National Academies Press: OpenBook

America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science (2006)

Chapter: 5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences

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Suggested Citation:"5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences." National Research Council. 2006. America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11311.
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5
Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences

Key Points

  • Leading laboratory experiences is a demanding task requiring teachers to have sophisticated knowledge of science content and process, how students learn science, assessment of students’ learning, and how to design instruction to support the multiple goals of science education.

  • Pre-service education and in-service professional development for science teachers rarely address laboratory experiences and do not provide teachers with the knowledge and skills needed to lead laboratory experiences.

  • There are promising examples of teacher professional development focused on laboratory experiences. Further research is needed to inform design of professional development that can effectively support improvements in teachers’ laboratory instruction.

  • School administrators play a critical role in supporting the successful integration of laboratory experiences in high school science by providing improved approaches to professional development and adequate time for teacher planning and implementation of laboratory experiences.

Suggested Citation:"5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences." National Research Council. 2006. America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11311.
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This chapter describes some of the factors contributing to the weakness of current laboratory experiences. We begin by identifying some of the knowledge and skills required to lead laboratory experiences aligned with the goals and design principles we have identified. We then compare the desired skills and knowledge with information about the current skills and knowledge of high school science teachers. We then go on to describe approaches to supporting teachers and improving their capacity to lead laboratory experiences through improvements in professional development and use of time. The final section concludes that there are many barriers to improving laboratory teaching and learning in the current school environment.

TEACHERS’ CAPACITY TO LEAD LABORATORY EXPERIENCES

In this section, we describe the types of teacher knowledge and skills that may be required to lead a range of laboratory experiences aligned with our design principles, comparing the required skills with evidence about the current state of teachers’ knowledge and skills. We then present promising examples of approaches to enhancing teachers’ capacity to lead laboratory experiences.

Teacher Knowledge for a Range of Laboratory Experiences

Teachers do not have sole responsibility for carrying out laboratory experiences that are designed with clear learning outcomes in mind, thoughtfully sequenced into the flow of classroom science instruction, integrating the learning of science content and process, and incorporating ongoing student reflection and discussion, as suggested by the research. Science teachers’ behavior in the classroom is influenced by the science curriculum, educational standards, and other factors, such as time constraints and the availability of facilities and supplies. Among these factors, curriculum has a strong influence on teaching strategies (Weiss, Pasley, Smith, Banilower, and Heck, 2003). As discussed in Chapters 2 and 3, there are curricula that integrate laboratory experiences into the stream of instruction and follow the other instructional design principles. To date, however, few high schools have adopted such research-based science curricula, and many teachers and school administrators are unaware of them (Tushnet et al., 2000; Baumgartner, 2004).

Studies of the few schools and teachers that have implemented research-based science curricula with embedded laboratory experiences have found that engaging teachers in developing and refining the curricula and in pro-

Suggested Citation:"5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences." National Research Council. 2006. America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11311.
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fessional development aligned with the curricula leads to increases in students’ progress toward the goals of laboratory experiences (Slotta, 2004). These studies confirm earlier research findings that even the best science curriculum cannot “teach itself” and that the teacher’s role is central in helping students build understanding from laboratory experiences and other science learning activities (Driver, 1995).

Playing this critical role requires that teachers know much more than how to set up equipment, carry out procedures, and manage students’ physical activities. Teachers must consider how to select curriculum that integrates laboratory experiences into the stream of instruction and how to select individual laboratory activities that will fit most appropriately into their science classes. They must consider how to clearly communicate the learning goals of the laboratory experience to their students. They must address the challenge of helping students to simultaneously develop scientific reasoning, master science subject matter and progress toward the other goals of laboratory experiences. They must guide and focus ongoing discussion and reflection with individuals, laboratory groups, and the entire class. At the same time, teachers must address logistical and practical concerns, such as obtaining and storing supplies and maintaining laboratory safety.

Teachers require several types of knowledge to succeed in these multiple activities, including (1) science content knowledge, (2) pedagogical content knowledge, (3) general pedagogical knowledge, and (4) knowledge of appropriate assessment techniques to measure student learning in laboratory education.

Science Content Knowledge

Helping students attain the learning goals of laboratory experiences requires their teachers to have broad and deep understanding of both the processes and outcomes of scientific research. The degree to which teachers themselves have attained the goals we speak of in this report is likely to influence their laboratory teaching and the extent to which their students progress toward these goals.

Teachers require deep conceptual knowledge of a science discipline not only to lead laboratory experiences that are designed according to the research, but also to lead a full range of laboratory experiences reflecting the range of activities of scientists (see Chapter 1). Deep disciplinary expertise is necessary to help students learn to use laboratory tools and procedures and to make observations and gather data. It is necessary even to lead students in activities designed to verify existing scientific knowledge. Case studies of laboratory teaching show that laboratory activities designed to verify known scientific concepts or laws may not always go forward as planned (Olsen et al., 1996). Guiding students through the complexity and ambiguity of empirical

Suggested Citation:"5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences." National Research Council. 2006. America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11311.
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work—including verification work—requires deep knowledge of the specific science concepts and science processes involved in such work (Millar, 2004).

As teachers move beyond laboratory experiences focusing on tools, procedures, and observations to those that engage students in posing a research question or in building and revising models to explain their observations, they require still deeper levels of science content knowledge (Windschitl, 2004; Catley, 2004). When students have more freedom to pose questions or to identify and carry out procedures, they require greater guidance to ensure that their laboratory activities help them to master science subject matter and progress toward the other goals of laboratory experiences. Teachers require a deep understanding of scientific processes in order to guide students’ procedures and formulation of research questions, as well as deep understanding of science concepts in order to guide them toward subject matter understanding and other learning goals. Engaging students in analysis of data gathered in the laboratory and in developing and revising explanatory models for those data requires teachers to be familiar with students’ practical equipment skills and science content knowledge and be able to engage in sophisticated scientific reasoning themselves.

