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America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science 3 Laboratory Experiences and Student Learning Key Points The science learning goals of laboratory experiences include enhancing mastery of science subject matter, developing scientific reasoning abilities, increasing understanding of the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work, developing practical skills, increasing understanding of the nature of science, cultivating interest in science and science learning, and improving teamwork abilities. The research suggests that laboratory experiences will be more likely to achieve these goals if they (1) are designed with clear learning outcomes in mind, (2) are thoughtfully sequenced into the flow of classroom science instruction, (3) integrate learning of science content and process, and (4) incorporate ongoing student reflection and discussion. Computer-based representations and simulations of natural phenomena and large scientific databases are more likely to be effective if they are integrated into a thoughtful sequence of classroom science instruction that also includes laboratory experiences.
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America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science In this chapter, the committee first identifies and clarifies the learning goals of laboratory experiences and then discusses research evidence on attainment of those goals. The review of research evidence draws on three major strands of research: (1) cognitive research illuminating how students learn; (2) studies that examine laboratory experiences that stand alone, separate from the flow of classroom science instruction; and (3) research projects that sequence laboratory experiences with other forms of science instruction.1 We propose the phrase “integrated instructional units” to describe these research and design projects that integrate laboratory experiences within a sequence of science instruction. In the following section of this chapter, we present design principles for laboratory experiences derived from our analysis of these multiple strands of research and suggest that laboratory experiences designed according to these principles are most likely to accomplish their learning goals. Next we consider the role of technology in supporting student learning from laboratory experiences. The chapter concludes with a summary. GOALS FOR LABORATORY EXPERIENCES Laboratories have been purported to promote a number of goals for students, most of which are also the goals of science education in general (Lunetta, 1998; Hofstein and Lunetta, 1982). The committee commissioned a paper to examine the definition and goals of laboratory experiences (Millar, 2004) and also considered research reviews on laboratory education that have identified and discussed learning goals (Anderson, 1976; Hofstein and Lunetta, 1982; Lazarowitz and Tamir, 1994; Shulman and Tamir, 1973). While these inventories of goals vary somewhat, a core set remains fairly consistent. Building on these commonly stated goals, the committee developed a comprehensive list of goals for or desired outcomes of laboratory experiences: Enhancing mastery of subject matter. Laboratory experiences may enhance student understanding of specific scientific facts and concepts and of the way in which these facts and concepts are organized in the scientific disciplines. Developing scientific reasoning. Laboratory experiences may promote a student’s ability to identify questions and concepts that guide scientific 1 There is a larger body of research on how students learn science that is not considered in depth here because the committee’s focus is science learning through laboratory experiences. The larger body of research is discussed in the National Research Council (2005) report, How Students Learn: Science in the Classroom; it is also considered in an ongoing National Research Council study of science learning in grades K-8.
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America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science investigations; to design and conduct scientific investigations; to develop and revise scientific explanations and models; to recognize and analyze alternative explanations and models; and to make and defend a scientific argument. Making a scientific argument includes such abilities as writing, reviewing information, using scientific language appropriately, constructing a reasoned argument, and responding to critical comments. Understanding the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work. Interacting with the unconstrained environment of the material world in laboratory experiences may help students concretely understand the inherent complexity and ambiguity of natural phenomena. Laboratory experiences may help students learn to address the challenges inherent in directly observing and manipulating the material world, including troubleshooting equipment used to make observations, understanding measurement error, and interpreting and aggregating the resulting data. Developing practical skills. In laboratory experiences, students may learn to use the tools and conventions of science. For example, they may develop skills in using scientific equipment correctly and safely, making observations, taking measurements, and carrying out well-defined scientific procedures. Understanding of the nature of science. Laboratory experiences may help students to understand the values and assumptions inherent in the development and interpretation of scientific knowledge, such as the idea that science is a human endeavor that seeks to understand the material world and that scientific theories, models, and explanations change over time on the basis of new evidence. Cultivating interest in science and interest in learning science. As a result of laboratory experiences that make science “come alive,” students may become interested in learning more about science and see it as relevant to everyday life. Developing teamwork abilities. Laboratory experiences may also promote a student’s ability to collaborate effectively with others in carrying out complex tasks, to share the work of the task, to assume different roles at different times, and to contribute and respond to ideas. Although most of these goals were derived from previous research on laboratory experiences and student learning, the committee identified the new goal of “understanding the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work” to reflect the unique nature of laboratory experiences. Students’ direct encounters with natural phenomena in laboratory science courses are inherently more ambiguous and messy than the representations of these phenomena in science lectures, textbooks, and mathematical formulas (Millar, 2004). The committee thinks that developing students’ ability to recognize this complexity and develop strategies for sorting through it is an essential
