plotting data.
The genius of this innovation is that it attacks misunderstandings at the root. Instead of passively receiving content knowledge, students actively participate in a process of collecting and interpreting data. As a result, not only do they understand abstract concepts more concretely, but they also know how they know. The better they can synthesize course content into a conceptual framework, the more likely they are to develop deeper understanding.