The Science Lab provides an environment of discovery where students are scientists involved in learning through trial and hands-on experiences. The Lab extends and enhances learning of scientific processes and skills. The Lab integrates technology and mathematics in the Lab experience.
The Student as Scientist
The Lab encourages and expects students to perform as scientists. The Lab structures its activities to provide each student with the opportunity for success by providing a supported learning environment, familiarizing students with established scientific protocols, and addressing varied learning styles.
Lab students work in collaborative teams of four scientists. Such small groups allow each student to participate fully in the investigations, not in the role of a passive observer, but employing tools and processes in the role of an active scientist. Activities are designed to be performed by students because individuals, and elementary students in particular, benefit from a connected, up-close view of physical phenomenon. Such hands on experiments help students infer causes and effects. The small group structure also encourages individuals to work together as a team, seeking solutions to their own questions.
This collaborative environment has resulted in student benefits that were not anticipated. Students identified as having special needs in language and writing skills use their learning strengths to successfully navigate lab activities. These students have an opportunity to perceive themselves as capable learners and even leaders in an academic setting. Student challenges become obscured as the collaborative environment of the lab offers opportunities to display and showcase students in confident roles. While each student contributes from a repertoire of strengths, all students benefit from a sense of belonging to a successful team.
The Lab cements into practice the scientific protocols that are taught as part of the core science curriculum. The Lab supports and encourages safe lab practice, effective use of tools, and careful observation, questioning, and experimentation. Each participant in a Lab team is assigned one of four rotating roles: Experiment Director (ensures that all team members participate and directions are followed); Equipment Manager (acquires and returns all necessary apparatus); Reporter (Reports data to the group); and Noise Monitor (ensures that all team members are communicating appropriately and are being listened to.) Participating in these roles enables the students to appreciate the elements of effective lab work.
The Lab Specialist plans for assessment phases throughout the experimentation process. Students perform experiments in stages, allowing checkpoints to monitor progress and comprehension. Students also record and report their findings to the class as a whole.
Technology Improves Learning
The Science Lab leverages technology to improve the student learning experience. In the Elementary levels 4-5, many students think most capably in a concrete fashion, and so it is effective to allow them to focus their perceptions of the scientific world in a physical manner. In particular, students work hands-on with a variety of instruments and apparatus. The effective selection of instruments and apparatus not only builds literacy with scientific tools, but creates opportunities for more precise observations, which are a foundation of the scientific process.
Students are able to use the SMARTBoard to organize science data compiled through experimentation or research and share this information with other classrooms.
Engaging Community Resources
The Science Lab identifies and engages community resources to build activities that are powerful and exciting. The community participation and response is impressive, as illustrated by the activities incurred last year:
- Parent volunteers have assisted in active experiments, allowing students to effectively interact with complex science apparatus setups.
- Volunteers supported two Science Discovery Days, for 4th and 5th graders. The Lab Specialist designs a full day of science exploration which is delivered exclusively by volunteers, who include parents, retired teachers, and select high school students. Topics include studies in density, displacement, and the chemistry of ice-cream making!
- The Lab obtained use of many different resources from The Cleveland Museum of Natural History. These resources include scientific apparatus, kits, and nature dioramas.
Creating positive learning experiences for both students and parents facilitates a stronger home-school rapport and builds a learning community in the Kenston district. In this regard, the Lab has encouraged parent involvement in lab activities. Their participation not only assists students in taking their work to the next level, but also fortifies the notion that science is accessible and meaningful to members of our community.
Scientific Processes and Learning
There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge… observation of nature, reflection, and experimentation. Observation collects facts; reflection combines them; experimentation verifies the result of that combination. Denis Diderot
Modern science is founded on trial and experimentation. To develop science literacy and promote the application of scientific processes in a technologically supported, hands-on environment among 4th and 5th graders, the Kenston School District has implemented a Science Lab program. Each of eighteen elementary classes visit the Lab each week for collaborative science experiences designed to enhance student understanding of science concepts and science technology and tools.
The Lab provides an environment where abstract textbook learning is translated into applying scientific processes of observation, measurement, hypothesis, experimentation, and organization of data in order to evaluate and draw conclusions. Students experience science as a practical, problem solving process. These concrete, interactive experiences provide a highly effective learning model in which elementary aged learners build science literacy and begin to dispel common misconceptions about scientific matters.