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America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science goal of laboratory experiences. Unlike the other goals, which coincide with the goals of science education more broadly and may be advanced through lectures, reading, or other forms of science instruction, laboratory experiences may be the only way to advance the goal of helping students understand the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work. RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN RESEARCH AND DESIGN OF LABORATORY EXPERIENCES In reviewing evidence on the extent to which students may attain the goals of laboratory experiences listed above, the committee identified a recent shift in the research. Historically, laboratory experiences have been separate from the flow of classroom science instruction and often lacked clear learning goals. Because this approach remains common today, we refer to these isolated interactions with natural phenomena as “typical” laboratory experiences.2 Reflecting this separation, researchers often engaged students in one or two experiments or other science activities and then conducted assessments to determine whether their understanding of the science concept underlying the activity had increased. Some studies directly compared measures of student learning following laboratory experiences with measures of student learning following lectures, discussions, videotapes, or other methods of science instruction in an effort to determine which modes of instruction were most effective. Over the past 10 years, some researchers have shifted their focus. Assuming that the study of the natural world requires opportunities to directly encounter that world, investigators are integrating laboratory experiences and other forms of instruction into instructional sequences in order to help students progress toward science learning goals. These studies draw on principles of learning derived from the rapid growth in knowledge from cognitive research to address the question of how to design science instruction, including laboratory experiences, in order to support student learning. Given the complexity of these teaching and learning sequences, the committee struggled with how best to describe them. Initially, the committee used the term “science curriculum units.” However, that term failed to convey the importance of integration in this approach to sequencing laboratory experiences with other forms of teaching and learning. The research reviewed by the committee indicated that these curricula not only integrate laboratory experiences in the flow of science instruction, but also integrate 2 In Chapter 4, we argue that most U.S. high school students currently engage in these typical laboratory experiences.
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America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science student learning about both the concepts and processes of science. To reflect these aspects of the new approach, the committee settled on the term “integrated instructional units” in this report. The following sections briefly describe principles of learning derived from recent research in the cognitive sciences and their application in design of integrated instructional units. Principles of Learning Informing Integrated Instructional Units Recent research and development of integrated instructional units that incorporate laboratory experiences are based on a large and growing body of cognitive research. This research has led to development of a coherent and multifaceted theory of learning that recognizes that prior knowledge, context, language, and social processes play critical roles in cognitive development and learning (National Research Council, 1999). Taking each of these factors into account, the National Research Council (NRC) report How People Learn identifies four critical principles that support effective learning environments (Glaser, 1994; National Research Council, 1999), and a more recent NRC report, How Students Learn, considers these principles as they relate specifically to science (National Research Council, 2005). These four principles are summarized below. Learner-Centered Environments The emerging integrated instructional units are designed to be learner-centered. This principle is based on research showing that effective instruction begins with what learners bring to the setting, including cultural practices and beliefs, as well as knowledge of academic content. Taking students’ preconceptions into account is particularly critical in science instruction. Students come to the classroom with conceptions of natural phenomena that are based on their everyday experiences in the world. Although these conceptions are often reasonable and can provide satisfactory everyday explanations to students, they do not always match scientific explanations and break down in ways that students often fail to notice. Teachers face the challenge of engaging with these intuitive ideas, some of which are more firmly rooted than others, in order to help students move toward a more scientific understanding. In this way, understanding scientific knowledge often requires a change in—not just an addition to—what students notice and understand about the world (National Research Council, 2005).
