“When Are We Going to do Another Lab?”
Early on in my teaching career, I had a student ask me this question and I panicked. I had a hundred responses on we couldn’t do labs ALL. THE. TIME., but looking back most of them were just excuses coming from a brand new teacher.
I always felt like teaching science was the best job in the school. For the most part, kids were excited to be in science class, and it was easy to keep kids engaged. Let’s get real here for a second. I could have been tasked to make the Louisiana Purchase enjoyable to a bunch of 12-year olds. No thanks!
The flip side is that science teachers have challenges that other subject area teachers might not have. I don’t ever remember seeing the English teachers giving chemicals and hot plates to a group of 30+ middle-schoolers.
So, Why Don’t We Do More Labs in our Classes?
I’ve come up with five reasons why it’s a challenge to do labs on a routine basis.
1. No resources – If your schools are anything like mine, then your curriculum is piece-mealed together from former teachers, some non-aligned purchased curriculum, or late night Pinterest binges.
I’ll go as far as to say that I’m betting if I walked into your classroom today, and asked you to show me your lab on the cell theory, you would either look at me with a blank stare or laugh in my face. Could you print out the lab write-up and show me a demo of how it’s going to work within a few minutes? If so, then consider yourself ahead of the curve.
More importantly, is it aligned with the objective or state standard? Remember, just because students are learning it doesn’t necessarily mean they are learning the right things.
Putting the labs together was a constant battle for me. Is the timing right? Are the labs differentiated for different learners? Are the processes clear? Are my reflections questions relevant?
2. Funds – The second frustration I encountered was that there never seemed to be any funding throughout the year. I was never in a school where my budget for the year was a known figure. It was a coin flip whether or not I was going to be able to make a Wal-Mart run and get reimbursed for it. Funding is necessary for various labs, and I often felt like they weren’t going to happen unless I went ahead and paid for it myself.
3. Students Can’t Handle Labs – This was a myth that I told myself early on in my career. The reality was that I couldn’t handle the classroom management of labs. It drove me nuts to see students messing around when I knew those same students would get just as much out of sitting quietly and taking notes. The latter scenario was more comfortable for me, and it’s something I struggled with over and over.
4. Space – My first classroom was a tiny room not-so-cleverly disguised as a science room. There wasn’t a matching chair or table in the entire room, and there were no countertops at all. It was not an ideal setup, and it would have been effortless for me to add this to my “This is why we can’t do more labs” list.
5. Time – All of the problems above add up to a lot of prep time for the teacher. It’s our job as educators to provide the best lessons and activities for our students and a portion of that job requires prep time. I don’t think there’s a way to avoid it, but there is a way to minimize wasted effort.
Another issue with time is that sometimes labs can seem like they don’t provide enough bang for our buck. Why do a lab when I can quickly tell you the cell theory in 3 sentences and move on to the next topic? I know that answer, but we’ll save that for next time 😉
These obstacles are real and happen in classrooms across the country. We can accept them as truths, or we can challenge the status quo and do something about it.
Since leaving the classroom, I have been on a mission to make life easier for teachers and more meaningful for students. Next week I’m going to share with you how Kesler Science is solving the difficulties with doing labs in the classroom.
I cannot wait to show you what we’ve been working on how they are going to improve your classroom. Stay tuned.