Pedagogical Content Knowledge

To lead laboratory experiences that incorporate ongoing student discussion and reflection and that focus on clear, attainable learning goals, teachers require pedagogical content knowledge. This is knowledge drawn from learning theory and research that helps to explain how students develop understanding of scientific ideas. Pedagogical content knowledge may include knowing what theories of natural phenomena students may hold and how their ideas may differ from scientific explanations, knowledge of the ideas appropriate for children to explore at different ages, and knowledge of ideas that are prerequisites for their understanding of target concepts. Shulman (1986, p. 8) has defined pedagogical content knowledge as:

[A] special amalgam of content and pedagogy that is uniquely the province of teachers, their own form of professional understanding…. [I]t represents the blending of content and pedagogy into an understanding of how particular topics, problems, or issues are organized, represented and adapted to the diverse interests and abilities of learners, and presented for instruction.

Deng (2001) describes pedagogical content knowledge for science teachers as an understanding of key scientific concepts that is somewhat different from that of a scientist. He suggests that a high school physics teacher should know concepts or principles to emphasize when introducing high school students to a particular topic (p. 264). For example, the teacher might use descriptive or qualitative language or images to convey concepts related to

Suggested Citation:"5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences." National Research Council. 2006. America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11311.
×

light, such as reflection, transmission, and absorption. In contrast, a physicist might use mathematics to describe or represent the reflection, transmission, and absorption of light.

Pedagogical content knowledge can help teachers and curriculum developers identify attainable science learning goals, an essential step toward designing laboratory experiences with clear learning goals in mind. For example, in developing the Computers as Learning Partners science curriculum unit, Linn and colleagues researched how well models of thermodynamics at various levels of abstraction supported students’ learning. They found that a heat-flow model was better able to connect to middle school students’ knowledge about heat and temperature than a molecular-kinetic model (Linn, Davis, and Bell, 2004). Linn describes aspects of the model as pragmatic principles of heat that are “more accessible goals than the microscopic view of heat that is commonly taught” (Linn, 1997, p. 410). The research team focused the curriculum on helping students understand these principles, including flow principles, rate principles, total heat flow principles, and an integration principle.

The importance of pedagogical content knowledge challenges assumptions about what science teachers should know in order to help students attain the goals of laboratory experiences. Specifically, it challenges the assumption that having a college degree in science, by itself, is sufficient to teach high school science. Familiarity with the evidence or principles of a complex theory does not ensure that a teacher has a sound understanding of concepts that are meaningful to high school students and that she or he will be capable of leading students to change their ideas by critiquing each others’ investigations as they make sense of phenomena in their everyday lives. Expertise in science alone also does not ensure that teachers will be able to anticipate which concepts will pose the greatest difficulty for students and design instruction accordingly.

General Pedagogical Knowledge

In addition to science content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge, teachers also need general pedagogical knowledge in order to moderate ongoing discussion and reflection on laboratory activities, and supervise group work.

Knowledge of children’s mental and emotional development, of teaching methods, and how best to communicate with children of different ages is essential for teachers to help students build meaning based on their laboratory experiences.

Because many current science teachers have demographic backgrounds different from their students (Lee, 2002; Lynch, Kuipers, Pyke, and Szeze, in press), the ability to communicate across barriers of language and culture is

Suggested Citation:"5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences." National Research Council. 2006. America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11311.
×

an increasingly important aspect of their general pedagogical knowledge. Lee and Fradd (1998) and others observe that some scientific values and attitudes are found in most cultures (e.g., wonder, interest, diligence, persistence, imagination, respect toward nature); others are more characteristic of Western science. For example, Western science promotes a “critical and questioning stance,” and “these values and attitudes may be discontinuous with the norms of cultures that favor cooperation, social and emotional support, consensus building, and acceptance of the authority” (p. 470). Knowledge of students’ cultures and languages and the ability to communicate across cultures are necessary to carry out laboratory experiences that build on diverse students’ sense of wonder and engage them in science learning.

Knowledge of Assessment

Focusing laboratory experiences on clear learning goals requires that teachers understand assessment methods so they can measure and guide their students’ progress toward those goals. To be successful in leading students across the range of laboratory experiences we have described, teachers must choose laboratory experiences that are appropriate at any given time. To make these choices, they must be aware not only of their own capabilities, but also of students’ needs and readiness to engage in the various types of laboratory experiences.

Teacher awareness of students’ science needs and capabilities may be enhanced through ongoing formative assessment. Formative assessment, that is, continually assessing student progress in order to guide further instruction, appears to enhance student attainment of the goals of laboratory education. Teachers need to use data drawn from conversations, observations, and previous student work to make informed decisions about how to help them move toward desired goals. This is not a simple task (National Research Council, 2001b, p. 79):

To accurately gauge student understanding requires that teachers engage in questioning and listen carefully to student responses. It means focusing the students’ own questions. It means figuring out what students comprehend by listening to them during their discussions about science. They need to carefully consider written work and what they observe while students engage in projects and investigations. The teacher strives to fathom what the student is saying and what is implied about the student’s knowledge in his or her statements, questions, work and actions. Teachers need to listen in a way that goes well beyond an immediate right or wrong judgment.

Methods of assessing student learning in laboratory activities include systematically observing and evaluating students’ performance in specific laboratory tasks and longer term laboratory investigations. Teachers also need to know how to judge the quality of students’ oral presentations,

Suggested Citation:"5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences." National Research Council. 2006. America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11311.
×

laboratory notebooks, essays, and portfolios (Hein and Price, 1994; Gitomer and Duschl, 1998; Harlen, 2000, 2001). To lead effective laboratory experiences, science teachers should know how to use data from all of these assessment methods in order to reflect on student progress and make informed decisions about which laboratory activities and teaching approaches to change, retain, or discard (National Research Council, 2001b; Volkman and Abell, 2003).

Teachers’ Knowledge in Action

Teachers draw on all of the types of knowledge listed above—content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, general pedagogical knowledge, and knowledge of assessment—in their daily work of planning and leading instruction. Formulating research questions appropriate for a science classroom and leading student discussions are two important places where the interaction of the four types of knowledge is most evident.