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America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science Knowledge-Centered Environments The developing integrated instructional units are based on the principle that learning is enhanced when the environment is knowledge-centered. That is, the laboratory experiences and other instruction included in integrated instructional units are designed to help students learn with understanding, rather than simply acquiring sets of disconnected facts and skills (National Research Council, 1999). In science, the body of knowledge with which students must engage includes accepted scientific ideas about natural phenomena as well as an understanding of what it means to “do science.” These two aspects of science are reflected in the goals of laboratory experiences, which include mastery of subject matter (accepted scientific ideas about phenomena) and several goals related to the processes of science (understanding the complexity of empirical work, development of scientific reasoning). Research on student thinking about science shows a progression of ideas about scientific knowledge and how it is justified. At the first stage, students perceive scientific knowledge as right or wrong. Later, students characterize discrepant ideas and evidence as “mere opinion.” Eventually, students recognize scientific knowledge as being justified by evidence derived through rigorous research. Several studies have shown that a large proportion of high school students are at the first stage in their views of scientific knowledge (National Research Council, 2005). Knowledge-centered environments encourage students to reflect on their own learning progress (metacognition). Learning is facilitated when individuals identify, monitor, and regulate their own thinking and learning. To be effective problem solvers and learners, students need to determine what they already know and what else they need to know in any given situation, including when things are not going as expected. For example, students with better developed metacognitive strategies will abandon an unproductive problem-solving strategy very quickly and substitute a more productive one, whereas students with less effective metacognitive skills will continue to use the same strategy long after it has failed to produce results (Gobert and Clement, 1999). The basic metacognitive strategies include: (1) connecting new information to former knowledge, (2) selecting thinking strategies deliberately, and (3) monitoring one’s progress during problem solving. A final aspect of knowledge-centered learning, which may be particularly relevant to integrated instructional units, is that the practices and activities in which people engage while learning shape what they learn. Transfer (the ability to apply learning in varying situations) is made possible to the extent that knowledge and learning are grounded in multiple contexts. Transfer is more difficult when a concept is taught in a limited set of contexts or through a limited set of activities. By encountering the same concept at work in multiple contexts (such as in laboratory experiences and in discussion),
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America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science students can develop a deeper understanding of the concept and how it can be used as well as the ability to transfer what has been learned in one context to others (Bransford and Schwartz, 2001). Assessment to Support Learning Another important principle of learning that has informed development of integrated instructional units is that assessment can be used to support learning. Cognitive research has shown that feedback is fundamental to learning, but feedback opportunities are scarce in most classrooms. This research indicates that formative assessments provide students with opportunities to revise and improve the quality of their thinking while also making their thinking apparent to teachers, who can then plan instruction accordingly. Assessments must reflect the learning goals of the learning environment. If the goal is to enhance understanding and the applicability of knowledge, it is not sufficient to provide assessments that focus primarily on memory for facts and formulas. The Thinkertools science instructional unit discussed in the following section incorporates this principle, including formative self-assessment tools that help students advance toward several of the goals of laboratory experiences. Community-Centered Environments Research has shown that learning is enhanced in a community setting, when students and teachers share norms that value knowledge and participation (see Cobb et al., 2001). Such norms increase people’s opportunities and motivation to interact, receive feedback, and learn. Learning is enhanced when students have multiple opportunities to articulate their ideas to peers and to hear and discuss others’ ideas. A community-centered classroom environment may not be organized in traditional ways. For example, in science classrooms, the teacher is often the sole authority and arbiter of scientific knowledge, placing students in a relatively passive role (Lemke, 1990). Such an organization may promote students’ view that scientific knowledge is a collection of facts about the world, authorized by expert scientists and irrelevant to students’ own experience. The instructional units discussed below have attempted to restructure the social organization of the classroom and encourage students and the teacher to interact and learn from each other. Design of Integrated Instructional Units The learning principles outlined above have begun to inform design of integrated instructional units that include laboratory experiences with other types of science learning activities. These integrated instructional units were
