Action Research 10
emphasizes both authentic assessment and the importance of labs. “Investigations and experiments engage scientists, catalyzing their highest levels of creativity and producing their most satisfying rewards” (p.278). Whether or not teachers are meeting this expectation is in question according to Singer, Hilton, and Schwiengruber (2005a as cited in Long, 2005). They said that, "Most people in this country lack the basic understanding of science that they need to make informed decisions about the many scientific issues affecting their lives" (p.ES-1). This seemed to indicate that there was a gap between standards of authentic experiences and actual execution of authentic experiences. The National Research Council (2005) had similar findings. They qualified the status quo of current student laboratory exercise experiences as poor.
The same study recommended following a few design principles to help laboratory experiences improve student learning. Those principles included clear learning outcomes, thoughtful sequencing into the flow of instruction, integration of content and processes, and incorporation of continuing student reflection coupled with discussion. All of these principles could also be exercised in authentic tasks in the form of field work.
Inquiry is fundamental in the sciences. “Those who study scientists at work have shown that no research method is applied universally” (Carey, 1994; Gibbs and Lawson, 1992; Chalmers, 1990 and Gjertsen 1989, as cited in McComas, 1998, p.58). However, McComas instead said that scientists rely heavily on asking questions, exercising imagination, harnessing creativity, engaging prior knowledge, and employing perseverance. Ahlgren & Rutherford (1990) came to similar conclusions when they said inquiry is a distinctive characteristic of science.