In developing an investigation for students to pursue, teachers must consider their current level of knowledge and skills, the range of possible laboratory experiences available, and how a given experience will advance their learning. Teachers need to decide what kind of phenomena are important and appropriate for students to study as well as the degree of structure their students require.

Currently, teachers rarely provide opportunities for students to participate in formulating questions to be addressed in the laboratory. Perhaps this is because, among scientists, decisions about the kinds of questions to be asked and the kinds of answers to be sought are often developed by the scientific community rather than by an isolated individual (Millar, 2004). Only a few high school students are sufficiently advanced in their knowledge of science to serve as an effective “scientific community” in formulating such questions. Guiding students to formulate their own research questions and design appropriate investigations requires sophisticated knowledge in all four of the domains we have identified.

The teacher’s ability to use sophisticated questioning techniques to bring about productive student-student and student-teacher discussions in all phases of the laboratory activity is a key factor in the extent to which the activity attains its goals (Minstrell and Van Zee, 2003). However, formulating such questions can be difficult (National Research Council, 2001a, 2001b). To succeed at it and ask the types of higher level and cognitively based questions that appear to support student learning, teachers must have considerable science content knowledge and science teaching experience (McDiarmid, Ball, and Anderson, 1989; Chaney, 1995; Sanders and Rivers, 1996; Hammer, 1997).

Suggested Citation:"5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences." National Research Council. 2006. America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11311.
×

The teacher’s skills in posing questions and leading discussions affect students’ ability to build meaning from their laboratory experiences. As students analyze observations from the laboratory in search of patterns or explanations, develop and revise conjectures, and build lines of reasoning about why their proposed claims or explanations are or are not true, the teacher supports their learning by conducting sense-making discussions (Mortimer and Scott, 2003; van Zee and Minstrell, 1997; Hammer, 1997; Windschitl, 2004; Bell, 2004; Brown and Campione, 1998; Bruner, 1996; Linn, 1995; Lunetta, 1998; Clark, Clough, and Berg, 2000; Millar and Driver, 1987). In these discussions, the teacher helps students to resolve dissonances between the way they initially understood a phenomenon and the new evidence. But those connections are not enough: science sense-making discourse must also help students to develop understanding of a given science concept and create links between theory and observable phenomena. The teachers’ skills in posing questions and leading discussions also help students to effectively and accurately communicate their laboratory activities and the science sense they make from them, using appropriate language, scientific knowledge, mathematics, and other intellectual modes of communication associated with a particular science discipline.

Currently, few teachers lead this type of sense-making discussion (Smith, Banilower, McMahon, and Weiss, 2002). This lack of discussion may be due to the fact that high school science teachers depend heavily on the use of textbooks and accompanying laboratory manuals (Smith et al., 2002), which rarely include discussions. It may also be because teachers lack the content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, general pedagogical knowledge, and knowledge of assessment required to lead such discussions (Maienschein, 2004; Windschitl, 2004). Supporting classroom discussions may be particularly challenging for teachers who work with a very diverse student population in a single classroom, or those who have a different cultural background from their students (see Tobin, 2004).

Current State of Teacher Knowledge: Preservice Education

The available evidence indicates that the current science teaching workforce lacks the knowledge and skills required to lead a range of effective laboratory experiences.

Uneven Qualifications of Science Teachers

A series of studies conducted over the past several decades has shown that teachers are one of the most important factors influencing students’

Suggested Citation:"5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences." National Research Council. 2006. America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11311.
×

educational outcomes (Ferguson, 1998; Goldhaber, 2002; Goldhaber, Brewer, and Anderson, 1999; Hanushek, Kain, and Rivkin, 1999; Wright, Horn, and Sanders, 1997). However, experts do not agree on which aspects of teacher quality—such as having an academic major in the subject taught, holding a state teaching certificate, having a certain number of years of teaching experience, or other unknown factors—contribute to their students’ academic achievement (Darling-Hammond, Berry, and Thoreson, 2001; Goldhaber and Brewer, 2001). Generally, the body of research is weak, and the effects of teacher quality on student outcomes are small and specific to certain contexts.

Studies focusing specifically on science teacher quality and student achievement are somewhat more conclusive. Researchers generally agree that the teachers’ academic preparation in science has a positive influence on students’ science achievement (U.S. Department of Education, 2000; National Research Council, 2001a). One study found that having an advanced degree in science was associated with increased student science learning from the 8th to the 10th grade (Goldhaber and Brewer, 1997). The National Research Council (NRC) Committee on Science and Mathematics Teacher preparation stated that “studies conducted over the past quarter century increasingly point to a strong correlation between student achievement in K-12 science and mathematics and the teaching quality and level of knowledge of K-12 teachers of science and mathematics” (National Research Council, 2001a, p. 4).

A teacher’s academic science preparation appears to affect student science achievement generally. Strong academic preparation is also essential in helping teachers develop the deep knowledge of science content and science processes needed to lead effective laboratory experiences. However, many high school teachers currently lack strong academic preparation in a science discipline. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics (2004) show variation in teacher qualifications from one science discipline to another. In 1999-2000, 39.4 percent of all physics teachers in public high schools had neither a major nor a minor in physics, 59.9 percent of all public high school geology teachers lacked a major or minor in geology, 35.7 percent of chemistry teachers lacked a major or minor in that field, and 21.7 percent of biology teachers had neither a major nor a minor in biology (National Center for Education Statistics, 2004). Another analysis of the data from the National Center for Education Statistics found that students in high schools with higher concentrations of minority students and poor students were more likely than students in other high schools to be taught science by a teacher without a major or minor in the subject being taught (U.S. Department of Education, 2004).

The inequities in the availability of academically prepared teachers may pose a serious challenge to minority and poor students’ progress toward the

Suggested Citation:"5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences." National Research Council. 2006. America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11311.
×

goals of laboratory experiences. Teachers lacking a science major may be less likely to engage students in any type of laboratory experience and may be less likely to provide more advanced laboratory experiences, such as those that engage the students in posing research questions, in formulating and revising scientific models, and in making scientific arguments. These limits, in turn, could contribute to lower science achievement, especially among poor and minority students.