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America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science developed through research programs that tightly couple research, design, and implementation in an iterative process. The research programs are beginning to document the details of student learning, development, and interaction when students are given systematic support—or scaffolding—in carefully structured social and cognitive activities. Scaffolding helps to guide students’ thinking, so that they can gradually take on more autonomy in carrying out various parts of the activities. Emerging research on these integrated instructional units provides guidance about how to design effective learning environments for real-world educational settings (see Linn, Davis, and Bell, 2004a; Cobb et al., 2003; Design-Based Research Collective, 2003). Integrated instructional units interweave laboratory experiences with other types of science learning activities, including lectures, reading, and discussion. Students are engaged in framing research questions, designing and executing experiments, gathering and analyzing data, and constructing arguments and conclusions as they carry out investigations. Diagnostic, formative assessments are embedded into the instructional sequences and can be used to gauge student’s developing understanding and to promote their self-reflection on their thinking. With respect to laboratory experiences, these instructional units share two key features. The first is that specific laboratory experiences are carefully selected on the basis of research-based ideas of what students are likely to learn from them. For example, any particular laboratory activity is likely to contribute to learning only if it engages students’ current thinking about the target phenomena and is likely to make them critically evaluate their ideas in relation to what they see during the activity. The second is that laboratory experiences are explicitly linked to and integrated with other learning activities in the unit. The assumption behind this second feature is that just because students do a laboratory activity, they may not necessarily understand what they have done. Nascent research on integrated instructional units suggests that both framing a particular laboratory experience ahead of time and following it with activities that help students make sense of the experience are crucial in using a laboratory experience to support science learning. This “integration” approach draws on earlier research showing that intervention and negotiation with an authority, usually a teacher, was essential to help students make meaning out of their laboratory activities (Driver, 1995). Examples of Integrated Instructional Units Scaling Up Chemistry That Applies Chemistry That Applies (CTA) is a 6-8 week integrated instructional unit designed to help students in grades 8-10 understand the law of conservation
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America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science of matter. Created by researchers at the Michigan Department of Education (Blakeslee et al., 1993), this instructional unit was one of only a few curricula that were highly rated by American Assocation for the Advancement of Science Project 2061 in its study of middle school science curricula (Kesidou and Roseman, 2002). Student groups explore four chemical reactions—burning, rusting, the decomposition of water, and the volcanic reaction of baking soda and vinegar. They cause these reactions to happen, obtain and record data in individual notebooks, analyze the data, and use evidence-based arguments to explain the data. The instructional unit engages the students in a carefully structured sequence of hands-on laboratory investigations interwoven with other forms of instruction (Lynch, 2004). Student understanding is “pressed” through many experiences with the reactions and by group and individual pressures to make meaning of these reactions. For example, video transcripts indicate that students engaged in “science talk” during teacher demonstrations and during student experiments. Researchers at George Washington University, in a partnership with Montgomery County public schools in Maryland, are currently conducting a five-year study of the feasibility of scaling up effective integrated instructional units, including CTA (Lynch, Kuipers, Pyke, and Szesze, in press). In 2001-2002, CTA was implemented in five highly diverse middle schools that were matched with five comparison schools using traditional curriculum materials in a quasi-experimental research design. All 8th graders in the five CTA schools, a total of about 1,500 students, participated in the CTA curriculum, while all 8th graders in the matched schools used the science curriculum materials normally available. Students were given pre- and posttests. In 2002-2003, the study was replicated in the same five pairs of schools. In both years, students who participated in the CTA curriculum scored significantly higher than comparison students on a posttest. Average scores of students who participated in the CTA curriculum showed higher levels of fluency with the concept of conservation of matter (Lynch, 2004). However, because the concept is so difficult, most students in both the treatment and control group still have misconceptions, and few have a flexible, fully scientific understanding of the conservation of matter. All subgroups of students who were engaged in the CTA curriculum—including low-income students (eligible for free and reduced-price meals), black and Hispanic students, English language learners, and students eligible for special educational services—scored significantly higher than students in the control group on the posttest (Lynch and O’Donnell, 2005). The effect sizes were largest among three subgroups considered at risk for low science achievement, including Hispanic students, low-income students, and English language learners. Based on these encouraging results, CTA was scaled up to include about 6,000 8th graders in 20 schools in 2003-2004 and 12,000 8th graders in 37 schools in 2004-2005 (Lynch and O’Donnell, 2005).
