Less Is More

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Science  18 Nov 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6058, pp. 878
DOI: 10.1126/science.334.6058.878-a

Although educators agree that moving away from “cookbook” laboratory units allows for a better emulation of authentic scientific practice, our understanding of how laboratory materials influence student learning with respect to problem-solving remains limited. Jordan et al. investigated whether the removal of laboratory materials during initial discussions resulted in increased student planning and creativity. Junior and senior undergraduates were divided into two groups, one that was given materials to work with and one that was not, and were asked to design two experiments to determine plant transpiration rate using stem cuttings. Students were asked to record time to completion, describe each experiment, provide drawings of the experimental setup, and to describe in a written report what additional information they needed. Students who were given materials listed two “standard” solutions, whereas students without materials listed an additional five novel solutions, had a shorter time to completion, reported more discussion beyond the instructions, and more often mentioned the natural environment. These results suggest that novice students, given a typical laboratory-based experimental task, focus on available materials, supporting the notion that removal of the laboratory materials can result in greater and more collaborative planning that leads to more creative solutions.

J. Res. Sci. Teach. 48, 1010 (2011).

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