Lab Materials

The IBIS lab curriculum emphasizes collaborative investigation. For each investigation, students are given some background information and a research question. In teams, students use these as a jumping-off point to generate a testable hypothesis, design an experimental protocol to test the hypothesis, conduct the experiment and gather data, and write a formal lab report based on the experiment — all during one or more lab periods. For students to be able to complete all of these tasks efficiently, we require students to complete some preparatory work (individually) before coming to lab. This preparation can take many forms, but two documents are commonly used throughout the various investigations:

  1. Pre-labs are varied exercises, designed to prepare students by introducing and/or reinforcing applicable biological concepts and familiarizing students to techniques, equipment and software necessary for the investigation.
  2. Planning Forms are relatively consistent between investigations, and focus on experimental design. After describing the observations in the background material that correlates with the research question, each student forms a hypothesis (causal statement) to explain the observations. Then, the form requires each student to outline an experiment to test this hypothesis, including a description of the independent variable, dependent variable(s), experimental group(s), control group(s), data collection procedures, and a sketch of a graph based on anticipated data. Students also list their predictions if the the hypothesis is supported or unsupported, to help them with interpretation of the actual experimental results. Additional items are included to check that students are prepared to apply specific relevant concepts to their findings.

We have used a one-week lab investigation format as well as an expanded, two weeks per lab investigation. Adding a second week provides time for students to perform searches of primary literature and collect enough data to perform simple statistical analyses. Students receive feedback on their draft and initial findings and return to revise their work during the second week.  During the second week the introduction gets improved – becomes more generalized, has more biological concepts

Scheduling a second week for each investigation allows for an increase in the research proposal stage during the first week. feedback with each group multiple times to refine the design.

Schedule for the one-week lab investigation format

Week before lab:  Students complete the corresponding pre-lab and planning form, due a few days before lab. Instructors, graduate TAs or undergraduate PMs review this work and provide feedback.

Day of lab:  Prelab and planning forms are returned to students, and students have an opportunity to use this feedback for the next step. Next, in their groups, students decide what they will investigate together, and submit a brief research proposal for instructor/GTA/PM approval. From here, each team conducts the proposed experiment, analyzes the data, and prepares a lab report (due at the end of class).

Schedule for the two-week lab investigation format

Week before lab:  Students complete the corresponding pre-lab and planning form as for the one-week lab investigation format.

Day of lab, Week 1:  Encourage student teams to explore novel questions instead of ideas that confirm what is stated in the textbook (e.g., textbook already says temperature affects diffusion rates; perhaps investigate the interaction between temperature and another factor). Students can then be assigned to draft a lab report after running one or more trials of their experiment.

Interim week:  This can include assignments to improve the lab report, such as reading specific sections of the textbook to support the concepts explored during the investigation, identifying primary literature sources, etc.. Instructors/GTAs/PMs review and provide feedback of the draft lab report to be returned at the beginning of the next lab period.

Week 2:  A quiz to test retention of the relevant textbook readings can begin this lab period. Students then go on to respond to the feedback provided on their lab reports, which could include running more trials, doing statistics, and include additional primary literature sources.

Three or more week lab investigations

Additional weeks can be added by requiring students to:

  1. conduct additional trials to collect more data
  2. investigate additional factors
  3. locate peer-reviewed, primary literature sources

Multi-week formats have the advantage of allowing students to develop their experimental designs more fully and/or investigate topics in a more interesting or novel way.

The lab investigations