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America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science
investigations; to design and conduct scientific investigations; to develop and revise scientific explanations and models; to recognize and analyze alternative explanations and models; and to make and defend a scientific argument. Making a scientific argument includes such abilities as writing, reviewing information, using scientific language appropriately, constructing a reasoned argument, and responding to critical comments.
Understanding the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work. Interacting with the unconstrained environment of the material world in laboratory experiences may help students concretely understand the inherent complexity and ambiguity of natural phenomena. Laboratory experiences may help students learn to address the challenges inherent in directly observing and manipulating the material world, including troubleshooting equipment used to make observations, understanding measurement error, and interpreting and aggregating the resulting data.
Developing practical skills. In laboratory experiences, students may learn to use the tools and conventions of science. For example, they may develop skills in using scientific equipment correctly and safely, making observations, taking measurements, and carrying out well-defined scientific procedures.
Understanding of the nature of science. Laboratory experiences may help students to understand the values and assumptions inherent in the development and interpretation of scientific knowledge, such as the idea that science is a human endeavor that seeks to understand the material world and that scientific theories, models, and explanations change over time on the basis of new evidence.
Cultivating interest in science and interest in learning science. As a result of laboratory experiences that make science “come alive,” students may become interested in learning more about science and see it as relevant to everyday life.
Developing teamwork abilities. Laboratory experiences may also promote a student’s ability to collaborate effectively with others in carrying out complex tasks, to share the work of the task, to assume different roles at different times, and to contribute and respond to ideas.
Although most of these goals were derived from previous research on laboratory experiences and student learning, the committee identified the new goal of “understanding the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work” to reflect the unique nature of laboratory experiences. Students’ direct encounters with natural phenomena in laboratory science courses are inherently more ambiguous and messy than the representations of these phenomena in science lectures, textbooks, and mathematical formulas (Millar, 2004). The committee thinks that developing students’ ability to recognize this complexity and develop strategies for sorting through it is an essential