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Teaching a Lab Section

Teaching a Lab Section

Labs are premier opportunities for students to engage in active, hands-on learning. Lab assistants have the opportunity to monitor and assess student work during their lab performance and to provide timely guidance.


Make every effort to attend lecture sessions to discover ways to connect lab to lecture, to support and learn from the professor, and to learn more about the students. Work all lab activities, problems, and experiments before your session and note potential problem points for students. Be familiar with all equipment, procedures, vocabulary, and the lab manual. Practice drawings on the board before class. Communicate with other GAs and the professor about the lab topics, materials, goals, connections to lecture, and teaching practices.

Supporting student work during lab

Get to lab early and be the last to leave. Know and use the names of all students. Walk around and talk to students before class. Bring extra copies of anything the students are supposed to bring to lab, such as handouts, texts, or calculators, and then distribute to those who need them. Lecture only briefly and use the opportunity to connect the lab activities to lecture content. Write all assignments and deadlines on the board, or bring a handout with this important information. Announcing these details is probably not sufficient, and late students will miss your announcements. Never sit away from students while they are working. While you walk around, you can assess how students are doing, and many will ask questions they might not ask in front of the whole class. Talk to small groups. Keep track of time and announce how much time is left for a particular activity. If there are natural breaks in activities during a lab session, take the opportunity to ask students to summarize what has happened thus far, to identify difficult parts, and to announce tips for the next part of the lab. If activities or experiments “fail”, use the moment for a problem-solving discussion. What might have caused unexpected results? How would we plan an experiment to follow-up on our hypothesis? Real science is not canned — neither will labs be.

Adjustments in teaching from lab to lab

As soon as possible after a lab, write notes about its successes and challenges for the students and for you. Note what worked and what ddn’t work for students in terms of such issues as content, methodologies, time, safety, and collaboration. Note the questions that students asked or didn’t ask. Record your perception of how prepared students were to complete and/or understand the lab. Use these notes to prepare for the next lab session and discuss your findings with the instructor of record. You will likely be able to make some changes that will help student learning and performance. If your duties involve grading student lab work, refer to the chapter in this handbook on grading and commenting on student work. Finish the grading well ahead of the next lab so as to take advantage of the opportunity to make changes based on what you learn from their work.

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