Tips for Science Labs
to move beyond the `cookbook' method and encourage `discovery learning'.
Even in the
most structured labs there are ways to help your students learn through
inquiry by helping them exercise their investigative skills. Here are
a few tips you may want to consider when designing or conducting your
next science lab:
of assigning the topic of the experiment, such as "the effect of
pH on the reproductive rate of yeast," phrase the topic as a question:
"Does the pH affect the reproduction rate of yeast?"
- When stating
the purpose of the experiment, avoid presuppositions or foregone conclusions,
such as "to show that yeast reproduce better in acidic pH".
Don't give an answer, have the students investigate for one: "The
purpose is to test the effect of various pH levels (if any) on the reproduction
rate of yeast."
- Try to ask
questions that are general enough so that students are not "guided"
to a particular result or variable. For example, ask "What were
your findings?" instead of "In which test tube did you find
the largest amount of yeast?" Or ask "What was the role of
each of your test tubes?" rather than: "Why did you mark test
tube number 9 as control?"
of asking students for a summary statement ("Explain the presence
of acidic pH in the regular environment of yeast"), ask students
to design a new experiment or to extend their experiment by using the
same equipment in the lab ("Design an experiment to test the effect
of another variable on the reproduction rate of yeast").
of providing students with prepared graphs or charts and then asking
them to enter their data, such as "Enter your data in the graph
provided by the manual," ask students to chart their own results:
"Draw a graph to show the relationship between the reproduction
rate of yeast and the pH level."
Such tips invite
students to exercise their own powers of critical thinking, problem solving,
creativity, analysis, synthesis, or data evaluation in even the most structured
experiments. In the end, students may walk out of your laboratory course
with greater confidence, responsibility, and a greater understanding of
the risks, rewards, and uncertainties associated with scientific inquiry.
"The Laboratory," Guidelines for Improvement of Instruction
in Higher Education Outlines 9 , 4-10.)