What Is Appropriate Feedback For A 5th Grade Lab Journal?

From the state curriculum:

“It is essential for students to know that only testable questions, which are used to test one variable, are suitable for scientific investigations.  The question should include the relationship between the independent (manipulated) variable and dependent (responding) variable.”

My goal for the end of the year is that she can ask a testable question about the world around her, determine the variables, and design an experiment to decipher the relationship between the variables. I was daunted by this task because a fifth grader does not have knowledge of thermodynamics, chemistry, physics or any of the laws that govern our world and would have difficulty breaking down the problem. However, I was surprised at the experiments that came up over the past week. We needed to make a vegan dessert for our brother’s fiance and wondered if we could substitute almond, soy or coconut milk in for cows milk. For arithmetic practice I gave her the task of creating a finance tracker for our school and grocery supplies. I was about to give her the weekly goal when I decided that she could do her own research.


Through deduction, one might conclude that almond and coconut were the best.

I never gave her any answers but the questions I asked directed her straight to the conclusion. I felt I was doing most of the thinking for her. Hopefully as we do more and more experiments she will rely less and less on me. Also, she felt like she could get away a lot; she never strove to take perfect data. On the other hand, she came up with some brilliant ideas. We were at the milk section of the store looking at the different options to compare and I asked her which ones normal people choose. “Lets just watch.” When I became lazy and wanted to stop shaking the ice cream bags after nine minutes she told me that I had to shake each one for the full ten.


I was impressed over all, and she made progress, but as I sat down to grade her lab notebook I wondered what would be appropriate comments. Should I write what she could do to be perfect and only  hold her to some of it or leave out the things that are way too advanced? A rule of thumb in business is to make 80% of a performance review positive while 20% negative in order to praise them for their work and encourage them to do better. But I don’t want to clutter up her notebook with un-necessary comments. I want her to be able to go through and check off the list of things on which she can improve. Also, I want her to face some adversity and failure in a safe environment so that she is comfortable facing it in the future. So what signifies the perfect balance?

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One Response to What Is Appropriate Feedback For A 5th Grade Lab Journal?

  1. I aim for a written and verbal approach…only write notes in the lab notebook for serious problems but go over minor problems with a discussion. It sometimes pays to ask the student what she thinks she could have done better…of course, turnabout is fair play…ask her what you could have done better, too. And, always, genuine praise of what she did well will help.

    I think what you’re doing is awesome. 😀

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