Uneven Quality of Preservice Science Education

Even teachers who have majored in science may be limited in their ability to lead effective laboratory experiences, because their undergraduate science preparation provided only weak knowledge of science content and included only weak laboratory experiences. Research conducted in teacher education programs provides some evidence of the quality of preservice science education (Windschitl, 2004). One theme that emerges from such research is that the content knowledge gained from undergraduate work is often superficial and not well integrated. The traditional didactic pedagogy to which teacher candidates are exposed in university science courses equips learners with only minimal conceptual understandings of their science disciplines (Duschl, 1983; Gallagher, 1991; Pomeroy, 1993, cited in Windschitl, 2004). Many preservice teachers hold serious misconceptions about science that are similar to those held by their students (Anderson, Sheldon, and Dubay, 1990; Sanders, 1993; Songer and Mintzes, 1994; Westbrook and Marek, 1992, all cited in Windschitl, 2004).

The limited evidence available indicates that some undergraduate science programs do not help future teachers develop full mastery of science subject matter. In a year-long study of prospective biology teachers (Gess-Newsome and Lederman, 1993), the participants reported never having thought about the central ideas of biology or the interrelationships among the topics. The teachers, all biology majors, could only list the courses they had taken as a way to organize their fields. They appeared to have little understanding of the field writ large. They knew little about how various ideas were related to each other, nor could they readily explain the overall content and character of biology. Over the course of a year’s worth of pedagogical preparation and field experiences, the new teachers began to reorganize their knowledge of biology according to how they thought it should be taught. These findings confirm those from a substantial literature on arts and sciences teaching in colleges and universities, which has clearly documented that both elementary and secondary teachers lack a deep and connected conceptual understanding of the subject matter they are expected to teach (Kennedy, Ball, McDiarmid, and Schmidt, 1991; McDiarmid, 1994).

Undergraduate science students, including preservice teachers, engage

Suggested Citation:"5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences." National Research Council. 2006. America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11311.
×

in a limited range of laboratory experiences that do not follow the principles of instructional design identified in Chapter 3. The research described above indicates that undergraduate laboratory experiences do not integrate learning of science content and science processes in ways that lead to deep conceptual understanding of science subject matter. Other studies report that undergraduate laboratory work consists primarily of verification activities, with few opportunities for ongoing discussion and reflection on how scientists evaluate new knowledge (e.g., Trumbull and Kerr, 1993, cited in Windschitl, 2004). The research also indicates that undergraduate laboratory work, like the laboratory experiences of high school students, often focuses on detailed procedures rather than clear learning goals (Hegarty-Hazel, 1990; Sutman, Schmuckler, Hilosky, Priestley, and Priestley, 1996).

One study illustrates undergraduate students’ lack of exposure to the full range of scientists’ activities, and the potential benefits of engaging them in a broader range of experiences. A professor engaged upper level chemistry majors in trying to create a foolproof laboratory activity to illustrate the chemistry of amines for introductory students. Students were asked to survey the literature for methods to reduce aromatic nitro compounds to the corresponding amines. They found a large number of preparations, tried each one out, and identified one method as most likely to succeed with the introductory students. However, the students were surprised that methods taken from the literature did not always work. Their previous, closely prescribed laboratory experiences had not helped them to understand that there are many different ways to effect a particular chemical transformation. More than 90 percent of the class indicated that the experiment was highly effective in demonstrating the difficulty of scientific investigations and the possibility of failure in science (Glagovich and Swierczynski, 2004).

Similarly, Hilosky, Sutman, and Schmuckler (1998) observe that prospective science teachers’ laboratory experiences provide procedural knowledge but few opportunities to integrate science investigations with learning about the context of scientific models and theories. In a study of 100 preservice science teachers, only 20 percent reported having laboratory experiences that gave them opportunities to ask their own questions and to design their own science investigations (Windschitl, 2004). A study of a much smaller sample of teachers yielded similar findings (Catley, 2004).

It appears that the uneven quality of current high school laboratory experiences is due in part to the preparation of science teachers to lead these experiences. Science teachers may be modeling instructional practices they themselves witnessed or experienced firsthand as students in college science classes. Clearly, their preservice experiences do not provide the skills and knowledge needed to select and effectively carry out laboratory experiences that are appropriate for reaching specific science learning goals for a given group of students.

Suggested Citation:"5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences." National Research Council. 2006. America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11311.
×

Professional Development for Laboratory Teaching

Current professional development for science teachers is uneven in quantity and quality and places little emphasis on laboratory teaching. Requirements for professional development of in-service science teachers differ widely from state to state. Most states do not regulate the quality and content of professional development required for renewal of teaching certificates (Hirsch, Koppich, and Knapp, 2001). Typically, states require only that teachers obtain post-baccalaureate credits within a certain period of time after being hired and then earn additional credits every few years thereafter.

Few professional development programs for science teachers emphasize laboratory instruction. In reviewing the state of biology education in 1990, an NRC committee concluded that few teachers had the knowledge or skill to lead effective laboratory experiences and recommended that “major new programs should be developed for providing in-service education on laboratory activities” (National Research Council, 1990, p. 34). However, a review of the literature five years later revealed no widespread efforts to improve laboratory education for either preservice or in-service teachers (McComas and Colburn, 1995). The authors of the review found that, when laboratory education is available, it focuses primarily on the care and use of laboratory equipment and laboratory safety. In addition, they found that commercially available laboratory manuals failed to provide “cognitively challenging activities” that might help to bridge the gap between teachers’ lack of knowledge and improved laboratory experiences (McComas and Colburn, 1995, p. 120).

