Laboratory Activities

​​​​Overview

Laboratory activities and classes provide students hands-on experiences with course concepts and significant opportunities to achieve many of the following student learning objectives:

  • Develop intuition and deepen understanding of concepts.
  • Apply concepts learned in class to new situations.
  • Experience basic phenomena.
  • Develop critical, quantitative thinking.
  • Develop experimental and data analysis skills.
  • Learn to use scientific apparatus.
  • Learn to estimate statistical errors and recognize systematic errors.
  • Develop clinical assessment skills.
  • Develop reporting skills (written and oral).
  • Practice collaborative problem solving.
  • Exercise curiosity and creativity by designing a procedure to test a hypothesis.
  • Better appreciate the role of experimentation in science.
  • Test important laws and rules (National Resource Council, 1997, p. 17).

Practical Applications

However, to ensure an effective laboratory experience, it is critical to review the following recommendations:

​I. Preparations

​A​. Pre-Lab (things to consider before the lab even begins)
    1. ​​Identify student learning objectives for the lab exercise.
    2. Ensure that lab exercises align with lecture material or current course content.
    3. Assign pre-lab activities, such as reading material and pre-lab questions, prior to class.
    4. Complete the lab in advance and anticipate questions students will asks.
    5. Develop a brief, mini-lecture that introduces key terms, reviews relevant background material, identifies “real world” relevance of the experiment, demonstrates equipment, outlines the purpose of the activity, reviews safety precautions and explains​ evaluation criteria. (You might consider developing the mini-lecture as an audio or video recording for students to access online or via Blackboard and view prior to the lab.)
    6.  Make any necessary instruction guides and print lab reports.

II. During Lab

A. Lab Work

    1. Review the purpose and the evaluation criteria.
    2. Provide an outline or an agenda of the lab activities and allotted time available.
    3. Make sure lab handouts or worksheets are properly completed.
    4. Check that observations are reasonable and conclusions are based on the data.
    5. Encourage students to work in pairs or small groups.
    6. Circulate throughout the classroom and provide timely and relevant feedback on student progress.

B. Follow-Up Discussion

​​​​1.​ Encourage students to share their discoveries with the class.

2. Some experiments lend themselves to tabulating results, or performing statistical analyses. In these cases, consider discussing the following questions:

a. What experimental observations differed among groups?

b. How do student observations relate to applicable theory/theories?

c. What theories apply and how were those theories developed (history)?

d. How do theories apply to lecture material and to real life?

e. How would such a discovery affect other systems?

3. Students often appreciate an enhanced understanding of lecture material.

a. Wrap-up discussions during the last fifteen to twenty minutes of class to aid understanding; encourage the students to make the connections to lecture.

​b. Discuss and review how the lab activity (and its results) fit into the “big picture.”


III. After Lab: Read, evaluate and return lab reports in a timely manner with specific and cogent feedback.


Adapted from Teaching Introductory Laboratory Courses by Levin (2012.). Teaching Resource Center, University of Virginia. Retrieved from http://trc.virginia.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Teaching_Labs.pdf


Recommended Resources

Related Evaluation and Assessment Resources

  • Sample Laboratory Report Rubrics, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan: http://www.crlt.umich.edu/gsis/p7_11 (This website offers an example of a holistic rubric and an analytical rubric for laboratory reports.)

References

  • National Research Council. Science teaching reconsidered: A handbook. (1997). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Retrieved from http://nap.edu/catalog/5287.html