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 chemistry.
         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.

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Last Updated 3 Jul 03