Micro Labs

A Busy Teacher's Friend.

Susan Cooper

Whether it’s an unexpected snow day, endless interruptions, or a class that just can’t quite keep pace with your lesson plans, teachers often find themselves short on time. Unfortunately, the most common way many science teachers cope with losing precious class time is to skip lab days and reinforcement activities. Although it’s impossible to avoid 100% of the time, hammering students with nonstop lectures and notes without any opportunity for reinforcement can often translate to mental overload and confusion for most kids – especially in a science class!

In a perfect world, every science concept would be taught alongside its own lab or activity. However, the reality of a typical classroom is far from perfect. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be! In my 25+ years of teaching high school science, one of the most frequent questions fellow teachers have asked me is how I make time to do so many labs with my students. It’s true, I do a lot of labs! In fact, I average over 40 labs a year in each class. How is this possible? Micro labs!

What is a Micro Lab?

A micro lab is basically any lab that has been boiled down to the most compact, essential version of itself. Running them is simple because most of the prep work has been stripped out. They're easy setup, easy clean up and you don't even need to have students collect data or turn in a report - just treat them as a fun way to reinforce concepts or give a hands on, visual, demonstration to bring a point home.

Try One!

Curious what a micro lab looks like?

Click the image below to download one of our free micro lab examples. This micro lab has been used successfully by our lead curriculum developer in her classes for decades. It will help your students get a good 'feel' for pH in everyday substances using inexpensive materials.

How to Make a Micro Lab.

Here are some suggestions on transforming your full labs into micro labs.

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    Modify the procedure: Many biology labs are completed over long periods of time. If possible, complete some of these steps in advance and leave only the most vital steps for your students to perform.
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    Omit irrelevant portions of a lab: In some cases, certain parts of a lab can be skipped altogether. When you only need to demonstrate a minor concept, long involved labs might not be the best reinforcement tool. If you find a great lab with steps that go beyond what your class can handle – just skip it!
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    Simplify the materials: Some labs contain long lists of test substances. Although giving your students a large range of materials to test can be a great opportunity to hone their lab skills, time doesn’t always allow for it. In situations like this, try to identify the vital test substances your students actually need results from and omit everything else.
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    Transform it into a demonstration: Don’t have time to set everything up and direct your students through an intricate lab? Consider making it a demonstration instead. Although hands-on involvement is a necessary part of most labs, visually demonstrating a principle can often do the trick. This can also be a helpful compromise during those years when your class is full of students that are particularly difficult to manage in a lab environment.

In addition to saving you time and hassle, micro labs can be an effective way to help your students master intimidating concepts. Presenting information in smaller bursts and immediately reinforcing the concept with a micro lab or activity can build priceless confidence in your students. There is nothing more satisfying than helping a student discover what they are capable of. Everyone can be successful in a science classroom with the right mindset, and micro labs can be an easy way to make that happen. 

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