Discovery/open inquiry based labs
Most students of
chemistry in the past 50 years have performed what are considered
‘verification’ labs in which they are given a detailed procedure, almost
recipe-like, that tells them exactly what to do, what to observe, what to
calculate, what to learn. That might be well and good if all we want to do is
learn how to be a lab assistant, doing the same thing over and over again.
My goal as an instructor is to
teach you how to think critically. An effective way of doing that is to allow
you to experiment (with some guidance and safety tied in) in learning the
Some of the experiments we will
be doing this semester are verification type. Others are more open ended which
will force you to do more thinking. However, you will have more control over
these experiments, so you will learn more at your pace and get much more out of
the experience. These experiments will usually begin with a simple question.
You will be given a certain amount of equipment and chemicals to do your
experiment. Amounts and procedures will be dreamed up by you and your
partners. These labs cannot be done without everyone’s input. If you think you
can just sit back and let your lab partners do all the work, you are mistaken.
Each week you will be
working with someone else in the lab (1 or 2 other people) You will be
assigned lab partners in obscure and interesting ways. You will not find out
who your lab partner is until the beginning of lab, hence final procedures cannot be
dreamed up until that point.
The labs usually have
prelab readings and questions to be answered. The readings are important and
should not be 'skipped'. If you do not turn in a prelab set of questions, you
obviously are not prepared for the lab. You will not be allowed to begin and
will be asked to leave the room. As usual, all hand written information you
turn in should be submitted on a piece of recycled paper. Unless explicitly
told to do so, do not print off pages from the course website. That defeats
the entire use-less-paper concept.
Safety in these labs is more
important than in the verification type as you have more freedom. Anyone in
the lab can call to a stop of anyone’s lab for safety considerations. All
members of each group must understand what is going on and paying attention to
the actions of the others members. The instructors can not be all places at
all times. You are ultimately responsible for your own safety.
Send Doc Ott questions or comments here
Last Updated 3 Jul 03