How important is the laboratory to high school science instruction? This question resurfaces periodically, as competing movements pressure teachers to emphasize literacy and test-taking skills. Indeed, with the widespread movement to replace laboratory activities like dissection with simulations or videos, or to implement “virtual classes” that have no laboratories beyond simulations, one could question the utility of “wet” labs at all.
This comprehensive report begins by giving direction to the debate, by providing a strong definition of what a "laboratory" is and how it can be integrated within the total program. It reviews the literature and presents examples of what works, and to an extent, what doesn’t. The authors first address educational reformers, policy makers, and politicians. Educational administrators and classroom teachers are initially targets rather than audiences---described as impediments to quality laboratory instruction because of lack of expertise or motivation. But eventually the authors address them as agents of change, too.
Anyone who has taught for any length of time could explain the barriers---safety issues; lack of space, time, equipment, material, supplies, experience, expertise, and training; large class sizes; poorly defined goals, and lack of community or administrative support. Because these barriers are well known, this volume won't be of much use to the average classroom teacher. But this concise, research-based reference for curriculum developers will provide ammunition that could be used by curriculum developers in the battle to improve science education.
It is clear that addressing many of the issues here (staffing, equipment, materials, facilities, and training, for example) will be expensive. But future reform won't come without referring to the research in this book and responding to its critic. Here are starting points to define the characteristics of meaningful laboratory experiences. The criteria are laid out. Now we’ll have to see if there is support to make the changes that are called for.