Five Strategies for Teaching with Virtual Labs

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Virtual labs (VLabs) are interactive simulations in which students develop an understanding of scientific processes through experimentation. Students make predictions, follow multi-step procedures, build rich vocabularies, convey data visually, and draw conclusions. VLabs are available in four major branches of science: chemistry, earth and space, biology, and physics. Find out how to engage your students with virtual labs and which browsers work best with these resources.

Vlabbrowsers

Visit system recommendations for the most up-to-date list of browsers and plug-ins.

1. Independent Work

All of our virtual labs provide core content materials suitable for independent study. VLabs allow students to view processes and manipulate their components, alter variables to see their roles in processes, or alter reality to discover cause-and-effect relationships. Students can move through interactive resources and tasks at their own pace, guided by individual instructions and targeted feedback. Activity guides, respond sheets, and student answer pages delineate the process and specific tasks.

 

VLab: Photosynthesis

VLab: Photosynthesis

2. Whole Class Instruction

Teachers can use VLabs for whole-class instruction by projecting the simulation for the class. The VLab: Chemical Equations  teaches students how to balance chemical equations.  Students are introduced to the Law of Conservation of Matter by watching a short video and by reading the journal. As a class, try balancing the chemical equations on Tab 1.

VLab: Chemical Equations

VLab: Chemical Equations

3. Tapping into Prior Knowledge

Teachers can make connections between new content and students' prior experiences with predictions. For example, after giving students ten seconds to observe the virtual lab, teachers can ask students to list as many details as possible, record the list on the board, and have students predict what the lesson might be about. Using the VLab: Evidence for Plate Tectonics , students understand cause-and-effect relationships between earth’s lithospheric plates and geological features. Students explore major interactions at divergent, convergent, and transform boundaries.

VLab: Plate Techtonics

VLab: Plate Tectonics

4. Cooperative Learning

Using the cooperative learning strategy known as the "jigsaw," students determine the impact of pollutants on a body of water. The VLab: Stream Ecology illustrates the relationship between the management of natural resources, the sustainability of human populations, and biodiversity. The virtual lab includes four problems: Scenario 1: To grow or not to grow? Scenario 2: Did they milk the system? Scenario 3: Is diluting the way to address pollution? And Scenario 4: Are you getting into hot water? The class is divided into groups. Each person in the group selects a scenario to investigate. Group members with the same scenario then work together to research and share ideas. Eventually, students return to their original groups to share what they’ve learned. In the original groups, students decide which pollutant has the greatest impact on streams.

streamecology

VLab: Stream Ecology

5. Student Partners

Think-Pair-Share is a problem-solving strategy to engage students in rich discussions. The VLab: Free Fall demonstrates the effect of mass, size, velocity, air resistance, distance, and gravity on the rate at which an object falls. Begin by reading the Focus Question: When dropped simultaneously from the same height, how can a feather and a hammer hit the ground at the same time? Ask students to think and write down useful information they already know about this topic. Next, have them pair with another student, and conclude with a whole-class discussion. Students could work on the complete lab activity with their think-pair-share partner.

VLab: Free Fall

VLab: Free Fall

Check out all of our free VLabs!

Virtual Labs: Earth & Space
Virtual Labs: Physics
Virtual Labs: Biology
Virtual Labs: Chemistry

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About Author

Ada Lopez

Ada Lopez develops science resources for Curriculum Pathways. She recently earned The National Braille Press Hands on Award for co-authoring Reach for the Stars: Touch, Look, Listen, Learn. Ada’s goal is to help improve children’s lives. Her inspiration to develop technologies that enhance teaching and learning comes from her years in the classroom. Ada taught high school biology in South Florida and middle school science in North Carolina.

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