Gate Keeping in Science Class

Last week I found myself doing much more administration than usual at the start of my Science classes. Instead of having students hand their homework in to their class inbox at the start of class, I tracked everything as it came in so I knew who had assignments that were overdue. It started after I assigned an assignment so that I could ensure that they understood the concepts we had covered before we moved on. It was to be a formative assignments (not for marks, as the students say) unfortunatly many students didn’t hand them in, so I wasn’t able to tell if I could move on, or if I needed to spend more time explaining Particle Theory.

Actually, it started earlier in the week than that. I wanted to start the week off with a lab where students examined different beakers of common household materials and then identified if they were homogeneous or heterogeneous. I have done the lab before; it is fun, easy to set up and clean up and helps reinforce the concepts. But in order to identify whether mixtures are heterogeneous or homogeneous, you need to to know what those terms mean. I had asked students to read topic 2 for homework, and several of them had had time in clas when they finished other activities. But when I checked on Monday morning to make sure that students had done the reading before starting the lab, less than half of my first two classes had. So I started with note taking and moved the lab to the next class. (Most of my third class had done the reading, so they started with the lab and followed up with the notes.)

Then I went to my vice principal Narsh for a pep talk about how I was handing my classes. He agreed that it wasn’t fair to keep everyone from participating in the labs when some of them were unprepared and we discussed my options. I could never teach Bio 30 as Narsh does but sometimes I envy the students he gets. If you sign up for Bio 30, it’s because you want to take it, not because you need to take it like the students in my grade 8 Science class.

I started the gate keeping at the start of the lab, those who had handed in the formative assignment about Particle Theory and who had signed safety contracts were able to do the lab. Those who hadn’t handed in their homework or their safety contract worked on homework and the review questions in the textbook. It was less interesting and hands-on, but it covered the same concepts so I was able to assess everyone’s understanding of the concepts.

The class after the mixtures lab I had planned another lab where students created saturated solutions with water and different solutes. I started with gate keeping again: no overdue homework (the Particle Theory assignment, and the lab report or review questions from last class) participate in the lab. Overdue homework or still no signed safety contract (after several months and many warnings!!!!) you worked in the library.

It seemed like a lot of paperwork and it ate into my lab time, but there were several more safety contracts turned in, and most of the formative assignements were handed in and corrected by the end of the week. I know that almost all of my students understand the concepts that we have been taking about. Those who don’t understand have been given more explanation and another opportunity to show that they do. Most of them should get it this time.

Some of my students may never hand in their safety contracts or their homework, no matter how many times I remind them or contact their parents, so I guess I had better steamline the gate keeping process so it takes up as little class time as possible.

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