Campus: Seattle Central College

9. Calibrated Writing in Chemistry

Educator: Marie Villarba, Faculty Chemistry
Context: Out-of-class; General Chemistry
Keywords: written reflection, chemistry, normalized grading
Student Activity Time: 1 hour

In a general chemistry course, an educator used a calibrated peer learning system to guide students to reflect on their lab reports.

Introducing the Reflection Activity

any times students quickly complete lab reports as a simple task and do not necessarily consider them as an opportunity to practice technical writing. An educator implemented the Calibrated Peer Review to support students’ reflection on their chemistry lab reports. The purpose of this activity was to support students’ development of technical writing skills and to affirm their content knowledge from the lab activities.

The chemistry lab course was conducted as scheduled and instead of the traditional lab reports, students completed the standard data collection and analysis components for one or two labs in the term. Students then wrote their discussion and conclusion sessions in the format of a peer reviewed journal article and uploaded the final lab report. The Calibrated Peer Review system anonymously distributed each student’s report to another group of students. Every student in the class graded 2-3 reports with the assigned rubric and the grades are returned back to the original writer. After reading other students’ work, each individual student then grades their own work in relationship to the reports they read. The educator grades each student lab report, and the final grade for each lab is comprised of 70% of the educator’s assigned grade and 30% of peer student’s grades for the report. Students then receive back their own lab grade and anonymized grades for the entire class.

As a result of this activity, students are then able to improve their lab report writing and presentations based on the feedback from their peers to determine how they are doing in relation to the rest of the class. The activity provided students with a unique opportunity to reflect not only on the lab material, but also on their ability to communicate technical information in an effective and well-understood manner. The activity supported students’ knowledge of the course material, and prepared them to improve their labs for the remainder of the course.

Recreating the Reflection Activity

Step Description
1 Assign the scheduled chemistry lab.
2 Provide students with the rubric by which the discussion and conclusion sections will be graded.
3 Allow students an appropriate time frame to complete the lab report.
4 Anonymize student lab report submissions and distribute 2-3 to each student to grade with the associated rubric.
5 Have students grade their own report with the rubric.
6 Grade students’ lab reports.
7 Assign final grade as 70% of educator grade and 30% of peer average grade.
8 Return graded lab reports to students.


In the words of the Educator: Tips and Inspiration

Use the calibrated peer review with the labs that are more conceptually difficult. I use this method with the acid-base equilibrium lab because it is one of the more challenging concepts in General Chemistry. This helps them focus more time and energy on something that takes a few times to really understand. With this activity, they see someone else’s explanation and that can help them remember all the things that they read related to that specific topic.

What was the inspiration for the reflection activity? Orville Chapman from the UCLA Chemistry Department developed the Calibrated Peer Review in 1999. It’s essentially a tool to help students communicate their understanding about a topic. I used it when I worked at Glendale Community College, and when I came here, I started using it in General Chemistry 2. The point of the Calibrated Peer Review is pretty simple: in order to understand something, students need to communicate about it, write about it, and think critically about it. The CPR process is really meant to guide students through each step. I was a workshop facilitator in CPR and received an NSF grant to adapt it to community colleges.

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