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America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science
learning. Within this larger dialogue, debate about the value of laboratory activities continues.
Changing Goals for Science Education
National reports issued during the 1980s and 1990s illustrate new views of the nature of science and increased emphasis on liberal goals for science education. In Science for All Americans, the AAAS advocated the achievement of scientific literacy by all U.S. high school students, in order to increase their awareness and understanding of science and the natural world and to develop their ability to think scientifically (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1989). This seminal report described science as tentative (striving toward objectivity within the constraints of human fallibility) and as a social enterprise, while also discussing the durability of scientific theories, the importance of logical reasoning, and the lack of a single scientific method. In the ongoing debate about the coverage of science content, the AAAS took the position that “curricula must be changed to reduce the sheer amount of material covered” (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1989, p. 5). Four years later, the AAAS published Benchmarks for Science Literacy, which identified expected competencies at each school grade level in each of the earlier report’s 10 areas of scientific literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993).
The NRC’s National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996) built on the AAAS reports, opening with the statement: “This nation has established as a goal that all students should achieve scientific literacy” (p. ix). The NRC proposed national science standards for high school students designed to help all students develop (1) abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry and (2) understandings about scientific inquiry (National Research Council, 1996, p. 173).
In the standards, the NRC suggested a new approach to laboratories that went beyond simply engaging students in experiments. The NRC explicitly recognized that laboratory investigations should be learning experiences, stating that high school students must “actively participate in scientific investigations, and … use the cognitive and manipulative skills associated with the formulation of scientific explanations” (National Research Council, 1996, p. 173).
According to the standards, regardless of the scientific investigation performed, students must use evidence, apply logic, and construct an argument for their proposed explanations. These standards emphasize the importance of creating scientific arguments and explanations for observations made in the laboratory.
While most educators, scientists, and policy makers now agree that scientific literacy for all students is the primary goal of high school science