Laboratory work as a teaching method: A historical case study of the institutionalization of laboratory science in Japan

Tetsuo Isozaki


Practical work, including laboratory work, has been part of science education for more than a century, and is considered an essential component of science teaching. This paper uses historical insights to demonstrate that there is a pressing need to critically examine the role of laboratory work in science teaching. The author performed a historical case study of laboratory work in Japan from the 1880s to the 1930s. Given that the West, particularly the United Kingdom and United States, has influenced Japanese education since Japan began to modernize in the late 19th century, this study refers to the history of those nations with respect to laboratory work, and compares their educational system to that of Japan. The author concludes that practical work (including laboratory work) should be considered a means to an end - not an end in itself - with teachers sufficiently educated/trained in both science and pedagogy, functioning as facilitators who provide students with learning support. Without enthusiastic and knowledgeable teachers, the benefits of quality facilities and an established system cannot be fully realized. Thus, in conducting practical work, emphasis ought to be placed on its purpose and what students can learn from the experience - not on merely the actions they perform in conducting such work.


laboratory work; heuristic method; laboratory teaching method; Japan; the United Kingdom; the United States

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