The Lab experience offers positive, supported experiences to children who are of varied learning styles, as suggested by Gardner in his theory of multiple intelligences (1983). Collaboration and problem solving in small groups appeal to interpersonal, linguistic learners. Hands-on activities address spatial, body-kinesthetic learners. Engagement in scientific processes promotes logical-mathematical and critical thinking skills in all children.
Science Lab as a Teaching Model
In addition to supporting varied student learning styles, the laboratory structure also proves a highly effective teaching model. With an opportunity to focus all resources in the room on Science, the Lab Specialist leads students through in depth explorations. As discussed below, the Lab model has presented the school district with new opportunities, enabled an increased focus on student learning, and established student insights into the world of science.
Teaching Opportunities. The Science Lab program makes it technically feasible for the Lab Specialist to develop focused experimentation. To illustrate one benefit of a dedicated Science Lab, consider that a focused experiment may require investment of four or more hours for planning, acquisition of materials and apparatus, and subsequent return of materials and apparatus. Without a Lab program, the time and material investment generally would benefit two classes. With the Lab, the investment benefits nine or more classes. Thus, the Lab permits the school district to deliver efficiently learning opportunities that require an involved setup and preparation.
Student Focus. The Lab Specialist builds teaching delivery and impact by benefiting from repeat presentations. The Specialist, who is studied in the technical aspects of the experiments, focuses on student learning and comprehension.
Lab Environment. Students build interest for the field of Science by working in an environment that is dedicated to Science. The Lab Specialist establishes appropriate protocol for science experimentation and constructs a fitting physical environment. The Lab includes hands-on materials for exploration, laboratory materials and apparatus, interactive SMARTBoard technology for exploring and accumulating results in graphical and other summary forms, scientific displays, bulletin board materials, and nature dioramas.
Lab Experiment Design
The Lab Specialist works closely with teachers to integrate Lab experiences with the classroom curriculum. Collaborative meetings between classroom teachers who teach science in traditional classroom settings and the Lab Specialist occur to optimally integrate and sequence Lab experiences.
The Lab Specialist designs activities that supplement, enrich, and extend each grade level’s curriculum. The Lab Specialist uses her extensive experience in science education, and outdoor environmental education to identify and develop opportunities to maximize benefits to learners in the Science Lab.
The Lab promotes the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and content area skills, as students apply these tools in meaningful problem solving contexts. Math skills are developed in applying charted observations and measurements. For example, students use cubes to construct and analyze the formula for calculating volume. They continue explorations for finding the volume of irregularly shaped objects through the use of graduated cylinders and the displacement method. Relationships between milliliters, cubic centimeters, and grams are introduced and reinforced through further measurement investigations.
Student scientists regularly practice using appropriate units and instruments to measure mass, distance, volume, and temperature. For example, in a study of soil conservation, 4th grade scientists compare the soil run off and water run off of a grassy stream table and a bare soil stream table. Through observations, measurements, and comparisons, students learn which measurement tools are practicable and provide appropriate precision (e.g., buckets v. beakers v. graduated cylinders) and also make inferences about optimal conditions for preventing erosion.
The Lab develops a broad range of experiments to support the elementary curriculum. Fourth grade students focus on units entitled Earth’s Land, Properties of Matter, Classifying Living Things, and Magnetism and Electricity. Fifth grade students focus on units entitled The Solar System and Beyond, Matter and Energy, Populations and Ecosystems, and Light and Sound. These topics have been aligned with the Kenston district science curriculum.
The Lab program does not eliminate science experimentation activities in the traditional classroom setting; the Lab presents experimentation activities that may be best delivered in the special Lab environment.
More to Come
The Science Lab project has proven itself with students and faculty alike. The special environment of a scientific laboratory energizes students. They enjoy science! The Lab is committed to improving its processes to promote student learning, and it continues to assess its experiments and activities to ensure optimal integration with current science standards. The Lab has plans to introduce several new activities and experiments, while updating others.
Implementation of the Lab environment at Kenston has been a rewarding objective for staff and students alike. In taking a step beyond the parameters of traditional classroom methods, implementation of the Lab allows all children to engage in a positive science experience, encouraging receptiveness to life-long science literacy and technological skill.