Campus: University of Washington 

7. Minute Papers in Lab

Educator: Kat Steele – Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering
Context: In-class; Biomechanics of Movement
Keywords: lab reflections
Student Activity Time: <5 minutes

At the end of a lab activity, an educator prompted students to reflect on the lab with 3 questions.

Introducing the Reflection Activity

After completing a lab, students are generally heading for the door, ready to move on to the next part of their day. An educator used index cards to collect students’ responses to three questions about the lab they just completed. The purpose of this reflection activity was to prompt students to reflect on the content and features of the lab, as well as make connections with other content in the course.

At the end of the lab session, the educator distributed index cards to the students and asked them to respond to three questions about the lab. The educator gave the following three questions orally:

  1. What was challenging about this lab?
  2. What is something new you learned from this lab?
  3. How is this information useful in your daily life?

The students spent a few minutes responding to the questions on the index cards, included their name, and turned in the cards to the educator before leaving. The educator then read all of the student responses, coded them for similar topics or questions, and then addressed those items in the next class session.

The minute papers lab activity gave students an opportunity to reflect and recall the material, consider what they did not fully understand, identify what was interesting, and create connections between the lab and their lives and future goals. The three questions provided an opportunity for students to make meaning of the lab questions in different domains as well as prepared them for the next topics in the class. The educator used the feedback to reflect on their own teaching and to check-in on students’ understanding of the material.

 Recreating the Reflection Activity

Step Description
1 Facilitate regularly scheduled lab.
2 Distribute index cards to students at the end of the class period and verbalize the three questions they should respond to.
3 Collect student index cards as they leave.
4 Review and code student index cards.
5 Respond to students’ questions and feedback in the next class session.
In the words of the Educator: Tips and Inspiration

Use a range of questions and address them. Whenever I do this activity I use three kinds of questions. One to help them manage misconceptions or challenges with the material, one about something they liked or got them excited, and one question to connect the lab to the broader world. What the exact questions are isn’t as important as the three categories of questions. In the next lecture, you want to take some time to share back what the students said. On occasion, I’ll send individual emails back to the students about their question or share a resource with them. 

Explain why it’s important. I always have some statement about why I think the activity is important so that students don’t blow it off. Even if I just say something about making it better for future students or to help them better understand the material. I don’t pose it as, “reflection is important for their learning,” but I do tell them I will read their responses. When I select the questions, I try to make it relevant to the students and their careers. Questions like “how could this fit into your future job?” or “how does this relate to your other classes?” are good to ask and make the lab a little more practical

What was the inspiration for the reflection activity? I got the idea from Sheri Sheppard and Robyn Dunbar from Stanford when I was a graduate student. They taught classes on teaching and learning in engineering and this was one of the examples from that class. They introduced us to the Classroom Assessment Techniques (CAT) handbook (Angelo & Cross, 1993) and Sheri and Robyn always had these on their bookshelves and would have us use them to design activities. When I was taking a class at Stanford on course design, Sheri and Robyn required that we use at least one CAT activity in the course design. They also used these techniques in the classes they taught, so I got the chance to observe implementation as a student as well. The main thing that has evolved is the type of questions that I ask and expanding it beyond just misconceptions and understanding of the material. I’ve also grown with my comfort in the students’ responses, so I’m able to ask them different questions each time.

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