• Support PF! Buy your school textbooks, materials and every day products via PF Here!

Labs vs activities

  • Thread starter nmsurobert
  • Start date
246
26
i'm about to finish my first year of teaching. The district says that 40% of the ciricumlum is supposed to be "labs", but from what I've seen teachers pass as labs are more like activities.

What do you consitiutes a lab versus an activity in a high school setting?
 

jtbell

Mentor
15,371
3,117
from what I've seen teachers pass as labs are more like activities.
Can you give specific examples?

What does your curriculum consider to be "labs" versus "activities"?

(I've never taught at the high-school level, and it's been close to 50 years since I was in high school.)
 
246
26
Can you give specific examples?

What does your curriculum consider to be "labs" versus "activities"?

(I've never taught at the high-school level, and it's been close to 50 years since I was in high school.)
Perfect example of what passes as a "lab". The students are given a handful of oreos, and are asked to separate them. Then, using a spoon or something, cut the cream of enough oreos to represent the phases of the moon.

A lab that I did required the students to question the structure of light and build a spectroscope out of household stuff. Then use the spectroscope to look at light sources and determine where they were different/similar.

But both pass as labs. I feel the first is no where near a lab. no hypothesis had to be made. no investigations had to be done.
 

Andy Resnick

Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
7,279
1,666
i'm about to finish my first year of teaching. The district says that 40% of the ciricumlum is supposed to be "labs", but from what I've seen teachers pass as labs are more like activities.

What do you consitiutes a lab versus an activity in a high school setting?
Let me start with a disclaimer: education-speak is (rightly) subject to quite a bit of ridicule. In Ohio:

"A laboratory experience should reflect the Cognitive Demand categories Demonstrating Science Knowledge and Designing Technological/Engineering Solutions Using Science Concepts and guide students as they collect, analyze and interpret data while conducting scientific investigations."

"'Inquiry-based' instruction in science is an active way for students to obtain scientific knowledge that involves all of the following in one way or another:
  • making observations and describing objects and events;
  • identifying and asking valid and testable questions to guide scientific investigations;
  • examining books and other sources and learning from lectures or discussions to gather information to see what is already known;
  • reflecting on appropriate scientific practices and procedures during the planning, designing and conducting of investigations;
  • using tools to gather, analyze and interpret data;
  • using technology and mathematics to improve investigations and communications;
  • organizing, evaluating and interpreting observations, measurements and other data;
  • reviewing what is already known in light of experimental evidence;
  • developing hypotheses and alternative explanations, proposing answers, suggesting models and providing predictions;
  • evaluating a variety of assumptions and conclusions and revising explanatory models using logic and evidence;
  • communicating ideas, results of investigations and scientific arguments to others for discussion and evaluation.
The components listed above should not be considered as a fixed sequence of steps in instruction. Different kinds of inquiry suggest different kinds of investigations for students to conduct. The components of scientific inquiry listed above encompass the teaching strategies expected in an inquiry-based, laboratory experience science course (and science laboratory course for districts using that means of scheduling classes). Scientific inquiry also is a set of abilities to be developed and concepts to be understood by students."

Now: How to balance 'inquiry-based learning' with specified course content? And, how to accomplish the activity in the allowed 1- or 2-hour time window? This is why 'labs' tend to be 'activities'.
 

Dr. Courtney

Education Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
2018 Award
2,959
1,883
My view is that a legitimate lab needs to have a hypothesis and perform an experiment that represents a legitimate test of that hypothesis through the scientific method. A real lab must go further than merely demonstrating an important principle, it must be an execution of the scientific method - a chance to practice and exercise and become proficient in the scientific method itself with a possibility of flasifying the principle in question. The goals and documentation sent to accrediting agencies usually associated with high school and college labs and lab science courses supports this view.

However, I find it hard to blame the high school science teachers when their labs fail to meet this standard. Labs meeting this standard tend to require considerably more preparation time and equipment expense than oreo-type activities. Labs meeting this standard also require more classroom time to execute, and completing these labs in a 50-55 minute high school class or meaningfully splitting a lab across multiple class periods is difficult. Given the time and resource constraints, the substitution of oreo-type activities in place of real experiments is expected. (Not justified, but expected when asking teachers to make bricks without straw. My point is that the responsibility is shared between teachers, administrators, and districts.) Just last week, I recommended that a local school who sought my advice figure out how to implement a two hour lab period to help address this. I also recommended that teachers of lab science courses have their course load cut from 6 to 4 classes given that all their courses are different subjects (small school) to allow time for improved labs. But do the math on my recommendations. What are the odds many schools can afford and follow them given limited resources?

