In what way does the growing interdisciplinary nature of the work of scientists help to shape discussions of laboratories as contexts in high school for science learning?
How do high school lab experiences align with both middle school and postsecondary education? How is the role of teaching labs changing in the nation’s colleges and universities? Would a redesign of high school science labs enhance or limit articulation between high school and college-level science education?
The NRC convened the Committee on High School Science Laboratories: Role and Vision to address this charge.
The committee carried out its charge through an iterative process of gathering information, deliberating on it, identifying gaps and questions, gathering further information to fill these gaps, and holding further discussions. In the search for relevant information, the committee held three public fact-finding meetings, reviewed published reports and unpublished research, searched the Internet, and commissioned experts to prepare and present papers. At a fourth, private meeting, the committee intensely analyzed and discussed its findings and conclusions over the course of three days. Although the committee considered information from a variety of sources, its final report gives most weight to research published in peer-reviewed journals and books.
At an early stage in its deliberations, the committee chose to focus primarily on “the role of high school laboratories in promoting the teaching and learning of science for all students.” The committee soon became frustrated by the limited research evidence on the role of laboratories in learning. To address one of many problems in the research evidence—a lack of agreement about what constitutes a laboratory and about the purposes of laboratory education—the committee commissioned a paper to analyze the alternative definitions and goals of laboratories.
The committee developed a concept map outlining the main themes of the study (see Figure 1-1) and organized the three fact-finding meetings to gather information on each of these themes. For example, reflecting the committee’s focus on student learning (“how students learn science” on the concept map), all three fact-finding meetings included researchers who had developed innovative approaches to high school science laboratories. We also commissioned two experts to present papers reviewing available research on the role of laboratories in students’ learning of science.
At the fact-finding meetings, some researchers presented evidence of student learning following exposure to sequences of instruction that included laboratory experiences; others provided data on how various technologies