Encouraging Critical Analysis in Chemistry Labs with Turnitin
Diane Marturano, AP Chemistry Teacher
Wayne Valley High School
Given the heightened importance of laboratory work in her courses, Diane Marturano tries to provide all of her students with depth and consistency in her feedback so that they can more readily grasp scientific concepts and approach the data they track and analyze more critically.
Turnitin: Welcome to the Turnitin Educator Spotlight Series! Joining me today is Diane Marturano, an AP Chemistry teacher at Wayne Valley High School and a Grading & Feedback Honorable Mention for the Turnitin All-Stars Award Program. Welcome Diane, thanks for joining us today.
Could you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
D.M.: Certainly. My name is Diane Marturano. I'm from Wayne, New Jersey. I teach in a large, public high school in the town which I live, which is Wayne Township. I teach two levels of chemistry. One is a first-year chemistry course, and it is a fairly math-based, more rigorous type of course, and then I also teach AP Chemistry classes.
Turnitin: How are you using Turnitin currently and why is it important to use in a chemistry context?
D.M.: Chemistry being the first, true lab science most of our students are hit with, it’s a real shock when it comes to a lab requirement. And so when we get to laboratory work, it is very significant for me to make sure students understand scientific concepts from the hands-on perspective. Students are not really at the maturity level to truly understand the importance of a hands-on laboratory. As a way to encourage more specific thoughtfulness in translating what they do at a lab bench into their own knowledge base and total integration into their learning in the classroom via a more lecture-type perspective, the laboratory is highly important in my course. This is where Turnitin became a wonderful tool to help have the students understand the importance of laboratory.
Turnitin: What are some of the benefits of using Turnitin, especially in emphasizing the importance of laboratory work.
D.M.: When I would take those lab reports and evaluate them using the QuickMark Manager, from my perspective, it made my life significantly easier. One way is the ability to provide detailed feedback to the students. When you think about the workload of a secondary teacher who is doing laboratory work in a science program...I have approximately 110 students—so you have 100 to 110 lab reports every single week. That is an enormous amount of work to get done in a very short period of time. There's just so many hours in the day. And so, I couldn't give the amount of feedback I would like just handwriting every single paper. It just was too overwhelming, so I might write cryptic messages, "Significant figure error" or "Addition error" or "Algebra error” and “You inverted the equation."
Another piece where Turnitin helps so much is when we’re actually doing a laboratory. When they look at work that is done collaboratively, it is difficult for them to discern the difference between collaborative work and simply taking someone else's answers. For the student in today's high school, the lines have certainly blurred. So prior to Turnitin as a repository tool, I would often get answers that reflected--not the student's data--but the data of a total different lab group. By separating the actual activity of doing the lab from collaborative group to more individualized work or working with a single partner, that has made a huge difference in student learning. And so as a result, the authenticity of the work increased dramatically.
Turnitin: What areas of weaknesses do you see in students' lab reports, and then what QuickMarks have you developed to address those areas specifically?
D.M.: In a typical laboratory, I would have data, data calculations, and then an analysis on the calculations. So what I do in order to provide feedback for students now is that I actually will provide complete answers to a calculation. For example, I would write, say, “The data table may be item #4. For item #4, you're going to take that density, you're going to divide it by the volume you had, and then you're going to get a mass.” I would actually show the calculation by indicating where on the data table they would find each of the data items used to do the calculation, or if it was an answer from a prior calc, I would say, “Use the answer for #2 and divide it by 16,” let's say, if it was oxygen, or whatever the value happens to be. In that way, when they go back to looking at the comments I've made, they can easily see “What should I have done compared to what I actually did?" and, "Where is the point deduction because I made a mathematical error, or did I make a logic error?" I could never have gotten into that level of detail with the volume of work that I must get through if I were doing it by hand. It simply would not be possible.
Turnitin: Given that type of targeted feedback, what have you seen in terms of student responses now that you're able to kind of pinpoint logical errors or grapple with their understanding of chemistry concepts?
D.M.: What I have been able to see is a cause and effect relationship at last--the manner in which they will actually make sure the data is collected and understanding exactly how they would use this data appropriately, especially taking details to things they've never taken details before on, for example, the unit of the data. "Am I answering the value in terms of joules or am I answering the values in terms of kilojoules?" Now, they actually will go back to the data table and be sure that they're collecting in the correct unit that they need to be, or did they enter the data in the correct place. The attention to detail is now there. Also, the fact of simply typing in the data requires a level of thinking about it that perhaps they never did before and that leads to higher comprehension.
Turnitin: How do you see Turnitin's role in your instruction?
D.M.: I think Turnitin's role in allowing students to define their data and be more critical of their own data allows them--with a partner--to think about what the data is in a collaborative manner and work with just their data. And then when they submit it and they get the feedback, if there was an error, they can actually follow the answer process and then use their own analysis and say, "Oh, now I understand why that was wrong," or, "Yes, I did that one correctly. Maybe I wasn't 100% sure at the time, but now I have it verified that was the way in which one would calculate it.”
Turnitin: Do you have any final thoughts on why Turnitin is so important in your classes?
D.M.: I became more efficient, and my students became more efficient, not only from my grading perspective, but the kids no longer waiting until the last second to do things. And so, the final product that I would get would be higher quality and more complete. And the second piece—which I think is very vital--is consistency. No matter when I grade a lab, I know I am working with the exact same rubric. And now--as much as I wish I could say was always true in the past, the odds are it wasn't--my rubric is much tighter now. So as a result, when students get answers and their grade, I know in my heart of hearts that everyone is being graded consistently and accurately, and they're getting the same feedback from the same error. No one is getting more. No one is getting less. And as far as education is concerned, getting the proper feedback in a consistent, timely manner has got to be one of our highest priorities.
Turnitin: Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience with us. I’ve been talking to Diane Marturano, AP Chemistry teacher from Wayne Valley High School.