We're still in the hunt for a math/science teacher at my school. I was told that there was an applicant who has the right endorsements---but did so without ever taking a lab science class. It sounds a little hard to believe that this person paid for a degree (it's a second career teacher) that didn't involve any experience with doing science. But programs can offer what they like and the state is only looking for a requisite number of hours on the transcript. There is no requirement about the amount of lab science a teacher must take.
What about students? Currently, students in Washington state are required to have two credits of science in order to graduate---only one of those credits must be in a "lab science" as defined by the local school board. Rather pathetic, don't you think?
Meanwhile, a new national study is questioning the quality of lab science in U.S. high schools. "The typical lab is an isolated add-on that lacks clear goals, does not engage students in discussion and fails to illustrate how science methods lead to knowledge...Also contributing to the problem: teachers who aren't prepared to run labs, state exams that don't measure lab skills, wide disparities in the quality of equipment and a simple lack of consensus over what 'laboratory' means in the school environment. Even the way class time and space are organized in high schools may be limiting progress, the study found."
I am fortunate to work in a building with good quality lab facilities. The same is not true across the school district (or elsewhere). But do we use them to help our students "master subject matter, develop scientific reasoning, understand the complexity of work involving observation, and develop teamwork abilities and cultivate an interest in science"? I believe that's what is in our heads when we plan and do a lab with kids---but I don't know if that always comes across as things are happening. I know that I don't always take the time for a rich discussion following the lab.
I am wondering if any research has been done into what makes a high-quality lab experience. I mean, what are the particular strategies a teacher should use? (Anyone out there looking for a dissertation topic?) As I have been looking around recently, it seems like a lot of people are admitting that we don't know a lot about what makes for quality teaching. Education schools have been so rooted in theory that they haven't done a lot to research best practices and put them in the hands of those in the trenches. This may be part of the reason so many teachers leave the profession in short order: they can talk at length about Plato's idea of what it means to be an educated person and the purpose of education, but they don't know how to help Johnny be an active learner.
I will certainly be watching for more information in this area. As district Science Goddess, I feel strongly that I put the best possible tools into teachers' hands. They have an overwhelming job to do---with no time to research this on their own. And it makes no sense for each of them to find things out individually and create the same wheel over and over. More on that idea tomorrow.
Update: My Sweetie sent a link for this article at Edutopia concerning "Appropriate Assessments for Reinvigorating Science Education." Have a peek, too, if you're interested.