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America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science ThinkerTools The ThinkerTools instructional unit is a sequence of laboratory experiences and other learning activities that, in its initial version, yielded substantial gains in students’ understanding of Newton’s laws of motion (White, 1993). Building on these positive results, ThinkerTools was expanded to focus not only on mastery of these laws of motion but also on scientific reasoning and understanding of the nature of science (White and Frederiksen, 1998). In the 10-week unit, students were guided to reflect on their own thinking and learning while they carry out a series of investigations. The integrated instructional unit was designed to help them learn about science processes as well as about the subject of force and motion. The instructional unit supports students as they formulate hypotheses, conduct empirical investigations, work with conceptually analogous computer simulations, and refine a conceptual model for the phenomena. Across the series of investigations, the integrated instructional unit introduces increasingly complex concepts. Formative assessments are integrated throughout the instructional sequence in ways that allow students to self-assess and reflect on core aspects of inquiry and epistemological dimensions of learning. Researchers investigated the impact of Thinker Tools in 12 7th, 8th, and 9th grade classrooms with 3 teachers and 343 students. The researchers evaluated students’ developing understanding of scientific investigations using a pre-post inquiry test. In this assessment, students were engaged in a thought experiment that asked them to conceptualize, design, and think through a hypothetical research study. Gains in scores for students in the reflective self-assessment classes and control classrooms were compared. Results were also broken out by students categorized as high and low achieving, based on performance on a standardized test conducted before the intervention. Students in the reflective self-assessment classes exhibited greater gains on a test of investigative skills. This was especially true for low-achieving students. The researchers further analyzed specific components of the associated scientific processes—formulation of hypotheses, designing an experiment, predicting results, drawing conclusions from made-up results, and relating those conclusions back to the original hypotheses. Students in the reflective-self-assessment classes did better on all of these components than those in control classrooms, especially on the more difficult components (drawing conclusions and relating them to the original hypotheses). Computer as Learning Partner Beginning in 1980, a large group of technologists, classroom teachers, and education researchers developed the Computer as Learning Partner (CLP)
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America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science integrated instructional unit. Over 10 years, the team developed and tested eight versions of a 12-week unit on thermodynamics. Each year, a cohort of about 300 8th grade students participated in a sequence of teaching and learning activities focused primarily on a specific learning goal—enhancing students’ understanding of the difference between heat and temperature (Linn, 1997). The project engaged students in a sequence of laboratory experiences supported by computers, discussions, and other forms of science instruction. For example, computer images and words prompted students to make predictions about heat and conductivity and perform experiments using temperature-sensitive probes to confirm or refute their predictions. Students were given tasks related to scientific phenomena affecting their daily lives—such as how to keep a drink cold for lunch or selecting appropriate clothing for hiking in the mountains—as a way to motivate their interest and curiosity. Teachers play an important role in carrying out the curriculum, asking students to critique their own and each others’ investigations and encouraging them to reflect on their own thinking. Over 10 years of study and revision, the integrated instructional unit proved increasingly effective in achieving its stated learning goals. Before the sequenced instruction was introduced, only 3 percent of middle school students could adequately explain the difference between heat and temperature. Eight versions later, about half of the students participating in CLP could explain this difference, representing a 400 percent increase in achievement. In addition, nearly 100 percent of students who participated in the final version of the instructional unit demonstrated understanding of conductors (Linn and Songer, 1991). By comparison, only 25 percent of a group of undergraduate chemistry students at the University of California at Berkeley could adequately explain the difference between heat and temperature. A longitudinal study comparing high school seniors who participated in the thermodynamics unit in middle school with seniors who had received more traditional middle school science instruction found a 50 percent improvement in CLP students’ performance in distinguishing between heat and temperature (Linn and Hsi, 2000) Participating in the CLP instructional unit also increased students’ interest in science. Longitudinal studies of CLP participants revealed that, among those who went on to take high school physics, over 90 percent thought science was relevant to their lives. And 60 percent could provide examples of scientific phenomena in their daily lives. By comparison, only 60 percent of high school physics students who had not participated in the unit during middle school thought science was relevant to their lives, and only 30 percent could give examples in their daily lives (Linn and Hsi, 2000).
