The Cost of an Incomplete Science Education: Why Hands-On Science Experimentation Is Vital

Written by: Linda Jeschofnig, co-author of Teaching Lab Science Courses Online

It is distressing that many colleges, high schools, and online programs offer physical and biological science courses without tactile laboratory components and thus deny their students the opportunity to perform physical science experiments.   Some of these institutions at least provide virtual computer labs, but as asserted by the American Chemical Society and other national science organizations, computer simulations are not an adequate substitute for the science learning experiences that only hands-on laboratory experimentation provides.

There is no doubt that all the advances enjoyed by modern society, from improved health and longevity to an incredible array of functional products and technologies are attributable to scientific discoveries and a continuous compounding of science knowledge through the ages.  This knowledge was unquestionably gained via hands-on experimentation performed in accordance with the Scientific Method’s logical framework that fosters the discovery of truth and our foundational understanding of the natural world.

The Scientific Method teaches us to be prudent and skeptical; to pose questions about the workings of the universe; and to then postulate potential answers or hypothesis to our questions.  From there we devise and conduct physical test to prove or disprove our hypothesis.  While testing we make and record first-hand observations and then analyze our test results and draw conclusions about the validity of our postulated answers.  This contemplative and physical process yields reliable and verifiable information plus provides us with a deep and personal understanding of the science concepts studied.  At the same time, experimentation activities build our logic, pragmatic, and critical thinking skills that will serve us well in every aspect of our lives.

Learning science through experimentation is integrative, requiring us to utilize a variety of knowledge and skills.  Our observation, mathematical, and analytical skills are honed through the process of data gathering and compilation. Our writing and communication skills are sharpened in recording laboratory notes and preparing formal reports that summarize the problems posed, the testing procedures followed, the findings observed, and the scientific conclusions reached.  Since experimentation involves elements of risk, we come to appreciate the importance of lab safety, to recognize potential hazards, and to proactively organize experimentation activities.  We also come to realize the importance of accuracy in measurements and observations, how small errors can have huge consequences, and how mistakes are often the basis for our greatest learning opportunities.

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