Texas Ed: Comments on Education from Texas

June 27, 2006

The Value of Science Labs, continued

Filed under: Education reform, High School, standards, Teacher issues — texased @ 4:50 pm

Just to get some idea if my opinion of science labs was totally off-base or not, I skimmed the executive summary of America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science (2005) from The National Academies. The short version is that I probably didn’t. While the research isn’t definitive, the Board does conclude that labs aren’t necessary for subject mastery.

High School Science Laboratories: Role and Vision Home Page:

The earlier body of research on typical laboratory experiences and the emerging research on integrated instructional units yield different findings about the effectiveness of laboratory experiences in advancing the goals identified by the committee. Research on typical laboratory experiences is methodologically weak and fragmented, making it difficult to draw precise conclusions. The weight of the evidence from research focused on the goals of developing scientific reasoning and cultivating student interest in science shows slight improvements in both after students participated in typical laboratory experiences. Research focused on the goal of student mastery of subject matter indicates that typical laboratory experiences are no more or less effective than other forms of science instruction (such as reading, lectures, or discussion).

Executive Summary pg 5

A few other observations by the board:

…many laboratory experiences involve students in carrying out carefully specified procedures to verify established scientific knowledge…

Executive Summary pg. 2

This is what I have a problem with, verifying that gravity really exists. And what about the following?

This definition includes student interaction with astronomical databases, genome databases, databases of climatic events over long time periods, and other large data sets derived directly from the material world. It does not include student manipulation or analysis of data created by a teacher to simulate direct interaction with the material world. For example, if a physics teacher presented students with a constructed data set on the weight and required pulling force for boxes pulled across desks with different surfaces and asked them to analyze these data, the students’ problem-solving activity would not constitute a laboratory experience in the committee’s definition.

Executive Summary pg.3

What does this say about the Board’s respect for science teachers? It’s okay for “real” scientists to collect data to be used by students but not the teacher? I realize that the teacher doing it denies the students the opportunity to discover the “ambiguity of empirical work” but that’s not the point of the labs. Remember? It’s to verify existing scientific principals which means you’re supposed to get the same answer as the book.

I know, I know. If I was a good homeschool parent, I would take it upon myself to design a lab that would integrate the labs with the science priniciples my son is studying in biology. But the fact is that I don’t want to mess with it and that’s what I thought I was paying UT to do. For all I know, the lab they came up with is a perfect example of such integration. So, this isn’t really about teaching/learning biology–it’s about jumping through hoops and trade-offs. If only I was an unschooler.

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