Tag Archives: science

Why are labs in science important?

In the last two posts, I talked about how lab activities benefit your student, but now I’d like to switch gears a bit and discuss how you can help your student get through labs and make a success of those assignments they may be avoiding.  But first, it helps to understand some of the reasons students avoid labs.

  • They’re time consuming.
  • They require planning ahead.
  • They don’t have the materials.
  • They feel overwhelmed or confused.

For the student who does well with bookwork and can get through assignments efficiently, having to stop to complete a lab can seem frustrating or a waste of time.  Since you already know they are important, one way you can help your student is to schedule a regular lab time into your week.  If they know the time is set aside for labs, and possibly means that there won’t be bookwork for that class on that day, they will hopefully see it as less of a time drain and more of a useful tool.

Many labs that you complete will require planning ahead.  If your student doesn’t look at the lab ahead of time, they may not know that the steps will take several hours or days and won’t plan accordingly.  In addition to what they might learn in the lab, this is a great skill to learn for life.  However, bear in mind that most teens don’t have the ability to do this on their own.  The part of their brain that controls executive function, which includes planning, isn’t fully developed yet.  They may need you to model for them how to plan out the activity, and in the beginning, the planning may fall entirely to you.  If the activity will take several days, help them by getting them started each day and showing them what needs to be done.  Write out the steps and which days they need to be completed on and follow up by checking that those steps have been done so that Friday doesn’t roll in and no progress has been made.

Sometimes the planning process will include gathering materials.  Just as the planning may initially fall to you, so might the materials-gathering process.  If the book is broken into units or chapters with multiple labs, try gathering the materials to a single box or cabinet (if it is safe to store the materials together).  Demonstrate how to organize the materials by activity and soon your student will be able to follow your model and gather future materials themselves.

And the final reason many students avoid lab activities is that they feel overwhelmed.  This is often a combination of the first three obstacles and by following the steps above, your student can often avoid this issue.  If labs also overwhelm you, try starting by breaking the labs for a course into groups, then follow the steps above.  Get out a calendar and plan for when each activity must start and how long it will take, giving yourself lots of buffer room for life and mistakes.  Plan to do a little each day or set aside an entire day for labs, whichever works best for your family.  Then gather the materials for the first few labs.  Separate and label the material so you can see what you have and what still needs to be found.  If you see the lab as small steps it won’t be so overwhelming and is much more likely to be done. Think of it like cooking a meal, you My Post Copy (4)don’t do all the steps at once and it’s much less overwhelming if you have all the pieces together before you start.  Planning is your best weapon when it comes to labs. In the end, it’s ok if you don’t do every lab, but make an effort to do a good chunk of them.

And finally, my biggest piece of advice is to let students do the labs themselves and that struggling is alright, even good, for your student.  It’s the struggle during learning that makes the connections in our brains and doing the lab for your student won’t help them in the long run but working by their side and showing that you are learning right along with them will do wonders for their self-confidence and interest in the material they are studying.  Even if you are familiar with the experiment, showing your interest and enthusiasm in the subject will help ignite a fire of interest in your student, even if the topic at hand isn’t their favorite subject.  Lab activities are important, and more importantly, totally doable for both the scientist and non-scientist alike!  If one activity doesn’t work, chalk it up to experience and move on.  Use what you’ve learned to make the next activity a success!

Find a great FREE lab activity here that you can practice with!  It’s fun and it doesn’t count toward your grade, so try it out with your student and see if you both don’t have fun and learn at the same time!  Comment below with how it turned out!

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Why are labs in science important?

Last post we talked about two great reasons why having your labs complete the lab component of a course is integral to success and the benefits it produces that may not be obvious.  This post will cover the other two reasons I feel that labs are truly important to the study of science, and even math.  Any one of these reasons should be enough for you to overcome any reasons you might have to skip the lab portion of a class, but these last two are really important when it comes to upper-level science classes in high school.  Whether your student plans to pursue college or not, these benefits will help them both inside and outside the classroom.

First, a real, but not always obvious, gain of having students complete labs is that they get the opportunity to learn about aspects that are difficult to grasp from just reading about them.  These aspects include, but are not limited to, sources of error, the interconnectedness of concepts, and the physical limitations of lab experiments.  When students have to recreate a famous experiment themselves, it brings to life the realities that those highly-regarded scientists dealt with.  It also shows students why it can be very difficult to prove an idea using a physical experiment and why it often takes so many trials and years of hard work to prove an idea and turn it into an accepted theory.  Labs also demonstrate to students how interconnected concepts they learn are; like when they try to prove that there is no horizontal acceleration when learning about motion in physics, they have to disregard the effects of friction and air resistance.  This also gives them an opportunity to brainstorm their own ideas of how to minimize these effects, which gives them a chance to exercise logic and abstract thinking.  Or when they perform a chemistry titration and forget to put the indicator, phenolphthalein, in and the test tube never changes color.  This never happened to me, but I’m sure some poor soul kept adding acid and the pH never seemed to change.

And, finally, the last way that I want to mention why labs are important for science classes is that it, if done right, can give students the chance to discover a scientific principle on their own.  For example, in my AP Physics classes, students are asked to complete some experiments before the unit starts.   This gives them the chance My Post Copy (3).jpgto think through what they see happening the same way countless scientists have before them, sometimes even deriving the equations that will be used in the unit from their own experimental data.  Giving students that opportunity can do wonders for their confidence and ensures that they understand why the abstract ideas presented are true and how the equations are developed.

I have always been more interested in theory than applied math and science.  Labs weren’t always my favorite part of class.  But having taken many of both types of classes and having performed numerous labs in my time, I can confidently say that labs are an integral part of science (and activities in math often have the same benefits).  I encourage my students to not skip over the lab activities and I would encourage you, as parents, to help your student work through the labs even if you both find them challenging.  The benefits you’ll reap from completing them will far outweigh the trouble you’ll go to getting them done.  Here’s one lab activity you can try with your student and see the benefits yourself, even outside of a course!

The final part of this lab series will cover how you can help your student do well on labs.  It will contain real practical tips that you can use right away.  What barriers have you found that keep your student from tackling lab activities?  I’d love to hear what you think below!

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!