The limited quality and availability of professional development focusing on laboratory teaching is a reflection of the weaknesses in the larger system of professional development for science teachers. Data from a 2000 survey of science and mathematics education indicate that most current science teachers participate infrequently in professional development activities, and that many teachers view these activities as ineffective (Hudson, McMahon, and Overstreet, 2002). For example, among high school teachers who had participated in professional development aimed at learning to use inquiry-oriented teaching strategies, 25 percent indicated that this professional development had little or no impact, and 48 percent reported that the professional development merely confirmed what they were already doing. Other studies have also found that most teachers do not experience sustained professional development and that they view it as ineffective (Windschitl, 2004). In many cases “teachers ranked in-service training as their least effective source of learning” (Windschitl, 2004, p. 16; emphasis in original).

Suggested Citation:"5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences." National Research Council. 2006. America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11311.
×
Potential of Professional Development for Improved Laboratory Teaching

Despite the weakness of current professional development for laboratory teaching, a growing body of research indicates that it is possible to develop and implement professional development that would support improved laboratory teaching and learning. Most current professional development for science teachers, such as the activities that had little impact on the teaching strategies among teachers responding to the 2000 survey, is ad hoc. It often consists mostly of one-day (or shorter) workshops focusing on how-to activities that are unlikely to challenge teachers’ beliefs about teaching and learning that support their current practice (DeSimone, Garet, Birman, Porter, and Yoon, 2003).

In contrast to these short, ineffective approaches, consensus is growing in the research about key features of high-quality professional development for mathematics and science teachers (DeSimone, Porter, Garet, Yoon, and Birman, 2002; DeSimone et al., 2003, p. 10):

  • New forms of professional development (i.e., study group, teacher network, mentoring, or task force, internship, or individual research project with a scientist) in contrast to the traditional workshop or conference.

  • Duration (total contact hours, span of time).

  • Participation of groups of teachers from the same school, department, or grade.

  • A focus on deepening teachers’ knowledge of science or mathematics.

  • Active learning opportunities focused on analysis of teaching and learning.

  • Coherence (consistency with teachers’ goals, state standards, and assessments).

Loucks-Horsley, Love, Stiles, Mundry, and Hewson (2003) provide a detailed design framework for professional development and descriptions of case studies, identifying strategies for improving science teaching that may be applicable to improving laboratory teaching.

DeSimone and others conducted a three-year longitudinal study of professional development in science and mathematics provided by school districts. They surveyed a sample of 207 teachers in 30 schools, 10 districts, and 5 states to examine features of professional development and its effects on teaching practice from 1996 to 1999 (DeSimone et al., 2002). The study examined the relationship between professional development and teaching practice in terms of three specific instructional practices: (1) the use of technology, (2) the use of higher order instructional methods, and (3) the use of alternative assessment. The investigators found that professional development focused

Suggested Citation:"5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences." National Research Council. 2006. America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11311.
×

on specific instructional practices increased teachers’ use of these practices in the classroom. Results of the study also confirmed the effectiveness of providing active learning opportunities.

Other studies indicate that high-quality professional development can encourage and support science teachers in leading a full range of laboratory experiences that allow students to participate actively in formulating research questions and in designing and carrying out investigations (Windschitl, 2004). Research on teachers using a science curriculum that integrates laboratory experiences into the stream of instruction indicates that repeated practice with such a curriculum, as well as time for collaboration and reflection with professional colleagues, leads teachers to shift from focusing on laboratory procedures to focusing on science learning goals (Williams, Linn, Ammon, and Gearheart, 2004). One study indicated that significant change in teaching practice required about 80 hours of professional development (Supovitz and Turner, 2000). Teachers who had engaged in even more intensive professional development, lasting at least 160 hours, were most likely to employ several teaching strategies aligned with the design principles for effective laboratory experiences identified in the research. These strategies included arranging seating to facilitate student discussion, requiring students to supply evidence to support their claims, encouraging students to explain concepts to one another, and having students work in cooperative groups.

A study of Ohio’s Statewide Systemic Initiative in science and mathematics also confirmed that sustained professional development, over many hours, is required to change laboratory teaching practices (Supovitz, Mayer, and Kahle, 2000, cited in Windschitl, 2004, p. 20): “A highly intensive (160 hours) inquiry-based professional development effort changed teachers’ attitudes towards reform, their preparation to use reform-based practices, and their use of inquiry-based teaching practices…. These changes persisted several years after the teachers concluded their professional development experiences.”

Examples of Professional Development Focused on Laboratory Teaching

The committee identified a limited portfolio of examples of promising approaches to professional development that may support teachers in leading laboratory experiences designed with clear learning outcomes in mind, thoughtfully sequenced into the flow of classroom science instruction, integrating the learning of science content and process, and incorporating ongoing student reflection and discussion. School districts, teachers, and others may want to consider these examples, but further research is needed to determine their scope and effectiveness.

Suggested Citation:"5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences." National Research Council. 2006. America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11311.
×

Laboratory Learning: An Inservice Institute. McComas and Colburn (1995) established an inservice program called Laboratory Learning: An Inservice Institute, which incorporated some of the design elements that support student learning in laboratory experiences. The contents of the institute were developed on the basis of in-depth field interviews and literature reviews to tap the practical knowledge of experienced science teachers. This body of knowledge addressed the kind of laboratory instruction given to students, consideration of students with special needs, supportive teaching behaviors, models to engage students working in small groups, the sequencing of instruction, and modes of assessment (p. 121). Teacher participants at the institute experienced firsthand learning as students in several laboratory sessions led by high school instructors who were regarded as master laboratory teachers. The institute included a blend of modeling, small group work, cooperative learning activities, and theoretical and research-based suggestions (p. 122).

This professional development institute also incorporated ongoing opportunities for discussion and reflection. It was implemented over four day-long Saturday sessions spread over a semester. Between sessions, teacher participants reflected on what they were learning and applied some of it in their classrooms, following the active learning approach suggested by the research on professional development for science teachers. The teachers participated in and analyzed practical laboratory activities, studied theoretical underpinnings of the science education they were receiving, and learned about safety issues during hands-on activity. Reporting on a post-institute survey, McComas and Colburn note that “a surprising number of teachers felt that the safety sessions were most important” (p. 121) (no numbers were reported). Institute participants also asked for more discussion of assessment methods for laboratory teaching, including the role of video testing, and also recommended inclusion of sessions that address teaching science laboratory classes on a small budget.


