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Science Laboratory Instruction: Summary of Findings and Implications from Four Companion Studies

Priestley, Priestley, and Schmuckler, and Hilosky, Sutman and Wang

Paper presented at the National Association for Research in Science Teaching Meeting, March 23, 1997, Chicago, IL

Source: Eric #: ED406164

Abstract prepared by Chuck Downing, PhD.


Science Laboratory Instruction: Summary of Findings and Implications from Four Companion Studies. ["The Impact of Longer Term Intervention on Reforming the Approaches to Instruction in Chemistry by Urban Teachers of Physical and Life Sciences at the Secondary School Level." William J. Priestley, Holly D. Priestley, and Joseph S. Schmuckler. and "Profile of Instructional Practices Related to Experiences in Laboratory Oriented Instruction in Secondary and Beginning College Level Chemistry Instruction." Alexandra Hilosky, Frank Sutman, and Mei Wang.] Paper presented at the National Association for Research in Science Teaching Meeting, March 23, 1997, Chicago, IL.

Introduction:

Almost all science teachers know about "inquiry" labs. You know, lab activities where students plan and think and problem-solve. Nearly all teachers acknowledge the need for such labs in order for students to become critical thinkers. However, much support for inquiry dissolves into nothing more than lip-service when actual classroom practice is analyzed -- science teachers are better talkers than practitioners in the area of inquiry.

This abstract and commentary looks at work done by trainers of teachers -- they taught a professional development class then followed their "inservice students" into their classrooms. A large part of the follow-up involved an inventory of inquiry-oriented behaviors demonstrated by those teachers.

Brief review:

Studies from 1970-1994 have indicated a significant positive correlation between "inquiry-based lab experiences" and cognitive and non-cognitive learning outcomes. However, the fact that the researchers involved in most of these studies were also the instructors of the students in the studies casts some doubt of their validity. Also in doubt is the amount of actual inquiry done in those classrooms.

"These examinations indicated that at both schools and college level, as well as across levels of chemistry courses, regular laboratory and post laboratory experiences emphasized teaching behaviors that emphasized the instructor addressing procedural concerns with virtually no real laboratory time spent in using behaviors designed to develop higher order thinking skills." [p1]

Not all studies are as bleak as the picture painted thus far. One German university did 25 hours of "inquiry lab" per week. Much of this time was spent by student teams in searching for proper protocols to use in their investigations.

"Observing this behavior or practice led to the understanding that searching for and following directions, as part of laboratory instruction (the so-called 'cookbook' approach), can be a part of inquiry experiences. This is a process used by scientists." [p1]

Careful reading of the preceding quotation makes it clear that the "cookbook" approach is not inquiry; it can be part of inquiry. When students consistently follow steps in a laboratory protocol provided by the teacher, no inquiry has been done in that aspect of the activity. If students have to find the proper protocol, then they have done a part of inquiry. This small part of inquiry, while better than no inquiry at all, should not be our final goal.


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