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Dismal School Labs Must Be Upgraded

Chemistry Lab (image by mjmkeating - Flickr Commons)

As any scientist will tell you, the lab is where all the fun happens. And, giving students compelling, hands-on lab exercises is a way to ignite their curiosity and interest and should be commonplace in all American high schools, writes Francis Eberle, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, in a recent Education Week opinion piece. Yet, he adds, citing a National Research Council Report from a few years ago, too many school labs are “dismal at best” and these sub-par facilities are a big reason why students get turned off by science and don’t go on to study it at college. Too many school districts, Eberle says, do not view labs as integral to science instruction. Big mistake. “Good teachers know that high-quality laboratory and field experiences are an essential part of inquiry — the process of observing, asking questions, and forming hypotheses.”

This month, the country marked National Lab Day (NLD), which was cosponsored by Eberle’s association, and it kicked off a five-year, national initiative to help high school teachers get input from science professionals on how best to use hands-on, inquiry-based lab projects to improve STEM education and better integrate lab work into science curricula, he explains. Teachers and scientists will collaborate via the NLD website, and teachers can also use the site to seek funding and other resources. The initiative is part of the White House’s public/private Educate to Innovate program, and it’s being supported by more than 200 science associations and societies. NLD, Eberle concludes, can provide teachers “with the tools and community resources that will give their students a high-quality lab experience.”

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