science education. With respect to future laboratory experiences, perhaps the most significant advance in many scientific fields is the aggregation of large, varied data sets into Internet-accessible databases. These databases are most commonly built for specific scientific communities, but some researchers are creating and studying new, learner-centered interfaces to allow access by teachers and schools. These research projects build on instructional design principles illuminated by the integrated instructional units discussed above.

One example is the Center for Embedded Networked Sensing (CENS), a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center investigating the development and deployment of large-scale sensor networks embedded in physical environments. CENS is currently working on ecosystem monitoring, seismology, contaminant flow transport, and marine microbiology. As sensor networks come on line, making data available, science educators at the center are developing middle school curricula that include web-based tools to enable students to explore the same data sets that the professional scientists are exploring (Pea, Mills, and Takeuchi, 2004).

The interfaces professional scientists use to access such databases tend to be too inflexible and technical for students to use successfully (Bell, 2005). Bounding the space of possible data under consideration, supporting appropriate considerations of theory, and promoting understanding of the norms used in the visualization can help support students in developing a shared understanding of the data. With such support, students can develop both conceptual understanding and understanding of the data analysis process. Focusing students on causal explanation and argumentation based on the data analysis process can help them move from a descriptive, phenomenological view of science to one that considers theoretical issues of cause (Bell, 2005).

Further research and evaluation of the educational benefit of student interaction with large scientific databases are absolutely necessary. Still, the development of such efforts will certainly expand over time, and, as they change notions of what it means to conduct scientific experiments, they are also likely to change what it means to conduct a school laboratory.


The committee identified a number of science learning goals that have been attributed to laboratory experiences. Our review of the evidence on attainment of these goals revealed a recent shift in research, reflecting some movement in laboratory instruction. Historically, laboratory experiences have been disconnected from the flow of classroom science lessons. We refer to these separate laboratory experiences as typical laboratory experiences. Reflecting this separation, researchers often engaged students in one or two

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