This chapter describes some of the factors contributing to the weakness of current laboratory experiences. We begin by identifying some of the knowledge and skills required to lead laboratory experiences aligned with the goals and design principles we have identified. We then compare the desired skills and knowledge with information about the current skills and knowledge of high school science teachers. We then go on to describe approaches to supporting teachers and improving their capacity to lead laboratory experiences through improvements in professional development and use of time. The final section concludes that there are many barriers to improving laboratory teaching and learning in the current school environment.


In this section, we describe the types of teacher knowledge and skills that may be required to lead a range of laboratory experiences aligned with our design principles, comparing the required skills with evidence about the current state of teachers’ knowledge and skills. We then present promising examples of approaches to enhancing teachers’ capacity to lead laboratory experiences.

Teacher Knowledge for a Range of Laboratory Experiences

Teachers do not have sole responsibility for carrying out laboratory experiences that are designed with clear learning outcomes in mind, thoughtfully sequenced into the flow of classroom science instruction, integrating the learning of science content and process, and incorporating ongoing student reflection and discussion, as suggested by the research. Science teachers’ behavior in the classroom is influenced by the science curriculum, educational standards, and other factors, such as time constraints and the availability of facilities and supplies. Among these factors, curriculum has a strong influence on teaching strategies (Weiss, Pasley, Smith, Banilower, and Heck, 2003). As discussed in Chapters 2 and 3, there are curricula that integrate laboratory experiences into the stream of instruction and follow the other instructional design principles. To date, however, few high schools have adopted such research-based science curricula, and many teachers and school administrators are unaware of them (Tushnet et al., 2000; Baumgartner, 2004).

Studies of the few schools and teachers that have implemented research-based science curricula with embedded laboratory experiences have found that engaging teachers in developing and refining the curricula and in pro-

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