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America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science
and concepts that both result from research and lead to further research questions.
Committee Definition of Laboratory Experiences
To frame the scope of the study while also reflecting the variety of laboratory experiences, the committee defined laboratory experiences as follows:
Laboratory experiences provide opportunities for students to interact directly with the material world (or with data drawn from the material world), using the tools, data collection techniques, models, and theories of science.
This definition includes student interaction with astronomical databases, genome databases, databases of climatic events over long time periods, and other large data sets derived directly from the material world. It does not include student manipulation or analysis of data created by a teacher to simulate direct interaction with the material world. For example, if a physics teacher presented students with a constructed data set on the weight and required pulling force for boxes pulled across desks with different surfaces and asked them to analyze these data, the students’ problem-solving activity would not constitute a laboratory experience in the committee’s definition.
In the committee’s view, science education includes learning about the methods and processes of scientific research (science process) and the knowledge derived through this process (science content). Science process centers on direct interactions with the natural world aimed at explaining natural phenomena. Science education would not be about science if it did not include opportunities for students to learn about both the process and the content of science. Laboratory experiences, in the committee’s definition, can potentially provide one such opportunity.
Goals of Laboratory Experiences
In our review of the literature, the committee identified a number of science learning goals that have been attributed to laboratory experiences, including:
enhancing mastery of subject matter;
developing scientific reasoning;
understanding the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work;
developing practical skills;
understanding the nature of science;
cultivating interest in science and interest in learning science; and