The Pre-Lab Introduction
Consider the following elements in constructing an effective pre-lab introduction.
Concepts and Models: What questions is this lab experiment answering?
Data Analysis and Interpretation: How will your data answer this question?
Experimental Procedure: How will you collect this data?
Equipment and Safety Considerations
- Begin the pre-lab introduction by going over related concepts from lecture. Assigning a pre-lab quiz can often address these concepts and be a great jumping-off point for the introduction.
- Discuss with students how concepts discussed in lecture relate to the lab exercise at hand. Use class discussion or small group work to help your students make links between theories or principles and lab practice.
- Help students make connections between the concepts addressed in the lecture portion of the class and their applications in the lab exercise. As the students begin the experiments or procedures, guide them through the principles and concepts being illustrated through the lab. Students should never leave the lab without understanding the point(s) of the lab.
- Discuss the scientific method (at least once during the semester) to help guide students through the lab experiment. This is especially important if students are designing the experiments themselves.
- Provide examples of relevant data analysis and review them with the students.
- Allow students to work on sample data sets in groups or with lab partners. The pre-lab assignment can be helpful here (e.g., see a sample pre-lab assignment); give students sample data to analyze and interpret before the lab, and incorporate it into your pre-lab introduction.
- Discuss how the concepts above are quantitatively related.
- Ask students to consider the units involved for any graphs they make. Should the points form to make a line or other function they know?
Outline what the students should do during lab:
- Briefly go over the lab procedure with students before the lab begins. This helps students focus on the tasks and goals associated with the lab exercise.
- Mention what they need to observe, draw, record, or note. Put overviews or lists of tasks on the board to help students navigate their lab exercises. Be mindful that the lab experience should be a discovery process and should not feel like following a cookbook recipe.
- List what the students must hand in after the lab period.
- It is your responsibility to make sure that students are prepared to conduct the lab in a safe manner.
- Introduce and/or demonstrate any unfamiliar equipment or materials, noting any possible safety concerns in using them.
- Give a short lecture or demonstration on lab safety and, as appropriate, chemical and waste disposal. You should receive this information from the course coordinator.
- Choose an effective format for your lab sessions, and use it if applicable each week. Students will know what to expect every week in lab and can turn their attention to the concepts and procedures involved in each lab exercise. Using a consistent format also makes it easier for you to organize and plan the pre-lab part of the lab section.
- Think about time considerations: One of the most important and difficult aspects of the pre-lab introduction is its length. How much time will you spend introducing the material before students begin the lab? The amount of time spent on a pre-lab introduction will vary depending on the material being presented, so try to judge this accordingly and prioritize getting students started with the experiment.
- Be aware that students tend to get frustrated and anxious to begin the lab if the pre-lab introduction is too long. Striving for an effective presentation while being brief is a sound (and challenging) goal for a pre-lab introduction.
- Use discussion and interaction as part of the lab introduction: Lecture is not the only format for introducing lab material. Often, working in small groups or having a class discussion is more effective in challenging your students to think about the lab. Students often learn as well or better from each other than they do from the instructor alone. Ask students to discuss at their tables and have one student share with the class. Have them take turns being the spokesperson.