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America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science ern its behavior. As with the representations described above, embedding the use of the software in a carefully thought out curriculum sequence is crucial to supporting student learning (Hickey et al., 2000). Another example in biology is the BGuILE project (Reiser et al., 2001). The investigators created a series of structured simulations allowing students to investigate problems of evolution by natural selection. In the Galapagos finch environment, for example, students can examine a carefully selected set of data from the island of Daphne Major to explain a historical case of natural selection. The BGuILE software does not, strictly speaking, consist of simulations because it does not “run” a model; from a student’s perspective, it simulates either Daphne Major or laboratory experiments on tuberculosis bacteria. Studies show that students can learn from the BGuILE environments when these environments are embedded in a well-organized curriculum (Sandoval and Reiser, 2004). They also show that successful implementation of such technology-supported curricula relies heavily on teachers (Tabak, 2004). Structured Interactions with Complex Phenomena and Ideas The examples discussed here share a crucial feature. The representations built into the software and the interface tools provided for learners are intended to help them learn in very specific ways. There are a great number of such tools that have been developed over the last quarter of a century. Many of them have been shown to produce impressive learning gains for students at the secondary level. Besides the ones mentioned, other tools are designed to structure specific scientific reasoning skills, such as prediction (Friedler et al., 1990) and the coordination of claims with evidence (Bell and Linn, 2000; Sandoval, 2003). Most of these efforts integrate students’ work on the computer with more direct laboratory experiences. Rather than thinking of these representations and simulations as a way to replace laboratory experiences, the most successful instructional sequences integrate them with a series of empirical laboratory investigations. These sequences of science instruction focus students’ attention on developing a shared interpretation of both the representations and the real laboratory experiences in small groups (Bell, 2005). Computer Technologies Designed to Support Science Advances in computer technologies have had a tremendous impact on how science is done and on what scientists can study. These changes are vast, and summarizing them is well beyond the scope of the committee’s charge. We found, however, that some innovations in scientific practice, especially uses of the Internet, are beginning to be applied to secondary
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America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science science education. With respect to future laboratory experiences, perhaps the most significant advance in many scientific fields is the aggregation of large, varied data sets into Internet-accessible databases. These databases are most commonly built for specific scientific communities, but some researchers are creating and studying new, learner-centered interfaces to allow access by teachers and schools. These research projects build on instructional design principles illuminated by the integrated instructional units discussed above. One example is the Center for Embedded Networked Sensing (CENS), a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center investigating the development and deployment of large-scale sensor networks embedded in physical environments. CENS is currently working on ecosystem monitoring, seismology, contaminant flow transport, and marine microbiology. As sensor networks come on line, making data available, science educators at the center are developing middle school curricula that include web-based tools to enable students to explore the same data sets that the professional scientists are exploring (Pea, Mills, and Takeuchi, 2004). The interfaces professional scientists use to access such databases tend to be too inflexible and technical for students to use successfully (Bell, 2005). Bounding the space of possible data under consideration, supporting appropriate considerations of theory, and promoting understanding of the norms used in the visualization can help support students in developing a shared understanding of the data. With such support, students can develop both conceptual understanding and understanding of the data analysis process. Focusing students on causal explanation and argumentation based on the data analysis process can help them move from a descriptive, phenomenological view of science to one that considers theoretical issues of cause (Bell, 2005). Further research and evaluation of the educational benefit of student interaction with large scientific databases are absolutely necessary. Still, the development of such efforts will certainly expand over time, and, as they change notions of what it means to conduct scientific experiments, they are also likely to change what it means to conduct a school laboratory. SUMMARY The committee identified a number of science learning goals that have been attributed to laboratory experiences. Our review of the evidence on attainment of these goals revealed a recent shift in research, reflecting some movement in laboratory instruction. Historically, laboratory experiences have been disconnected from the flow of classroom science lessons. We refer to these separate laboratory experiences as typical laboratory experiences. Reflecting this separation, researchers often engaged students in one or two
