Descriptive Labs

PreLab: questions to answer before doing the lab

First, carefully read the description of the lab.

In most lab classes, you will have a lab manual that contains background for the lab and directions for doing the lab procedure. There may also be handouts or other materials you have access to. Read it all. And don't just skim it. In fact, you may need to read it more than once to get a good grasp of it.

Next, answer the following questions about the lab:

1. What are you supposed to be learning about by doing the lab?

The goal of this lab is to help you learn about a scientific concept (principle, theory, law) or about a laboratory procedure. Based on your reading of the lab materials, identify the scientific concept and/or lab procedure you are supposed to be learning about. Then write down what you know about the concept or procedure of the lab based on information from the lab manual, textbook, class notes, handouts, etc.

If you are having trouble identifying what the lab is about--the scientific concept or laboratory procedure--check the title and introduction to the lab in the lab manual. It will be something like photosynthesis, quantization of energy, momentum conservation, distillation, hydrolysis, etc...

When you are writing down what you know about the concept/procedure, there is no need to try to make it pretty; just write it. Get as much down as you can. Because the point of the lab is to learn something about science, it's important to state what you already know about it.

2. What are the objectives for this lab?

Describe the specific actions you are being asked to perform in the lab, such as observe, analyze, determine, etc.

Objectives are the activities you are being asked to do in order to complete the lab. Often the objectives are listed in the lab manual. You can list the objectives or write them in a paragraph. If they are not listed in the lab manual, read the lab procedure and figure out from the procedure what the objectives of the lab are. Because objectives are activities, be sure to list them as such: to observe, to analyze, to determine something.

3. What is the overall purpose of the lab?

Briefly describe how what you are being asked to do in the lab (the objectives) will help you learn about the scientific concept(s) or laboratory procedure(s). In other words, show the link between your response to question 2 (what you will do in the lab) to your response to question 1 (what you are supposed to be learning by doing the lab).

This is where you make the all-important link between what you are doing and what you are learning. For example, if the scientific concept is cellular structure, how will observing plant and animal cells under the microscope help you understand cellular structure? This is the kind of question you need to ask yourself. If you are having some difficulty determining the purpose, read over what you have written about the scientific concept/procedure and objectives. Describe how you think completing the lab objectives will help you learn about the concept or procedure?

4. What are some questions you have about the lab?

Look for aspects of the lab--related to the scientific concept, procedure, or anything else--that you don't understand or would like to know more about. Turn these into a list of questions. These questions provide a focus of inquiry for the lab.

As you read the background material for the lab, it is very likely that there will be some things about the lab that are uncertain. Perhaps, you don't fully understand part or all of the scientific concept for the lab. Or perhaps you don't understand some details about how to perform the lab procedure. It may be that you are curious about how you can apply the lab protocol to another situation.

These questions may focus more generally on both the content material and the procedures of the lab. Such questions will guide your understanding of the laboratory concepts and will help you build a good Discussion for your lab report. For example, if conducting a dissection lab, you may want to know about the function of specific anatomical structures, you may want to know about differences between the organism you're studying and other related or unrelated organisms, you may want to know about diseases, you may want to know about different dissection tools or techniques, etc. Keep in mind that you will probably add questions to this list during your lab as well.






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