An important part of the scientific process is analyzing and communicating the results of your experiments. Most researchers will share their results in the form of journal articles, complete with figures and illustrations. In the classroom, students will complete a lab report. Most lab reports follow the same structure:
- A Title, which describes the experiment that was performed. This should be short – 10 words or less.
- An Abstract, which summarizes the experiment that was performed and the results that were collected. Students should also interpret the data, describe what they mean, and how they help to answer scientific questions.
- An Introduction, which describes prior knowledge, objectives for the experiment, and why the experiment is being performed. Most importantly, this section includes the hypothesis, or the question that the scientist is hoping to answer with the experiments.
- The Materials and Methods section describes the reagents used and the protocols followed to perform the experiment. This section should reflect what the student did, instead of what they were supposed to do, and should be written in a way that anyone could reproduce the experiment.
- All collected data is presented in the Results and Discussion section. This can include data, graphs, observations, and illustrations. Additionally, this section describes the results, what they mean, and how this relates back to the hypothesis. The analysis in this section can also include a discussion on what went right, how the data supports the hypothesis, and — perhaps more importantly — what went wrong and how we can improve the experiment upon repeat.
As an educator, you have probably seen your fair share of lab reports which follow this format. And, perhaps you were looking for ways to help your students improve their lab reports! We love the integration of additional media – including art, music, and video – to enhance their discussion of the topics at hand. These are important ways for students to practice science communication, or the “practice of informing, educating, raising awareness of science-related topics, and increasing the sense of wonder about scientific discoveries and arguments.” While not a replacement for a traditional lab report, these alternative media help students to interpret their results and to think about ways to present them differently. Through adopting these media, students have to really think about the data and the best way to present it before creating these projects. Here are a few of our favorite ways to incorporate science illustration, video, and art into our lab reports.
- Graphical abstracts: Today, more and more scientific groups are including a single image that gives the reader an overview of what will be discussed in the coming paper. This can be relevant biochemical pathways, infographics describing the data, or a summary of the findings. For your lab reports, these graphical abstracts can be drawn by hand or through using graphic design software. Great tutorials for scientific and medical art can be found on YouTube at Learn Medical Art or DrawBioMed. for your students do not have access to graphic design software, BioRender is a program that contains scientific icons that can be used to design scientifically accurate figures.
- TikTok videos or Instagram Reels: It’s likely that your students are using social media in some ways in their day to day life. Why not encourage them to use these forms of communication to discuss important points from their introduction, or even the results? Here, we created a TikTok to show the steps followed to perform the ELISA. What protocols could your students describe this way?
- Storyboards: Another way to describe the scientific process of experimentation is through a storyboard or comic book format. This is a particularly good exercise to get students to critically review a protocol before performing the experiment. Many people will use software like Prezi to create storyboards.
- Music: Another way to integrate the arts into our STEM classrooms is through music! There are many successful examples of people remixing popular songs with scientific lyrics that can be used to teach (like Dr. Raven the Science Maven, seen here discussing antibodies).
All of these tools encourage students to think about their research in a different way, encouraging them to create organic connections to the material, transforming it with a more concrete understanding of the fundamentals. Try them out and let us know what you think!