Academic journal article Science Educator

Science Laboratory Experiences of High School Students across One State in the U.S.: Descriptive Research from the Classroom

Academic journal article Science Educator

Science Laboratory Experiences of High School Students across One State in the U.S.: Descriptive Research from the Classroom

Article excerpt

This study examined the science laboratory experiences of high school students in Utah.


The National Research Council's (2005) publication America's Lab Report: Investigations in High Schoo I Science provided the impetus for this study. In the NRC report, the experiences of high school students nationally are described along with recommendations for improving and supporting these experiences. Since the NRC report was published and this research project was initiated, science laboratory experiences for students have received still greater prominence in the U.S. as leaders of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) testified to the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Research and Science Education. Linda Froschauer, current NSTA President, articulated the organization's strong commitment to laboratory experiences stating that "Science educators are firmly committed to the role of the laboratory in the teaching and learning of chemistry, physics, biology, and earth sciences" (Froschauer, 2007, p. 2). Froschauer further emphasized the importance of laboratory experiences by referring to leading science and science education organizations proclamations regarding the importance of laboratory experiences, stating:

The American Chemical Society is similarly committed to quality laboratory experiences: their Guidelines for the Teaching of High School Chemistry states "the laboratory experience must be an integral part of any meaningful chemistry program. ACS recommends that approximately thirty percent of instructional time should be devoted to laboratory work."

The American Association for the Advancement of Science Project 2061 Designs for Science Literacy states "Learning science effectively . . . requires direct involvement with phenomena and much discussion of how to interpret observations.

Both NSTA and the NRC believe that quality laboratory experiences provide students with opportunities to interact directly with natural phenomena and with data collected by others. Developmentally appropriate laboratory experiences that integrate labs, lecture, discussion, and reading about science are essential for students of all ages and ability levels. (Froschauer, 2007, p. 2)

Beyond this testimony and the belief in the importance of science laboratory experiences for students expressed by the ACS, AAAS, and the NRC, the NSTA has recently revised and published a new position statement titled The Integral Role of Laboratory Investigations in Science Instruction. This position statement states:

For science to be taught properly and effectively, labs must be an integral part of the science curriculum . . .NSTA strongly believes that developmentally appropriate laboratory investigations are essential for students of all ages and ability levels ...

Inquiry-based laboratory investigations at every level should be at the core of the science program and should be woven into every lesson and concept strand (NSTA, 2007).

This research was initiated and conducted in Utah where science education leaders have expressed a commitment to science laboratory experiences aligned to those articulated by these leading science organizations. Utah is not unique in its interest in science laboratory experiences for students. Most other states nationally, as well as most nations globally, have long been proponents of science laboratory experiences.

While the National Research Council's (2005) report provides important information about science laboratory experiences occurring in schools nationally and guidance for improving these experiences, the review of the research evidence for synthesizing this report was drawn from the following three strands: 1) cognitive research, 2) research into stand alone labs, and 3) research projects sequencing laboratory experiences within the science instructional unit. Very few research projects have been undertaken on a large scale spanning a significant geographic area to provide an account of the actual experiences of high school students. …

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