these and similar laboratory activities may contribute to science learning, the National Science Foundation requested the National Research Council to examine the current status of science laboratories and develop a vision for their future role in high school science education.


Questions about the value of high school science laboratories stem in part from a lack of clarity about what exactly constitutes a “laboratory” and what its science learning goals might be. For example, “laboratory” may refer to a room equipped with benches and student workstations, or it may refer to various types of indoor or outdoor science activities. Today and in the past, educators, policy makers, and researchers have not agreed on a common definition of “laboratory.”

This lack of clarity about the definition and goals of laboratories has slowed research on their outcomes. In addition, mechanisms for sharing the results of the research that is available—both within the research community and with the larger education community—are so weak that progress toward more effective laboratory learning experiences is impeded.

Conclusion 1: Researchers and educators do not agree on how to define high school science laboratories or on their purposes, hampering the accumulation of evidence that might guide improvements in laboratory education. Gaps in the research and in capturing the knowledge of expert science teachers make it difficult to reach precise conclusions on the best approaches to laboratory teaching and learning.

Rapid developments in science, technology, and cognitive research have made the traditional definition of science laboratories—only as rooms where students use special equipment to carry out well-defined procedures—obsolete. Rather, the committee gathered information on a wide variety of approaches to laboratory education, arriving at the term “laboratory experiences” to describe teaching and learning that may take place in a laboratory room or in other settings.

While the committee found that many laboratory experiences involve students in carrying out carefully specified procedures to verify established scientific knowledge, we also learned of laboratory experiences that engaged students in formulating questions, designing investigations, and creating and revising explanatory models. Participating in a range of laboratory experiences holds potential to enhance students’ understanding of the dynamic relationships between empirical research and the scientific theories

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