Hands-on science labs waste time, teachers at a Florida middle school tell the Palm Beach Post.
Greg Loumanis and colleagues at Osceola Creek Middle School replaced most labs with videos, Powerpoint lectures and demonstrations by the teacher. Test scores rose.
“If we take a day to do a lab, (the students) don’t see it as a learning day. They see it as a free day to mess around,” said Jay Mermelstein, another Osceola Creek science teacher who has minimized the number of labs in his classes. He said students quickly get off-topic with labs, so it often takes more time to teach a concept using a lab rather than other methods. He said that it’s already difficult fitting all the necessary curriculum into a semester or a school year.
The National Science Teachers Association recommends that labs make up 80 percent of middle-school science instruction.
“There’s little evidence to support hands-on learning,” said David Klahr, a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. He suggests a mix of hands-on activities, direct instruction and other techniques.
“Teachers like to use discovery methods, but if that’s all they do, the semester is over before you’ve gotten to all the topics,” Klahr said. “If you want to go back to discovery learning things in the classroom, you have to back off high-stakes tests and not have every topic covered.”
Linda Cronin Jones, an associate professor of science education at the University of Florida, blames testing for squeezing out labs. If teachers think their pay will be linked to their students’ test scores, they’ll spend their time on “low-level factual knowledge,” she said.
Loumanis said he recently showed students how liquids with different densities settle in layers in a glass. “Kids can see the lowest density rises. If the kids did the lab, it would take longer and it would be a mess.”