13-Week Science Methodology Course. A science methodology course for middle and high school teachers offered experience in using the findings from laboratory investigations as the driving force for further instruction (Priestley, Priestly, and Schmuckler, 1997). The design of this professional development program incorporated the principle of integrating laboratory experiences into the stream of instruction and the goal of providing a full range of laboratory experiences, including opportunities for students to participate in developing research questions and procedures.

In this program, faculty modeled “lower-level inquiry-oriented instruction” focused on short laboratory sessions with limited lecturing and no definitions of terms. They also modeled longer postlaboratory activities focused on using student data and observations as the engine for further instruction. In doing so, they showed teachers how laboratory experiences

Suggested Citation:"5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences." National Research Council. 2006. America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11311.
×

can be sequenced into a flow of science instruction in order to integrate student learning of science content and science processes. After completion of the course, teachers’ classroom behaviors were videotaped and analyzed against “traditional” and “reformed” instructional strategies. Participant teachers were also interviewed. The authors concluded that professional development activities that are short-term interventions have virtually no effect on teachers’ behaviors in leading laboratory experiences. They also concluded that longer term interventions—13 weeks in this case—result in some change in the instructional strategies teachers use.


Project ICAN: Inquiry, Context, and Nature of Science. Project ICAN includes an intensive three-day summer orientation for science teachers followed by full-day monthly workshops from September through June, focusing on the nature of science and scientific inquiry. The program was designed in part to address weakness in science teachers’ understanding of the nature of science, which was documented in earlier research (Khalic and Lederman, 2000; Schwartz and Lederman, 2002). This earlier research indicated that, just as engaging students in laboratory experiences in isolation led to little or no increase in their understanding of the nature of science, engaging prospective or current science teachers in laboratory activities led to little or no increase in their understanding of the nature of science. Professional development and preservice programs that combined laboratory experiences with instruction about the key concepts of the nature of science and engaged teachers in reflecting on their experiences in light of those concepts were more successful in developing improved understanding (Khalic and Lederman, 2000).

In the ICAN program, teachers participate in science internships with working scientists as one element in a larger program of instruction that includes an initial orientation and monthly workshops. These workshops include microteaching (peer presentation) sessions. Program faculty report that many teachers tend to dwell on hands-on activities with their students at the expense of linking them with the nature of science and with abilities associated with scientific inquiry. They further report (Lederman, 2004, p. 8):

By observing practicing scientists and writing up their reflections, teachers gained insight into what scientists do in various research areas, such as crystallization, vascular tissue engineering, thermal processing of materials, nutrition, biochemistry, molecular biology, microbiology, protein purification and genetics…. Periodic checks indicated that the science internship helped teachers improve their understanding of [the nature of science] and [science inquiry]. For example, teachers realized that there is no unique method called “the scientific method,” after comparing the methods used in different labs, such as a biochemistry lab, engineering lab, and zoos. It was also clear that teachers’ enhanced their understanding of science subject matter specific to the lab they experienced.

Suggested Citation:"5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences." National Research Council. 2006. America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11311.
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The Biological Sciences Curriculum Study. The Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, a science curriculum development organization, has long been engaged in the preservice education of science teachers and also offers professional development for inservice teachers. The group employs a variety of long-term strategies, such as engaging teachers in curriculum development and adaptation, action research, and providing on-site support by lead teachers (Linn, 1997; Lederman, 2004). Research on the efficacy of strategies used for professional development related specifically to laboratory experiences, however, is not readily available.


Professional Development Partnerships with the Scientific Community. Scientific laboratories, college and university science departments, and science museums have launched efforts to support high school science teachers in improving laboratory teaching. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) launched its Laboratory Science Teacher Professional Development Program in 2004. Building on existing teacher internship programs at several of the national laboratories, the program will engage teachers as summer research associates at the laboratories, beginning with a four-week stint the first summer, followed by shorter two-week internships the following two summers (U.S. Department of Energy, 2004). Qualified high school teachers will have opportunities to work and learn at the Argonne, Brookhaven, Lawrence Berkeley, Oak Ridge, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratories and at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory has provided professional development programs for science teachers for several years (Javonovic and King, 1998).

With the support of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), several medical colleges and research institutions provide laboratory-based science experiences for science teachers and their students. For example, HHMI has funded summer teacher training workshops at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for many years, and also supports an ongoing partnership between the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Seattle, Washington, public schools (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, 2003). In the Seattle program, teachers attend a 13-day summer workshop in which they work closely with each other, master teachers, and program staff to develop expertise in molecular biology. They also spend a week doing laboratory research with a scientist mentor at the Fred Hutchinson Center or one of several other participating public and private research institutions in Seattle. During the school year, teachers may access kits of materials supporting laboratory experiences that use biomedical research tools.

Summer research experiences that may enhance science teachers’ laboratory teaching need not take place in a laboratory facility. At Vanderbilt University, Catley conducts a summer-long course on research in organismal biology. Teachers design and carry out an open-ended field research project

Suggested Citation:"5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences." National Research Council. 2006. America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11311.
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of their own choosing. Catley (2004) reports that “having gone through the process of frustration, false starts and the elation of completion, [the teachers] came away with a deeper understanding of how inquiry works and a sense of empowerment. They felt confident to guide their students through the same process, where there is no ‘right answer.’”

It is unclear whether these and other ad hoc efforts to provide summer research experiences reach the majority of high school science teachers. Although no national information is available about high school teachers’ participation in laboratory internship programs, a recent survey found that only 1 in 10 novice elementary school teachers had participated in internship programs in which they worked directly with scientists or engineers. Among those who had, an overwhelming majority said the experience had helped them better understand science content and improved both their teaching practice and their enthusiasm (Bayer Corporation, 2004). Further research is needed to assess the extent to which such programs help teachers develop the knowledge and skills required to lead laboratory experiences in ways that help students master science subject matter and progress toward other science learning goals.


