Why are labs in science important?

From the first lab science I took in ninth grade, biology, I had a terrible time understanding what the importance of labs was.  I figured I could learn anything that needed to be learned from a book or the teacher’s lecture.  Labs were just a waste of time.  As a student that lived inside my own head and often spaced out during lab time, the importance of labs was lost to me until I began teaching students myself and I realized that labs have the power to:

  • make concepts more personal and memorable
  • motivate kinesthetic learners who need a break from the book work
  • demonstrate to students the realities of lab work like sources of error and interconnectedness of ideas
  • allow students to discover concepts on their own before they learn about them in a more abstract sense.

This post will cover why the first two reasons are so integral to learning, the next post will cover the last two reasons, and then the third post will give you some ideas of My Post (28).jpghow you can help your own student be successful, so be sure to come back for the other two parts of this series.

If one type of assignment is going to be skipped in my science classes, it’s generally the labs.  Sometimes students tell me they just don’t have the time or they need parental help so they don’t always get to the assigned lab experiments and investigations.  However, I continue to assign labs in my classes because I find that students often need that physical experience to really cement an idea in their head.  Sure, you can read about how much trash you make in a day, a week, or a year; but having students collect their trash and sort and weigh it makes much more of an impact and makes the topic much more personal for them.  When it comes to assessments later in the year, a student is more likely to remember the experience a lab provides versus something they read in a book.  As proof, I submit the fact that I still remember, 20 years later, that both plant and animal cells contain and endoplasmic reticulum, which I left off of my own plant cell model in ninth grade.

Another great aspect of labs is that it helps students who are kinesthetic learners, especially boys, get a chance to physically learn about a concept.  When I student taught, all the students at the school were required to take physics, but there were several levels to choose from.  The least “academic” version was generally chosen by the students who also attended technical school, mostly because of scheduling.  This version was catered to their need for a hands-on learning experience, as each unit was taught with a project as the focus.  The students built hot air balloons to learn about density, bridges to learn about forces, and k’nex cars to learn about kinematics.  Those students who, in other classes, often performed poorly on written assignments soared when given the chance to create and demonstrate their knowledge in a different way.  They still had homework and tests, but they also had the project to let their grade reflect their knowledge rather than punish them for not being reading/writing learners.

Come back next week to learn more about the importance of labs and how you can help your student when it comes time for a lab activity, but for now please post below with the successes you’ve seen with your own students with regards to labs.  Or if you’ve struggled, please share that too!

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