Another factor playing into the widespread substitution of activities for labs is content-based standardized tests. Other than the ACT (which favors more real labs), most standardized science tests heavily favor subject matter content mastery (regurgitating facts, solving problems with established methods) above designing experiments and determining whether inferences are valid or not from experiments that are described along with their resulting data. Teachers, schools, and districts have very little in terms of penalties for substituting activities for labs, and there may even be slight reward if the activities help reinforce subject matter content through visual and kinesthetic learning. Students don't pay the price until they take the ACT or get to a college lab course where real experiments are required in the lab.

Given the reduced labor crunch, improved facilities, and 2-3 hour lab periods, most college profs have zero excuses if they are substituting oreo-type activities for real labs. There is plenty of opportunity for 14-15 real experimental labs in most semester long college science courses, and I'd love to see an accreditation hit for those who are giving it short shrift.
 

Dr. Courtney

Education Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
2018 Award
2,959
1,883
I have attached the answer key for a real high school lab that I regard as quite satisfactory in many ways. The first two pages are the original lab worksheet (hand out) where students completed the tables while doing the experiment. These make up the intro, method, and beginning of the results in their lab reports. Pages 3 and 4 represent the completed results and discussion sections.

Perfect? No. But it is a real experiment and represents a real lab. 2% error is not bad for high school either.
 

Attachments

Dr. Courtney

Education Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
2018 Award
2,959
1,883
Here's another example lab (just the worksheet, not the complete report or key) where students measure the speed of sound directly by echoing the report of a firecracker off the side of a building. No doubt, there are a few things to quibble with here. The temperature was about 1.7 deg C the day the experiment was performed, and the students' experimental values for Vsound ranged from 334 to 335 m/s, which were within 1% of the value based on the measured temperature. Not bad for a high school science lab.

Permission from the principal was required for the firecrackers, and outside help was required to provide enough supervision and ensure safety. But on the whole, this experiment had a lot of pizzazz given the makeup of the class.
 

Attachments

Dr. Courtney

Education Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
2018 Award
2,959
1,883
Here's another example lab (just the worksheet, not the complete report or key) where students measure the acceleration of gravity to within 1% by videoing a falling ball and analyzing five videos in Tracker. Each single trial has an error less than 1%, so the average of 5 trials has an uncertainty less than 0.3%. Not bad at all for high school physics. Like the above labs, this lab design is also convenient for splitting the experiment and analysis across 2 or 3 50 minute high school classes. Class 1: make the videos. Class 2: Use Tracker to get position vs. Time. Class 3: Complete the analysis.
 

Attachments

Dr. Courtney

Education Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
2018 Award
2,959
1,883
I also think there is some room in a high school lab program for a small number of virtual labs, by which I mean labs where the original experimental data is taken from a well-documented experiment to test a hypothesis (rather than having data simulated by a computer program with or without added error).

For example, the attached lab worksheet uses Robert Boyle's published data from 1662 to provide an experimental test of Boyle's law. Sure, a laboratory replication would be preferrable, but there were prohibitive time and resource constraints for this class. Now, I don't think such virtual labs should ever be the bulk of a laboratory program, but if there are, say 12 or so real physical experiments over the course of a year, 6 or so virtual experiments can broaden both the topical coverage and historical interest in a very cost and labor effective manner. A lot of important historical data is found here: http://web.lemoyne.edu/~giunta/classicalcs/names.html

It's also not hard to google up the original data needed to test Kepler's Third Law or to find very high quality modern data for testing it in either the planets around the sun or various moons around their planet. But on the whole, "virtual labs" need to be tempered and represent a minority of labs over the course of a year so that students really appreciate the experimental design and measurement process that went into acquiring the data used in them.
 

Attachments

Want to reply to this thread?

"Labs vs activities" You must log in or register to reply here.

Related Threads for: Labs vs activities

Replies
4
Views
2K
Replies
19
Views
28K
Replies
4
Views
969
  • Posted
Replies
3
Views
1K
  • Posted
Replies
10
Views
1K
  • Posted
Replies
5
Views
818
  • Posted
Replies
2
Views
5K
  • Posted
Replies
11
Views
1K

Physics Forums Values

We Value Quality
• Topics based on mainstream science
• Proper English grammar and spelling
We Value Civility
• Positive and compassionate attitudes
• Patience while debating
We Value Productivity
• Disciplined to remain on-topic
• Recognition of own weaknesses
• Solo and co-op problem solving
Top