How Labster Can Help You Teach Science with Mastery Learning

Ginelle Testa

What is Mastery Learning?

Mastery learning is when students can learn science at a different pace while teachers help them close learning gaps along the way. Mastery learning in science courses is helpful because scientific concepts can be complex for students to grasp. Sometimes it’s also called competency-based learning, and Benjamin Bloom first introduced it in 1968.

Labster virtual labs encourage science learners to go at their own pace and build the foundation of their knowledge one brick at a time, all while equipping teachers with the tools to identify and remedy those gaps. How does Labster do this? We do it through the mastery learning model: doing formative assessments, giving teachers opportunities to address learning gaps, and offering enrichment activities.

Mastery Learning chart

Mastery Learning Model

Formative assessment

According to the CCSSO, "Formative assessment is a planned, ongoing process used by all students and teachers during learning and teaching to elicit and use evidence of student learning to improve student understanding of intended disciplinary learning outcomes and support students to become self-directed learners. Effective use of the formative assessment process requires students and teachers to integrate and embed the following practices in a collaborative and respectful classroom environment:

  • Clarifying learning goals and success criteria within a broader progression of learning;

  • Eliciting and analyzing evidence of student thinking;

  • Engaging in self-assessment and peer feedback;

  • Providing actionable feedback; and

  • Using evidence and feedback to move learning forward by adjusting learning strategies, goals, or next instructional steps."

Labster supports the use of formative assessment during the virtual lab experience by asking students if they’re understanding. We use quiz questions to test student knowledge, and that data is sent to teachers so they can adjust their instruction in the event clarification or reinforcement are needed.

As a student is learning about convection currents in the Labster simulation during, “Drivers of Plate Tectonics: Replicate Earth’s Convection Currents,” Dr. One, our virtual assistant, stops them during the process to make sure they understand by asking about water density.

Virtual lab pad question

In the Teacher Dashboard, you’ll receive feedback about how students are doing on these questions so you can meet students where they are. If many students get this answer wrong, you can consider paying extra attention to water density in the next lesson.

Opportunities for teachers to assess & address learning gaps 

The Teacher Dashboard is helpful because it allows instructors to see where students are doing well and where they’re struggling. Hear from Diane Sigales, a biotech teacher at Livingston High School, about her process using Labster teacher dashboards: 

“There are quizzes built into the simulations where you’re now getting feedback as a teacher, exactly what the students did right, but more importantly, exactly what the students did wrong. Especially if you’re using [virtual labs] as a post-assessment after a lab and they’re still not getting the understanding, it makes a great tool to be able to know exactly which students need help with exactly which skills.” 

Diane Sigales

Your teacher dashboard will inform you of opportunities to address student learning gaps. Like water density, you can base your next day’s instruction on how students did in virtual labs, making sure to take students with you at a pace that works. 

Enrichment Activities

Mastery learning doesn’t hold back high-performing students. It allows them to be enriched further in the material. Those learning at a faster pace can progress by being offered enrichment activities before proceeding to the next unit. These assignments shouldn't just be busy work but rather meaningful and engaging. For example, you could allow students to pursue their interests, such as diving deeper into an environmental project on a specific topic that fascinates them. Perhaps you could assign them another virtual lab! We have hudreds of simulations in our catalog such as Human Impact on Climate Change: Balance human emissions and a growing population Virtual Lab.

Humans climate change

Mastery Learning FAQS

What does the research show?Research shows that “mastery-learning students are often more satisfied with the instruction they receive and have more positive attitudes towards the content they are taught compared to students attending more conventional classes.” Mastery learning helps you build that solid foundation across as many students as possible, bridging learning gaps and overcoming challenges individuals may face.

What does mastery learning look like in the science classroom?There’s no one set way for mastery learning to look. One example may be to have specific instruction for the first half hour of class, then the second half hour of class is dedicated to having students challenge themselves with progressively advanced material. For example, if they have completed the fundamental spectroscopic techniques, they might be prepared to try our keystone module, "Identification of an Organic Compound by Spectroscopy virtual lab."

How can I implement it in my science classroom?Assessment tools are crucial in ensuring that students grasp the material, and all the better if they’re automatic. Use learning technology tools like Labster to help with grading as students progress through assignments. You also need a system to display data, which we make easy to do in our Teacher Dashboard. 

How does mastery learning affect science teachers?This practice doesn’t change the classroom too drastically, but it does require teachers to have different levels of instruction. You'll need to assign extra activities and specific interventions for those who are behind. You'll also have to balance enacting both enrichment and coaching activities in the classroom. You could assign Labster animated science explainer videos to supplement learning or teach about a whole new topic entirely. 

How do you manage grading with mastery learning grading?Mastery learning grading focuses more on the process than the end product. Rather than reflecting on a student being late on a homework assignment, you see if they’ve mastered the subject. According to Connecticut’s Department of Education, this type of grading also separates behaviors from the grade. Labster’s Teacher Dashboard grades automatically, enabling teachers to get feedback on how students are progressing.

Questions for Consideration

  • Are you using mastery learning in your classroom?

  • How do you use it, and do you find it successful?

  • Are you using any virtual labs that support mastery learning?

Want to see how Labster can help you teach with mastery learning? Try our 30-day all-access educators pass!

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