material world), using the tools, data collection techniques, models, and theories of science.

Goals of Laboratory Experiences

Laboratory experiences can help to enhance national scientific literacy and prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers by supporting students in attaining several educational goals:

  • Enhancing mastery of subject matter.

  • Developing scientific reasoning.

  • Understanding the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work.

  • Developing practical skills.

  • Understanding of the nature of science.

  • Cultivating interest in science and interest in learning science.

  • Developing teamwork abilities.

Evidence on the Effectiveness of Laboratory Experiences

In reviewing the evidence on the effectiveness of laboratory experiences in helping students to attain these goals, the committee examined two somewhat distinct bodies of research. Each is designed to address a different question about the effectiveness of laboratory experiences.

Historically, laboratory experiences have been disconnected from the flow of science classes. Because this approach remains common today, we refer to these isolated interactions with natural phenomena as “typical” laboratory experiences. Research on typical laboratory experiences examines whether these encounters with the natural world, by themselves, contribute to students’ science learning. Over the past 10 years, investigators have begun to develop a second body of studies that draw on principles of learning derived from cognitive psychology. This research has focused on development of instructional sequences that include laboratory experiences along with lectures, reading, and discussion. We refer to these instructional sequences including laboratory experiences as “integrated instructional units.”

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 (see Table 7-1). 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 enhancing student interest in science showed slight improvements in both after students participated in typical laboratory experiences. Research focused on the goal of

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