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Improving science education in Europe - Map of the variety of labwork

The ‘map of the variety of labwork’ (referred as the 'map of labwork') was developed at a relatively early stage of the LSE project, as a tool for use within the project and perhaps beyond it. It gives a taxonomy of labwork tasks providing a means of describing in detail any given labwork task. To develop this taxonomy, it was first necessary to specify what we mean by.

What do we mean by labwork?
The boundary between labwork and other science teaching/learning activities is not clearcut and is, indeed, somewhat arbitrary. However despite the absence of a clear-cut line of demarcation, 'labwork' is widely recognised by science teachers and educators as a distinct (and distinctive) type of science teaching/learning activity. So, in continuing to use the term, we are not creating a novel category, but rather exploring the boundaries of a category which is already in widespread use and trying to define its characteristics more precisely.

In order to define more precisely what is meant by labwork, how it is designed, what is done by students and what is learnt by them, a map was produced to model the design and evaluation of a labwork task and the influences on each.

This map includes:
Box A: Teacher's objectives (what the students are intended to learn)
Box B: Design features of task/ details of context (what students actually have to do; what students have available to them)
Box C: What the students actually do
Box D: What the students actually learn

The design of a teaching/learning task might be thought to start with the learning objectives the teacher has in mind (Box A): what does he or she want the students to learn? This leads directly on to the design of the task, which is to be used to achieve those objectives (Box B). In designing the teaching/learning task, the teacher intends that the students will do something when given the task. So the model leads on to the question of what the students actually do when carrying out the task (Box C). This may be as the teacher intended, or it may differ from it in certain ways. For example, students may misunderstand the instructions and carry out actions, which are not the ones the teacher had in mind. Or they may carry out the intended operations on objects, but not engage in the kind of thinking about these, which the teacher intended. Finally, the process leads on to Box D, where we ask what the students learned from carrying out the task.

Influences upon students’ actions and learning during labwork include their images of science and their images of learning. Similarly, influences upon the ways in which teachers design labwork include their images of science and their images of learning. For this reason, surveys were conducted to investigate students’ and teachers’ images of science as well as teachers’ views about appropriate learning objectives for labwork.

The model set out above is useful when we turn to the question of the effectiveness of particular labwork tasks. A first level of enquiry into effectiveness would ask the question: o the students actually do the things we wished them to do when we designed the task? This is about the relationship between C and B. It then leads on to the more difficult (from a researcher's perspective) question of the effectiveness of a task in promoting student learning (the relationship between D and A).

Subsets of categories in boxes A, B, C and D were generated, and used valuably as a tool for describing work in various aspects of the project. In particular, the map was successfully used to analyse labwork sheets in biology, chemistry and physics in different European countries as described in the next section.


Marie-Genevieve SERE
Tel.: +33-1-69416707
Fax: +33-1-69412610
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