Laboratories are wonderful settings for teaching and learning science. They provide students with opportunities to think about, discuss, and solve real problems.
Writing about laboratory teaching at the college level, McKeachie said:
Laboratory teaching assumes that first-hand experience in observation and manipulation of the materials of science is superior to other methods of developing understanding and appreciation. Laboratory training is also frequently used to develop skills necessary for more advanced study or research. (in Gage, 1962, p. 1144-1145).
Since late in the 19th century, science educators have believed that the laboratory is an important means of instruction in science. Laboratory instruction was considered essential because it provided training in observation, supplied detailed information, and aroused pupils' interest.
Science labs can be among the richest experiences students have at the university. It is one of the few opportunities students will have to practice science in a similar way that professionals do. In order for labs to be effective, students need to understand not only how to do the experiment, but why the experiment is worth doing, and what purpose it serves for improving students' understanding a concept, relationship, or process.
Shulman and Tamir, in the Second Handbook of Research on Teaching (Travers, ed., 1973), listed five types of objectives that may be achieved through the use of the laboratory in science classes:
Developing and teaching an effective laboratory requires as much skill, creativity, and hard work as proposing and executing a first-rate research project.
Before you begin to develop a laboratory program, it is important to think about its goals. Here are a number of possibilities:
The most important thing you can do to ensure that your lab sections run smoothly is to be well prepared. Your preparation, prior to the start of the semester, should include being acquainted with the storeroom of the lab so that time won’t be lost during a lab looking for necessary equipment or materials, and if applicable, knowing the location of the first aid kit, basic first aid rules, and procedures for getting emergency assistance.
Not only an awareness of the basics of presenting, but also a greater understanding of how group work fits within a larger context.
Establishing contact with students as they work involves learn names and using them in conversations with students. Asking questions means you can watch out for students who look like they're coping well but are really putting on a show. You will discover your own best way to interrupt, but here are some suggested questions:
No matter how long you teach or how thoroughly you prepare, there will always be questions that take you by surprise or you don't know the answer right then. Remain calm, honest, and try one of these approaches for responding:
Managing Laboratory Sections
Labs are sometimes offered in conjunction with large lecture courses so that students may acquire technical skills and apply concepts and theories presented in lecture. Labs, however, are often “stand-alone” classes with no connection to a parent course. Even where they are related to another course, they often have their own agenda that may not be related to the lecture. This hands-on experience encourages students to develop a spirit of inquiry and allows them to live for a semester as practicing scientists. It may sound trite, but you really do have an opportunity to help students develop some appreciation of the mysterious scientific method.
As the lab section draws to a close, you'll want to assess your success as well as that of your students in the lab. As in most situations, evaluations can be conducted both formally and informally.
Gopal, T., Herron, S. S., Mohn, R. S., Hartsell, T., Jawor, J. M., & Blickenstaff, J. S. (2010). Effect of an interactive web-based instruction in the performance of undergraduate anatomy and physiology lab students. Computers & Education, 55, 500 - 512. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2010.02.013
Henige, K (2011) Undergraduate student attitudes and perceptions toward low- and high-level inquiry exercise physiology teaching laboratory experiences. Advances in Physiology Education http://advan.physiology.org/content/35/2/197.short
Schaefer, D., Scott, D.W., Molina, G. J., Al-Kalaani, Y., Murphy, T., Johnson, W., & Thamburaj Goeser, P. (2008). Integration of Distance Learning Technology into Traditional Engineering Physical Laboratory Exercises. ASEE Southeast Section Conference. http://www.srl.gatech.edu/Members/dschaefer/Publications/Final.RP2008044SCH.pdf
Teaching Techniques for Multimedia Language Labs, Centre for Excellence in Multimedia Language Learning, written by Martin Barge http://cemll.ulster.ac.uk/admin/documents/docs/Queen_MaryCEMLL_Final%20Report.pdf
The National Engineering Laboratory Survey: A review of the Delivery of Practical Laboratory Education in Australian Undergraduate Engineering Programs. http://www.labshare.edu.au/media/img/labshare_report_panel_website.pdf
Laboratory Teaching, University of Virginia. http://trc.virginia.edu/Publications/Teaching_UVA/III_Lab_Teaching.htm
Science Labs, Indiana University Teaching Handbook http://www.teaching.iub.edu/wrapper_big.php?section_id=labs
Teaching in Labs, University of Auckland http://flexiblelearning.auckland.ac.nz/teachinginlabs/ includes (with videos):
Part Six: Leading Laboratory Sections, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan http://www.crlt.umich.edu/gsis/gsi_guide.php includes: