Have you ever wondered how to teach science without a lab? Perhaps you have just chosen not to assign the labs, or have given up on teaching science altogether.
I want you to know that labs are very important. They allow students hands-on practice with ideas they have only read about, deepen understanding of course material, and — for some students – are the preferred way to learn. For many kids, they can also be fun!
Obviously, some science classes do not require a formal lab. But many benefit greatly by having a lab component.
High schoolers in particular need to take labs if they are applying to college. For them, these labs are not optional — college acceptance actually depends on it. (Read more about college requirements HERE.)
I am about to share with you some options for families without a fully equipped science lab. These are particularly helpful when trying to fulfill a lab requirement for biology or chemistry. But know that lab options exist for lots of other sciences, too.
Some families choose to co-op science labs. When homeschool parents gather together, they have more impact and power than teaching labs alone. Supplies can be purchased at a discount, or shared if there aren’t enough to go around (i.e., tweezers and microscopes). Parents skilled in lab procedures can do the teaching, and others can help with supervision and clean-up. Co-ops are a cost effective way to teach labs, and are successful in many areas around the country. (What’s a co-op?)
Another option is the lab intensive. When a regularly scheduled lab isn’t available, sometimes cramming an entire year’s worth of labs into one weekend can fill that need. Companies catering specifically to this need are offering lab camps (sometimes called “intensives”) from coast to coast. Landry Academy is one, but there are plenty of others as well. Ask your friends what they’re using, and consider an intensive weekend of labs versus conducting labs on a weekly basis.
One of my favorite options for labs at home is the virtual lab. Click the links throughout this blog as you read, to see examples of some of the free virtual labs that are available.
The virtual lab
Safe and hygienic, available 24/7 and repeatable any number of times, virtual labs can be completed from any room in the house, by any number of students alone, or together. As a bonus, many virtual labs can be found free online.
Virtual labs exist for dissecting animals like frogs, sharks, pigs, cats, plus animal parts (such as owl pellet or cow’s eye). Detailed illustrations and close up photographs allow students to get inside animal parts without needing to do it themselves. Explanations make it possible for biology students to study dissections thoughtfully, and to experience an almost hands-on sensation of being there — without the odor, expense, and [for some students] squeamishness that often accompanies labs of this kind.
Virtual labs are widely available for plant and animal cell studies, too, offering topics like cell division, reproduction, respiration, heredity and genetics studies and more. The kinds of labs are valuable in situations when supplies are unavailable, and are particularly beneficial in cases where intense magnification is needed, but no microscope is present in the home. (Did you know that can find lab on using microscopes, too?)
For students taking Earth Science, virtual labs can illustrate processes like erosion, glacial land changes, weather patterns and the effects of thermal energy. Chemistry studies may be supplement with labs mixing common solutions, or not-so-uncommon solutions without the risk of injury. Criminology and Forensic Science labs are available for blood typing, fingerprinting, and other procedures associated with crime scene analysis.
Finding virtual labs can take a bit of investigation on the part of families. Paid subscription services are available (see Online Chem Labs and Late Night Labs as examples) and free lab simulations can be obtained from textbook companies, science web sites, colleges, universities, museums and research centers.
Keep in mind that virtual labs are no less serious than actual hands-on labs, and should be treated the same way as any other course component. Students should be assigned a lab notebook, and taught to take good notes, ask relevant questions and seek out additional information if they do not understand. If course credit is to be awarded, lab reports should be turned in — and graded – for every lab in the course.
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