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Science Skills: Lab Equipment and Scientific Measurement

At the beginning of each new school year, it is essential that a science teacher instruct his/her students in the basic science skills.  This includes laboratory safety,  instruction in how the lab equipment operates, making proper scientific measurements, how to apply the scientific method, the importance of graphing and data analysis, and a review of basic math skills such as scientific notation.  I have already posted about several of these.  (See the posts below this one.)  Today, I want to emphasize the proper use of lab equipment and how to make scientific measurements.  

During a lab, a variety of tools may be used to allow the student to use an inquiry process to gather information, both qualitatively and quantitatively.  If the student is to reach the desired conclusion, it is imperative that they receive proper instruction on the use of the equipment they will be using. Scientists use a variety of tools to explore the world around them, and these tools are important to the advancement of science.  The tools may be simple or very complex.  One of the first labs I complete with my students is called:  Use of Lab Equipment and Data Analysis.  (You can download this one for free!)  It provides instruction on the basic pieces of lab equipment such as the meter stick, Celsius thermometer, graduated cylinder, and the quadruple-beam balance.  We teachers often assume that all students can use a meter stick, a graduated cylinder, a quad beam balance, and a thermometer, and that they can use all of these accurately.  This is not always true.  It is worth our time to spend one day in lab reviewing the proper use of these basic pieces of lab equipment.  After all, these tools will be used in our classes all year long.

When teaching the proper use of lab equipment, you must also give adequate instruction in how to make precise and accurate scientific measurements. I find that many students will need a short re-fresher on the metric system.  As for accuracy and precision in making measurements, it is the nature of the teenagers I teach to rush, rush, rush to get through with the experiments, giving little thought as to whether or not their data seems reasonable or logical.  If and when time allows, I often require my students to run multiple trials during an experiment to verify their results.  Unfortunately, due to the nature of a school setting, students have learned that science occurs in a 45 minute period of time, and that the first set of data is perfect and acceptable. We, as teachers, do what we can do with the schedule forced upon us by our schools, but you must try to give opportunities that require students to repeat and verify lab data.

Here are some of the materials that I have developed to help with the instruction and reinforcement of these basic science skills:

Free Lab:  Use of Lab Equipment

Lab: Making Metric Measurements (Length, Mass, Volume, and Temperature

Measurement Madness

Significant Figure Lab

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