This section provides a practice opportunity using two virtual labs. Virtual labs are relatively efficient, contained environments. They are designed to give students practice with designing and conducting virtual investigations in preparation for designing and conducting their own hands-on investigations. If you are using these in a classroom, virtual labs take between 2 and 4 class sessions to complete.
The lab, How Does Your Garden Grow? contains simple variables to control. The second lab, Critters!, contains multiple, interacting variables, so that students can find out how combinations of the variables work together.
Complete teacher guides and student sheets for each virtual lab are included as pdf documents. The ideal instructional method is to walk the students through an investigation doing a think-aloud as you plan and conduct your own investigation using the lab. The walk through is detailed in the lab, How Does Your Garden Grow?
In a virtual investigation, conditions are more controlled than during hands-on. This allows students to focus their attention on the logic of the design and the results of the investigation. Virtual investigations can be repeated quickly, and can provide investigative experiences that are not available through hands-on due to constraints of time, resources, or safety.
Virtual Labs are not intended as totally independent student activities. A critical point in the lab sequence is the student-developed plan to conduct the investigation. Investigative plans are approved by the teacher prior to students entering the Investigate section on their own. Because students will test one variable at a time, it can be preferable to have each student group collect data on just one variable, then collect all the data from the class and analyze all the variables as a large group. This is typical of science research and is helpful in teaching students about investigative design.