One of the problems that I’ve had with structure in the past is that working on labs, the students can manage to get off track & continue down that road for quite awhile. I try hard to give the students worked examples of problems before they have to tackle them on their own, but sometimes it just isn’t enough. My last round of structure, it wasn’t until a week later when the labs were handed in that suddenly I realized that some concepts were still shaky and then I had to quickly come up with ways to get the several students off-track back in the fold. Part of this is due to the students who just don’t want to speak up even if I’m in the room to answer questions, but a larger part is due to students who get the assignment, work for a few minutes, and then “disappear” out of lab several hours early. There are legitimate reasons to leave lab early, but most of the time the students don’t seem to understand that this is time that has been set aside for them to work on the lab & have me right there to answer questions. I’ve tried talking to my students. I’ve tried insisting that they stay. I’ve pointed out that their grades are better when they don’t disappear and then try to work on the lab at 2 am the night before its due. But the students still disappear.
This upcoming semester, my structure class is tiny–3 students. Its great in that my grading turn around is going to be swift, I know all three students well already from petrology in the fall, and I can easily focus on things the students are struggling with. But I also know the students and that if I don’t do something, they’re going to be working on their stereonet labs at 2 am rather during the three hours on Tuesday that are set aside for the class. Its been something that’s rattled around in the back of my mind for a few weeks now and today, I suddenly had an epiphany: I’m going to ask the students to turn in whatever they have done before they leave lab on Tuesdays and then finish the rest up on their own time. Why do I think this will work? I know that two of the students are competitive and will want egg each other on to get as much as possible done before handing things in (the third will simply go along with it and stick it out), which means they’ll tend to stay for the full 3 hours. I’m going to be able to go through and grade at least part of the lab early, which will give me a chance to catch detours by the students much earlier. It will also give the students the chance to go back and fix whatever they’ve missed, which hopefully will increase how much they learn through the lab work. Now, I’m not sure this would work with a larger class due to the turn-around on grading I’m giving myself (my aim will be to get things Tuesday and have them back Wednesday by 1.30 when class meets again). But, I’m going to give it shot.
Anyone tried other ways to keep the students on the right path during lab? Things that have and haven’t worked?