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.
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
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.