ter, the committee presents its charge, reviews the history of science laboratories in U.S. high schools, defines laboratories, and outlines the organization of the report.


In the National Science Foundation (NSF) Authorization Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-368, authorizing funding for fiscal years 2003-2007), Congress called on NSF to launch a secondary school systemic initiative. The initiative was to “promote scientific and technological literacy” and to “meet the mathematics and science needs of students at risk of not achieving State student academic achievement standards.” Congress directed NSF to provide grants for such activities as “laboratory improvement and provision of instrumentation as part of a comprehensive program to enhance the quality of mathematics, science, engineering, and technology instruction” (P.L. 107-368, Section 8-E). In response, NSF turned to the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies. NSF requested that the NRC

nominate a committee to review the status of and future directions for the role of high school science laboratories in promoting the teaching and learning of science for all students. This committee will guide the conduct of a study and author a consensus report that will provide guidance on the question of the role and purpose of high school science laboratories with an emphasis on future directions…. Among the questions that may guide these activities are:

  1. What is the current state of science laboratories and what do we know about how they are used in high schools?

  2. What examples or alternatives are there to traditional approaches to labs and what is the evidence base as to their effectiveness?

  3. If labs in high school never existed (i.e., if they were to be planned and designed de novo), what would that experience look like now, given modern advances in the natural and learning sciences?

  4. In what ways can the integration of technologies into the curriculum augment and extend a new vision of high school science labs? What is known about high school science labs based on principles of design?

  5. How do the structures and policies of high schools (course scheduling, curricular design, textbook adoption, and resource deployment) influence the organization of science labs? What kinds of changes might be needed in the infrastructure of high schools to enhance the effectiveness of science labs?

  6. What are the costs (e.g., financial, personnel, space, scheduling) associated with different models of high school science labs? How might a new vision of laboratory experiences for high school students influence those costs?

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