Finally, safety issues emerged as an important but neglected aspect of laboratory experiences. Greater attention to safety issues in research, policy, and practice is warranted.
Moving toward improvement of laboratory experiences for the 21st century is constrained by weaknesses in definitions and research. Historically, researchers studying laboratory experiences have not agreed on a precise definition of “laboratory.” Even today, educators, policy makers, and researchers have differing views of the role and goals of high school laboratory experiences. This fragmentation in research, policy, and practice has slowed research, development, and demonstration of improved laboratory experiences.
Researchers and educators do not agree on how to define high school science laboratories or on their purposes, hampering the accumulation of evidence that might guide improvement in laboratory education. Gaps in the research and in capturing the knowledge of expert science teachers make it difficult to reach precise conclusions on the best approaches to laboratory teaching and learning.
The need to more carefully define the role and goals of high school science laboratories and measure progress toward attainment of those goals is given greater urgency in view of the multiple pressures placed on schools and districts to increase the performance of a diverse student body. The challenge of meeting the needs of students in cost-effective ways places great pressure on schools to reevaluate the apparently more expensive features of education, such as high school science laboratories.
Although more recent research has illuminated the design principles to guide improvement in laboratory teaching and learning, studies of the possibilities and challenges associated with scaling up promising approaches are in the early stages. In addition, mechanisms for sharing the results of the research that is available—both within the research community and with the larger education community—are so weak that progress toward more effective laboratory learning experiences is impeded.
The committee envisions a future in which the role and value of high school science laboratory experiences are more completely understood. The state of the research knowledge base on laboratory experience is dismal but, even so, suggests that the laboratory experiences of most high school students are equally dismal. Improvements in current laboratory experiences