Tips for Using the LabWrite PreLab in Your Laboratory Course

  1. Review PreLab questions with your students prior to the first PreLab assignment
  2. Assigning the PreLab
  3. Consider assigning a grade or point value to the PreLab
  4. Make use of the various LabWrite modes for PreLab
  5. General background for teaching with PreLab


Review PreLab questions with your students prior to the first PreLab assignment

Although the PreLab questions on the LabWrite site are self-explanatory, it may be a good idea for you to review these questions prior to assigning the very first PreLab assignment. This will give your students an opportunity to ask questions about the assignment. It will also give you a chance to emphasize the importance of doing PreLab or to review any specific requirements you may have for this assignment.

To introduce PreLab questions you may either use the PreLab Handout found on the PreLab home page, or you can project it from the web site itself. If you use the “How to Use Labwrite” PowerPoint presentation found under “How to Introduce Labwrite," you can take advantage of slides about PreLab for reviewing PreLab questions.

Assigning the PreLab

The PreLab offers a valuable learning experience for your students. The basic strategy for the PreLab assignment is to ask students to answer the PreLab questions and to turn their answers in to you before the lab by email or by another method. However, there are a variety of other teaching strategies you can employ:

  • Lead students in answering the PreLab questions together as a class. (This is a particularly good strategy to use for the first lab as a way of familiarizing students with the PreLab.)

  • Take the first few minutes of lab and asign each lab group a PreLab question and then have the groups give their answers to the whole class. This will give you the opportunity for discussion of the answers.

  • At the beginning of the lab period, ask eah lab group to answer all the PreLab questions and then randomly ask groups for their answers. Discuss the answers.

  • Have all students brind their PreLab answers to class and ask students in each group to swap their answers with another lab group. Ask each lab group to review the answers of the other group. Then have students discuss any differences they find between their own answers and the answers from the other group.

  • Assign all students the PreLab and then collect them as they enter the lab. Quickly look over the answers as the students are getting started with the lab and then take a few minutes to address any confusions or misconceptions you see in the students' understanding of the lab.

Consider assigning a grade or point value to the PreLab

It is helpful to you and to your students to reviw their PreLab answers. Some lab instructors grade the PreLabs. Others have a system for giving students credit for doing the assignment, such as a check, check-plus, check-minus or awarding participation points. A grade value of some sort will motivate students to do the PreLab and take it seriously. However, you need not spend much time grading the PreLabs. Skim the students' answers and make a quick judgment of the quality of each based on the depth of the answers and the logic of the scientific thinking behind the answers. Only in rare circumstances should you make any written comments. If you see that there are general problems in the PreLabs, note them for yourself and address them with all the students in the lab. Be sure that the PreLab grades figure into the total overall lab grade to motivate students to take the PreLab seriously.

Make use of the various LabWrite modes for PreLab

As with most stages of LabWrite, PreLab offers various modes of use: The Tutor, the Self-Guide, and the Handout. You can let students decide which mode to use or you can assign the one you prefer. In either case, the type of set-up you have in your laboratory will most likely be the determining factor.

PreLab Modes:

  • Tutor: For writing the PreLab interactively on-line. Students can download to a word processing program and send as an email attachment or print it out and hand it in.
  • Self-Guide: For using as an online reference while writing the PreLab in a non-interactive mode. A printable version is available at the PreLab homepage.
  • PreLab Handout: For printing and filling out the PreLab questions by hand or by copying and pasting into a word processing program. Best for students who prefer to work with a non-interactive format.

General background for teaching with PreLab

LabWrite PreLab leads students through a set of questions they should answer in preparation for lab units requiring lab reports. The point is to shape the lab experience as scientific inquiry before they even set foot in the lab. PreLab does this by asking students to identify what they are supposed to be learning when doing the lab, what the goals of the lab are, and what hypothesis they would project for the outcomes of the lab procedure. In addition to preparing students for the lab, the answers to these questions provide what amounts to a draft of the Introduction for their reports.

Overview of PreLab:

PreLab consists of two parts. The first asks students to carefully read the description of the lab procedure, an important part of any lab preparation. The second part presents questions for students to answer. Students are guided in answering these questions by specific directions given below each question. If your students make a good effort in answering these questions, they should be prepared to make sense of the laboratory procedure.

  1. What is the scientific concept for the lab? This question encourages student to focus on what the lab is about. Too often students get caught up in completing the lab for a grade, and miss the big picture of the lab—scientific investigation.

  2. What are the objectives for this lab? Objectives help students to think about what they are supposed to accomplish in the procedure—what the are actually doing in the lab—measuring, analyzing, observing, etc.

  3. What is the overall purpose of the lab? Purpose emphasizes the lab as a learning experience. This question invites students to look at the big picture, how what they accomplish in the lab procedure helps them to learn something about the science concept behind the lab. It links questions 1 and 2 so that students see past following the steps of the procedure and getting the "right answer." Answering this question should get them thinking about why they are doing the procedure in the first place.

  4. What is your hypothesis for the lab experiment? This, of course, is a crucial step in scientific inquiry. Determining a hypothesis depends on students' ability to understand both the scientific concept and the laboratory procedure and put the two together in a way that makes sense. Students are asked to make their best estimation of the outcomes of the procedure based on what they know about the scientific concept.

  5. What reasoning did you use to arrive at your hypothesis? Having to provide a reasoning for their hypotheses makes students have to do more than just write any hypothesis, because they have to use what they know about the scientific concept (at this point, that may be only what they have read as background for the lab or in the course text book) to back up their chosen hypothesis. Their answers to this question will allow you to see gaps in their understanding of the lab.




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