Almost all graduate students in the sciences will teach a laboratory at some point in their graduate careers. Labs should be a process of discovery for students as they uncover the mechanisms behind important scientific principles. The GSI’s role is to lead students through the learning experience by giving them the conceptual basis for the lab, and to guide them through the investigation so they can make discoveries on their own.

It is common for students to miss the point of a lab. GSIs can substantially improve the usefulness of labs by providing the framework that students miss. What is the question we are answering? How will the data we collect answer this question? How can we collect this data?

Labs present a unique challenge as they combine many different aspects of teaching, including:

  • lecturing
  • organizing group work
  • leading hands-on learning
  • asking meaningful questions
  • creating assignments
  • evaluating student work

Your goal as a teacher is to make the most effective use of the lab period in order to give students a beneficial, hands-on experience of doing science. There are two aspects to teaching labs that are sometimes difficult to juggle but are interrelated and complementary:

  • Pedagogy: Determining the best teaching methods for the desired outcome; making sure students think through the models they can use to explain what their data is showing and ultimately answer the main question.
  • Logistics: Ensuring the experiments go smoothly and that your students understand the tasks they need to accomplish; helping your students accomplish those tasks in an efficient and timely manner.

Holding these two aspects together can be challenging at times. However, combining a smooth-running, efficient lab section with sound pedagogical techniques will provide your students with a successful learning experience.

This section of the Teaching Guide presents techniques designed to help you meet both teaching goals.

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