Day 5: What Makes a Good Lab Writeup?

Friday, 19 August 2016

Find the speed of a wave traveling through a slinky. Take whatever materials you need but I won’t tell you how to do it. Here’s what two students said they were going to do:


3/4 of this description could work with literally any lab.


I like how this kid focused on what they were measuring. 

Two questions come to mind:

  • how can I model good diagramming of experiments?
  • how can I help these kids explain the procedure they just did (like, they know when they started the timer and when they stopped — this description just doesn’t capture it)?

Disclaimer: I studied math ed, not science ed and as such, have a huge case of imposter syndrome going on when it comes to labs. Cause y’all took courses in this stuff, right?


In middle school, my students were taught to write a procedure for a science experiment. There was heavy focus on enumerated lists that start with “gather materials”. I prefer to see the kids’ methods — what did you choose to measure/calculate and why do you think that’s the right choice?

The shift from procedures to methods is huge for 9th graders!

So I made up an example to show my kids. For distances, sketch out where you’re measuring. For times, tell me when you’ll start and stop the timer. I’d also like to see a little explanation of why you chose to do what you did.


Here’s what I like to see, kids.

What would happen if I put the methods section at the end of the lab? Maybe kids would be able to better word what they did after they’ve done it a few times. It’s worth a shot.


Student diagrams almost always suck on this lab. I think they view the diagrams as busy work. I clearly haven’t sold the students on the value a diagram can provide.

Meh, I want to hit publish, but have more to say about diagrams. Maybe another time. Have a great day, friends!



2 thoughts on “Day 5: What Makes a Good Lab Writeup?

  1. I love that you are holding students accountable for procedures like this. The whole diagram thing is something that is very hard to convince students of. Even in AP physics, convincing students to use half a page of notebook paper to solve a problem instead of ⅛ of a page was a challenge I never surmounted. And as a science teacher, if I was supposed to learn this stuff in either undergrad ed courses or grad school, I must have missed that day!
    If you do put the methods section at the end, I’d be interested to hear how that worked out!

    • Fran, I’m so glad to hear that the diagram (and related problem solving space issues) isn’t just a “me” problem!

      I’ll definitely report back on the methods section at the end idea. Not that they won’t develop methods before doing the lab but I won’t ask them to document it till after.

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