Using the laboratory to engage all students in science practices†
This study examines the extent to which the type of instruction used during a general chemistry laboratory course affects students’ ability to use core ideas to engage in science practices. We use Ford’s (2008) description of the nature of scientific practices to categorize what student do in the laboratory as either empirical or representational. One approach to lab instruction, engages students in the empirical practices of science but in a traditional prescriptive manner designed to demonstrate and verify content. The second approach, Argument-Driven Inquiry (ADI), engages students in both the empirical and representational practices of science. A practical exam was used to compare student learning in each condition. The assessment targeted student ability to participate in specific scientific practices, including planning and conducting investigations, analyzing and interpreting data and arguing from evidence. Students who were taught with either ADI (N = 81) or Traditional (N = 76) had equivalent understanding of content based on the ACS-GCST exam, however the mean score on the practical exam was significantly higher for students in the ADI sections. Results also indicate that the mean scores on the practical exam were significantly higher in the ADI sections for all students including female students, under-represented minority (URM) students, and students with lower past academic achievement. In the traditional laboratory sections there was a significant difference in the mean scores on the practical exam for the URM student relative to the majority, which was not present in the ADI sections. However, the opposite was found for students with low past academic achievement; the mean score on the practical exam was significantly lower for the students in the ADI sections in comparison to the traditional sections.