Providing Expert Assistance to Schools and Teachers. In addition to the many programs to increase teachers’ knowledge and abilities discussed above, the scientific community sometimes engages scientists to work directly with students. For example, Northeastern University has established a program called RE-SEED (Retirees Enhancing Science Education through Experiments and Demonstration), which arranges for engineers, scientists, and other individuals with science backgrounds to assist middle school teachers with leading students in laboratory experiences. Volunteers receive training, a sourcebook of activities appropriate for middle school students, a kit of science materials, and a set of videotapes. To date, over 400 RE-SEED volunteers have worked with schools in 10 states. A survey of students, teachers, and volunteers yielded positive results. Large majorities of students indicated that the program had increased their interest in science, while large majorities of teachers said they would recommend the program to other teachers and that the volunteers had had a beneficial effect on their science teaching. Among the volunteers, 97 percent said they would recommend RE-SEED to a colleague, and most said that the training, placement in schools, and support from staff had made their time well spent (Zahopoulos, 2003).

The California Institute of Technology has a program to help scientists and graduate students work with teachers in elementary school classrooms in the Pasadena school district. The Chemistry Department of City College (City University of New York) places undergraduate science and engineering majors in middle school classrooms to assist teachers during laboratory activities and learn classroom management from the teachers. Once again,

Suggested Citation:"5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences." National Research Council. 2006. America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11311.
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little information is available on the effectiveness of these efforts. Further research is needed to evaluate these and other efforts to link scientists with K-12 education.

We do not yet know how best to develop the knowledge and skills that teachers require to lead laboratory experiences that help students master science subject matter, develop scientific reasoning skills, and attain the other goals of laboratory education. Further research is needed to examine the scope and effectiveness of the many individual programs and initiatives. Because efforts to improve teachers’ ability to lead improved laboratory experiences are strongly influenced by the organization and administration of their schools, the following section addresses this larger context.

SUPPORTING LABORATORY TEACHING

The poor quality of laboratory experiences of most high school students today results partly from the challenges that laboratory teaching and learning pose to school administrators. In this section we describe the difficulty school administrators encounter when they try to support effective laboratory teaching.

Supporting Teachers with Professional Development

School administrators have a strong influence on whether high school science teachers receive the professional development opportunities needed to develop the knowledge and skills we have identified. Providing more focused, effective, and sustained professional development activities for more science teachers requires not only substantial financial resources and knowledge of effective professional development approaches, but also a coherent, coordinated approach at the school and district level.

Some school and school district officials may be reluctant to invest in sustained professional development for science teachers because they fear losing their investments if trained teachers leave for other jobs. Younger workers in a variety of occupations change jobs more frequently than their older counterparts (National Research Council, 1999). However, compared with other types of professionals, a higher proportion of teachers leave their positions each year. In response to surveys conducted in the mid-1990s, teachers indicated that, among the reasons they left their positions—including retirement, layoffs, and family reasons—dissatisfaction was one of the most important. Mathematics and science teachers reported more frequently than other teachers that job dissatisfaction was the reason they left their jobs. And, among teachers who left because of job dissatisfaction, mathematics and science teachers reported more frequently than other teachers that they left because of “poor administrative support” (Ingersoll, 2003, p. 7). The

Suggested Citation:"5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences." National Research Council. 2006. America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11311.
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surveys defined “poor administrative support” as including a lack of recognition and support from administration and a lack of resources and material and equipment for the classroom.

Some research indicates that teachers do not respond to sustained professional development by taking their new knowledge and skills to other schools, but rather by staying and creating new benefits where they are. One study found that schools that provide more support to new teachers, including such professional development activities as induction and mentoring, have lower turnover rates (Ingersoll, 2003, p. 8). In addition, some researchers argue that, although professional development expends resources (time, money, supplies), it also creates new human and social resources (Gamoran et al., 2003, p. 28).

Gamoran and others studied six sites where teachers and educational researchers collaborated to reform science and mathematics teaching, focusing on teaching for understanding. “Teaching for understanding” was defined as including a focus on student thinking, attention to powerful scientific ideas, and the development of equitable classroom learning communities. Gamoran and colleagues found that, although the educational researchers provided an infusion of expertise from outside each of the six school sites, the professional development created in collaboration with the local schools had its greatest impact in supporting local teachers in developing their own communities. These school-based teacher communities, in turn, not only supported teachers in improving their teaching practices, but also helped them create new resources, such as new curricula. The teaching communities that developed, with their new leaders, succeeded in obtaining additional resources (such as shared teacher planning time) from within the schools and districts (Gamoran et al., 2003) and also from outside of them. Although the time frame of the study prevented analysis of whether the teacher communities were sustained over time, the results suggest that school districts can use focused professional development as a way to create strong teaching communities with the potential to support continued improvement in laboratory teaching and learning.

Scheduling Laboratory Teaching and Learning

Currently, most schools are designed to support teaching that follows predictable routines and schedules (Gamoran, 2004). Administrators allocate time, like other resources, as a way to support teachers in carrying out these routines. However, several types of inflexible scheduling may discourage effective laboratory experiences, including (a) limits on teacher planning time, (b) limits on teacher setup and cleanup time, and (c) limits on time for laboratory experiences.

Suggested Citation:"5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences." National Research Council. 2006. America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11311.
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Shared teacher planning time may be a critical support for improved laboratory teaching, because of the unique nature of laboratory education. As we have discussed, teachers face an ongoing tension between allowing students greater autonomy in the laboratory and guiding them toward accepted scientific knowledge. They also face uncertainty about how many variables students should struggle with and how much to narrow the context and procedures of the investigation. When one college physics professor taught a high school physics class, he struggled with uncertainty about how to respond to students’ ideas about the phenomena they encountered, particularly when their findings contradicted accepted scientific principles (Hammer, 1997). In a case study of his experience, this professor called for reducing science teachers’ class loads so they have more time to reflect on and improve their own practice.

A supportive school administration could help teachers overcome their isolation and learn from each other by providing time and space to reflect on their laboratory teaching and on student learning in the company of colleagues (Gamoran, 2004). In this approach, school administrators recognize that leadership for improved teaching and learning is distributed throughout the school and district and does not rest on traditional hierarchies.