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America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science experiments or other science activities and then conducted assessments to determine whether their understanding of the science concept underlying the activity had increased. Some studies compared the outcomes of these separate laboratory experiences with the outcomes of other forms of science instruction, such as lectures or discussions. Over the past 10 years, researchers studying laboratory education have shifted their focus. Drawing on principles of learning derived from the cognitive sciences, they have asked how to sequence science instruction, including laboratory experiences, in order to support students’ science learning. We refer to these instructional sequences as “integrated instructional units.” Integrated instructional units connect laboratory experiences with other types of science learning activities, including lectures, reading, and discussion. Students are engaged in framing research questions, making observations, designing and executing experiments, gathering and analyzing data, and constructing scientific arguments and explanations. The two bodies of research on typical laboratory experiences and integrated instructional units, including laboratory experiences, yield different findings about the effectiveness of laboratory experiences in advancing the science learning goals identified by the committee. The earlier research on typical laboratory experiences is 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 student mastery of subject matter indicates that typical laboratory experiences are no more or less effective than other forms of science instruction (such as reading, lectures, or discussion). Studies conducted to date on integrated instructional units indicate that the laboratory experiences, together with the other forms of instruction included in these units, show greater effectiveness for these same three goals (compared with students who received more traditional forms of science instruction): improving students’ mastery of subject matter, increasing development of scientific reasoning, and enhancing interest in science. Integrated instructional units also appear to be effective in helping diverse groups of students progress toward these three learning goals. A major limitation of the research on integrated instructional units, however, is that most of the units have been used in small numbers of science classrooms. Only a few studies have addressed the challenge of implementing—and studying the effectiveness of—integrated instructional units on a wide scale. Due to a lack of available studies, the committee was unable to draw conclusions about the extent to which either typical laboratory experiences or integrated instructional units might advance the other goals identified at the beginning of this chapter—enhancing understanding of the complexity
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America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science and ambiguity of empirical work, acquiring practical skills, and developing teamwork skills. Further research is needed to clarify how laboratory experiences might be designed to promote attainment of these goals. The committee considers the evidence sufficient to identify four general principles that can help laboratory experiences achieve the learning goals we have outlined. Laboratory experiences are more likely to achieve their intended learning goals if (1) they are designed with clear learning outcomes in mind, (2) they are thoughtfully sequenced into the flow of classroom science instruction, (3) they are designed to integrate learning of science content with learning about the processes of science, and (4) they incorporate ongoing student reflection and discussion. Computer software and the Internet have enabled development of several tools that can support students’ science learning, including representations of complex phenomena, simulations, and student interaction with large scientific databases. Representations and simulations are most successful in supporting student learning when they are integrated in an instructional sequence that also includes laboratory experiences. Researchers are currently developing tools to support student interaction with—and learning from—large scientific databases. REFERENCES Anderson, R.O. (1976). The experience of science: A new perspective for laboratory teaching. New York: Columbia University, Teachers College Press. Ato, T., and Wilkinson, W. (1986). Relationships between the availability and use of science equipment and attitudes to both science and sources of scientific information in Benue State, Nigeria. Research in Science and Technological Education, 4, 19-28. Beasley, W.F. (1985). Improving student laboratory performance: How much practice makes perfect? Science Education, 69, 567-576. Bell, P. (2005). The school science laboratory: Considerations of learning, technology, and scientific practice. Paper prepared for the Committee on High School Science Laboratories: Role and Vision. Available at: http://www7.nationalacademies.org/bose/July_12-13_2004_High_School_Labs_Meeting_Agenda.html [accessed June 2005]. Bell, P., and Linn, M.C. (2000). Scientific arguments as learning artifacts: Designing for learning from the web with KIE. International Journal of Science Education, 22(8), 797-817. Ben-Zvi, R., Hofstein, A., Kampa, R.F, and Samuel, D. (1976). The effectiveness of filmed experiments in high school chemical education. Journal of Chemical Education, 53, 518-520. Blakeslee, T., Bronstein, L., Chapin, M., Hesbitt, D., Peek, Y., Thiele, E., and Vellanti, J. (1993). Chemistry that applies. Lansing: Michigan Department of Education. Available at: http://www.ed-web2.educ.msu.edu/CCMS/secmod/Cluster3.pdf [accessed Feb. 2005].
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