The word ‘Laboratory’ was originally applied to the work-room of a chemist, a place devoted to experimental study in natural sciences. Hence the term Laboratory Method was first widely used in the physical sciences to characterise a teaching procedure that makes use of experimentation with apparatus and materials in order to verify physical laws and other facts.
The Laboratory Method of teaching science has in recent years come to connote a learning situation somewhat in contrast and opposition to the demonstration method. Some experts believe that the Laboratory Method is the one in which there is maximum pupil activity.
The Laboratory Method is a planned learning activity dealing with original or raw data in the solution of problem. It is a procedure involving first hand experiences with materials or facts derived from investigations or experimentation. Of it, the Laboratory Method is not one that may be used exclusively. Used in conjunction with some other techniques, it may be a very effective means of collecting evidence in the solution of problems.
The Laboratory Method is used in many different ways. It is, for the most part, planned on an individual basis. Of course, group laboratory work can be carried on, but it is less satisfactory. Previously laboratory work was done, separately from class work and there was hardly any correlation between the two. The trend at present is to merge the laboratory and class-room work, making each supplement the other.
If the Laboratory Method is to produce its maximum effectiveness, it must be planned, directed, and controlled by the teacher with just as much care as is used with a demonstration lesson. Under proper guidance and supervision the Laboratory Method can yield much in training for the development of skills and techniques.
Techniques of the Laboratory Method
The technique can be conveniently divided into three parts or steps namely,
00′ Introductory steps (ii) Work Period (iii) Culminating activities. Let us discuss each one by one.
In this step which provides for motivation and orientation, the following factors should be taken into account.
(a) Determination of Laboratory work to be done
If the teacher has planned this work in advance, then the first step is an explanation of the problem or other work to be done. This may be called presentation. Here is the teacher’s opportunity to motivate the students.
But if the work is to be planned co-operatively by the students and the teacher, the first step is to determine by means of class discussion, the nature of the problem or the work to be done.
(b) Determination of the Plan of Work.
The second step is to get clearly in mind what is to be done. This may be set forth by the teacher who gives the necessary directions for both individual and group work. Since this work is likely to take more time than one period as it consists of various activities, written directions in the form of guide sheets, manuals, work-books and so on should be used.
The introductory step thus considers the problem and the objectives of the work as well as of the plan of work to be carried out. After considering the first step, we now discuss the second one-work period.
The laboratory activity should take the form of a supervised work-period in which groups or individuals have their particular work to do. The students can work individually or collectively on a particular problem or on different problems. Directions must be very specific. The length of the work periods should be determined by the nature of the problems and the objectives. If the laboratory work occupies several days, it may be desirable to have the class meet as group each day, preferably at the beginning of the period for a discussion of the problems, progress and to receive criticisms, suggestions or directions from the teacher.
When the members of a class have completed their laboratory work, the class should meet for discussion and organisation of findings or for presentation of the results of individual work. The following types of activities may be used:
1. Students re-state the problem that the group has been working on and explain its nature and importance.
2. Review of the plan for solving the problem and organisation of plan for recording the data gathered.
3. Presentation of illustrative material or special contributions by students working on special problems.
4. Where students are working on individual projects, special reports may be given before the group, together with an exhibition of their work.
5. Note-books and written reports may be completed for final record of work.
6. Work of the class may be exhibited and rated by members of the class or by competent judges from outside.
7. Exhibits of various projects may be set up and explained by then- sponsors.
8. Tests or examinations may be used as a means of measuring achievement relative to certain outcomes.
Since it would be impracticable to have too great a variety of culminating activities, those chosen should be adapted to the particular needs of the class, as well as to the time available. Written reports and summaries may be required to assure adequate participation of all the class in the completion of the work.
In short, Laboratory Method is a practical procedure which the students have to adopt in order to achieve a planned learning activity dealing with original or raw data in the solution of problems. Even John Dewey in this book “In the School and Society” published in 1896 set forth his philosophy that we “learn to do by doing”, thereby giving impetus to the Laboratory Method not only in home economics and manual arts but in all other subjects.