In 2000, according to a nationally representative survey of science teachers, most school administrators provided inadequate time for shared planning and reflection to improve instruction. When asked whether they had time during the regular school week to work with colleagues on the curriculum and teaching, 69 percent of high school teachers disagreed and 4 percent had no opinion, leaving only 28 percent who agreed. However, 66 percent of teachers indicated that they regularly shared ideas and materials with their colleagues, perhaps indicating that they do so on their own time, outside school hours (Hudson et al., 2002). Only 11 percent of responding teachers indicated that science teachers in their school regularly observed other science teachers. Among teachers who acted as heads of science departments, 21 percent indicated that the lack of opportunities for teachers to share ideas was a serious problem for science instruction (Smith et al., 2002).

Time constraints can also discourage teachers from the challenges of setting up and testing laboratory equipment and materials. Associations of science teachers have taken differing positions on how administrators can best support teachers in preparing for and cleaning up after laboratory experiences. The American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) suggests that physics teachers should be required to teach no more than 275 instructional minutes per day. Many schools schedule eight 40- to 55-minute class periods, so that following the AAPT guidelines would allow physics teachers two preparation periods. The guidelines also call on administrators to schedule no more than 125 students per teacher per day, if the teacher is teaching only physics (the same laboratory activity taught several times may not require preparation) and no more than 100 students per teacher per day if the

Suggested Citation:"5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences." National Research Council. 2006. America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11311.
×

teacher is teaching both chemistry and physics, requiring more preparation time (American Association of Physics Teachers, 2002). The guidelines note that simply maintaining the laboratory requires at least one class period per day, and, if schools will not provide teachers with that time, they suggest that those schools either employ laboratory technicians or obtain student help.

The National Science Teachers Association takes a slightly different position, suggesting that administrators provide teachers with a competent paraprofessional. The paraprofessional would help with setup, cleanup, community contacts, searching for resources, and other types of support (National Science Teachers Association, 1990).

No national survey data are available to indicate whether science teachers receive adequate preparation time or assistance from trained laboratory technicians. Some individual teachers told our committee that they did not have adequate preparation and cleanup time.

Finally, adequate time is essential for student learning in laboratory experiences. On the basis of a review of the available research, Lunetta (1998, p. 253) suggests that, for students, “time should be provided for engaging students in driving questions, for team planning, for feedback about the nature and meaning of data, and for discussion of the implications of findings,” and laboratory journals “should provide opportunities for individual students to reflect upon and clarify their own observations, hypotheses, conceptions.”

School administrators can take several approaches to providing time for this type of ongoing discussion and reflection that supports student learning during laboratory experiences. Block scheduling is one approach schools have used to provide longer periods of time for laboratory activities and discussion. In this approach classes meet every other day for longer blocks of about 90-100 minutes, instead of every day for 40 or 45 minutes. However, an analysis of national survey data indicates that teachers in block schedules do not incorporate more laboratory experiences into their instruction (Smith, 2004). In addition, there is little research on whether use of block scheduling influences teachers’ instruction or enhances student learning.

In another approach, schools can schedule science classes for double periods to allow more time for both carrying out investigations and reflecting on the meaning of those investigations. In an ideal world, administrators would provide adequate laboratory space and time to allow students to continue investigations over several weeks or months, and they would also provide time for students to work outside regular school hours. One study found that, when laboratories were easily accessible, 14- and 15-year-old students who used the facilities during their free time reported increased interest in academics and took advanced science courses (Henderson and Mapp, 2002).

Suggested Citation:"5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences." National Research Council. 2006. America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11311.
×

SUMMARY

Teachers play a critical role in leading laboratory experiences in ways that support student learning. However, the undergraduate education of future science teachers does not currently prepare them for effective laboratory teaching. Undergraduate science departments rarely provide future science teachers with laboratory experiences that follow the design principles derived from recent research—integrated into the flow of instruction, focused on clear learning goals, aimed at the learning of science content and science process, with ongoing opportunities for reflection and discussion. Once on the job, science teachers have few opportunities to improve their laboratory teaching. Professional development opportunities for science teachers are limited in quality, availability, and scope and place little emphasis on laboratory instruction. Further research is needed to inform design of laboratory-focused teacher professional development that can support teachers in improving laboratory instruction. In addition, few high school teachers have access to curricula that integrate laboratory experiences into the stream of instruction

The organization and structure of most high schools impede teachers’ and administrators’ ongoing learning about science instruction and the implementation of quality laboratory experiences. Administrators who take a more flexible approach can support effective laboratory teaching by providing teachers with adequate time and space for ongoing professional development and shared lesson planning.

Improving high school science teachers’ capacity to lead laboratory experiences effectively is critical to advancing the educational goals of these experiences. This would require both a major changes in undergraduate science education, including provision of a range of effective laboratory experiences for future teachers, and developing more comprehensive systems of support for teachers.

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Suggested Citation:"5 Teacher and School Readiness for Laboratory Experiences." National Research Council. 2006. America's Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11311.
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Laboratory experiences as a part of most U.S. high school science curricula have been taken for granted for decades, but they have rarely been carefully examined. What do they contribute to science learning? What can they contribute to science learning? What is the current status of labs in our nation�s high schools as a context for learning science? This book looks at a range of questions about how laboratory experiences fit into U.S. high schools:

  • What is effective laboratory teaching?
  • What does research tell us about learning in high school science labs?
  • How should student learning in laboratory experiences be assessed?
  • Do all student have access to laboratory experiences?
  • What changes need to be made to improve laboratory experiences for high school students?
  • How can school organization contribute to effective laboratory teaching?

    With increased attention to the U.S. education system and student outcomes, no part of the high school curriculum should escape scrutiny. This timely book investigates factors that influence a high school laboratory experience, looking closely at what currently takes place and what the goals of those experiences are and should be. Science educators, school administrators, policy makers, and parents will all benefit from a better understanding of the need for laboratory experiences to be an integral part of the science curriculum�and how that can be accomplished.

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