Construct a New Way to do Labs!

Image result for laboratories

Good ole Lab Day. We all remember it as the few times we were on our feet in a science classroom. Teachers always told us it was our activity of the day or week and was usually their implication to try and give us a critical thinking outlet.

But was that the case?

How many times did we follow a black and white procedure?

Image result for science lab procedure

How did we make our data tables?

Image result for fill in the missing data in the following table

In reflection, most labs kind of felt like we were left to fill in the puzzle. We didn’t lead our learning and we were hardly creative about filling in an obvious answer to a question at the end of the lab period.

Image result for bored scientist

The article, “Constructivism: The Implications for Laboratory Work,” from The Chemistry Teacher outlines the flaws in what we as teachers think we’re doing with these labs. The author, Thomas Shiland, makes a valid argument for incorporating the theory of constructivism within these classes.

First off, What is Constructivism?

Image result for constructivism

The theory of constructivism from the article can be simply defined as knowledge being constructed within the mind of the learner. In other words, the learner makes sense of a topic based on their individual paradigms and experiences.

Image result for atom and solar system

(Ex: Learning about atomic structure and electron orbits by relating it to the solar system, at first at least)

Within the article, he claims a lot of ideas to help the students put their own spin on lab day including but not limited to:

  • Having the students choose the variables
    • If you have enough time, trial and error can be super effective in teaching this application
  • Having the students design the procedure
    • While a lab can be linear, let them figure that out along their way
  • Having the students make their own data table
    • Get those empty grids outta here!


Shiland continues the article to further explore different things that these constructivist-inspired labs need to work. For instance, how to manage naive-ness with the student around the content area, how you can incorporate a group learning effort, and even connecting the learning to application. All in all, the argument shows us a practical approach on how to implement constructivism in our future classrooms.

For more, the article can be found at

And Constructivism hardly ends with labs, it can be applied to numerous aspects of life, professional, and social. Take professor Caleb Gallemore for example, who applies constructivisms in the context of international relations. He starts off by comparing constructivism to Neo from the Matrix which in itself could be defined as constructivism in practice on a small scale.

On a personal level, constructivism is ideal to incorporate in the classroom, with labs or not and in everyday. I’ve never felt more connected to a subject when I got the chance to self define a topic, and live and learn in the context of that topic. Constructivism values taking feedback from your world and drawing your conclusions, constantly adapting and amending previous knowledge with new found knowledge. How could I aspire to be a thoughtful, adaptable, and inspiring teacher without wanting to teach those ideals?


  1. Wyatt! I reeaally like that Matrix comparison used in the video. It really helped me to better understand constructivism. I also really enjoyed that your post had a focus on labs. I’ve had a lot of labs that were honestly pretty boring and dull, but I’ve also had labs that were fantastic and really interesting. The labs that I tend to enjoy a lot more were either centered around more advanced concepts, or they took a constructivist approach and the students had a lot more control over the lab process. Have you had any teachers run a lab with a constructivist approach before? How did it go?

    • Peter, RIGHT? I feel like unoriginal labs are so boring and hard to get into in general. I will say I had good labs as well. For instance, We had vague parameters in one lab period, where we were given substances and had to get the two to react in some form. I loved it because my imagination went wild with to do and what would happen. Thank you for comments!

  2. Wyatt

    I thought you sold your article very well! I was hooked right from the beginning because you are so right about science labs in school. They can be so cookie cutter and unoriginal. They never really go deep into the student’s minds to uncover critical thinking. I think you uncovered some good ideas regarding how to make science labs and other activities more constructivist. What ideas do you have for labs that you want your students to do that are more open-ended?


    • Michael, why thank you for the nice comments! I guess an idea I have is to be more discreet with labs, specifically with order of the scientific process for any lab. As we discussed in class, the scientific method is more for how to write it, not perform it. So letting students have free realm of order would be one unique way I suppose.

  3. Hello Whyatt,
    What I want to say, first of all is AWESOME demo! It was one of the best that I have seen. After reading the information that you put in here, I understand what you were trying to do that day. I like how you reference the journal on chemistry education. The journal sounds like a great resource for anyone who wants to teach chemistry. I want to be a chemistry and biology teacher. Chemistry is awesome! I like how you gave the example of relating electrons orbiting a nucleus of an atom to planets and moons orbiting the sun in our solar system. This is a very good example of constructivism because it builds apon the prior knowledge students have. Many people learn how the planets orbit the sun in 5th grade? so they can use this knowledge to help them to understand and remember the new knowledge given to them about electrons. Chemistry, even though I like it now, hasn’t always been my favorite. It is very abstract and I think that adding to knowledge that is already there is effective! It took me forever to understand the concept of electron configurations! It probably does other students, too. I like the points that you make and the points that you found from the article. I once did do an experiment in chemistry where I designed my own procedure, rather than following one. This was the most engaging experiment I think I ever did in the class. What happened was we had a mixture of various materials and we had to separate the materials and weigh them before and after. We had iron fillings, poppy seed, salt, etc. That is about all I can remember. I enjoyed that. I also agree that it would be good to allow students to have more freedom in labs and let them try different things. That is how we learn. Excellent post! The only thing I would add is the APA style citation of the article. Other than that, way to go!
    Delaina 🙂

    • Delaina,
      I ALWAYS look forward to and appreciate your comments, your positivity makes my day! I also did a lab where we decided the process and also loved it and I definitely feel experiments like that are more engaging. Yeah, good catch on the APA style and thank you so much for complementing my demo as well! I LOVED your cartoon, I thought it was super good as a visual, creative supplement and the milk rainbow was fantastic!

  4. Wyatt,
    This is a great blog! I like how it really tells a story from the very start. I’m sure I’m speaking for everyone when I say that we have all had labs that look exactly like that picture and data table. My question for you, is why do you think most labs look like that? Are they effective at all? Is it just easier for the teacher?
    I really like how you compared an atom and the solar system, I have never thought of comparing the two before. Because, your whole blog is about labs, I really like how you ended it with recognizing that constructivism can be used everyday in numerous ways.
    Great blog!

    • Katie,
      Thank you so much for your comments! I guess when I think about it, it may seem good on paper to have a whole organized lab to do with students but I do think the majority are unoriginal and bland. I think it’s both easy for the teacher and attractive in thought and that’s what makes them still implemented in the classroom.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.