Measuring soil temperature at different depths

Virtual Labs


Virtual Labs

  1. Introduction
    • What characterizes effective laboratory investigations?
    • Supporting remote and virtual investigations
    • Class periods are of fixed lengths. Investigations are not.
  2. Sample Labs
    • Afforestation: tree biomass & carbon dioxide storage (pdf, Grades 6-12) (322 KB)
    • Finding Climate's Fingerprints in the Environment (Google Doc, Adaptable across K-12)
  3. The Lab Lab
  4. Notes for New York State Regents Science Teachers


Hands-on engagement has been a central part of effective teaching and learning science for generations. In most science curriculums this takes the form of in-school laboratory activities. The widespread adoption of remote learning during the Covid-19 pandemic pointed to new opportunities for hands-on learning through redesign what school laboratory work could look like.

This page is the gateway to resources to support lab work that can be completed either virtually or remotely. Virtual labs require only an Internet-connected device. Remote labs can be done without the resources of an in-school laboratory, but still involve learners working with physical materials, and often take advantage of outdoor spaces in both urban and rural settings.

Remote and Virtual Lab Resources from PRI

In the Greenhouse: Climate Change Science and Solutions

This 20-part video series is designed for both teachers and learners, providing visual instruction and demonstrations that support a climate change module or curriculum. The elements can be adapted for learners in grades K-14. The videos are supported by written background and context, with links to handouts, data, and related resources.

Climate's Fingerprints is an observational lab that can be scaled from an activity lasting a few minutes to an investigation lasting all year. Like many labs involving observations of the natural and designed world outside of the classroom, it can indeed be part of a years-long investigation where students can build upon and work with data collected by students in previous years. The short version of this activity is one of the shortest activities that students and teachers can do as a lab activity.

What characterizes effective laboratory investigations?

The 2019 report from the National Academies, Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12 Investigation and Design at the Center, suggests  engaging all students in learning science and engineering through investigation and design benefits from a system that supports instructional approaches that:

  1. choose phenomena that are interesting to students, for example those that can be examined in contexts relevant to students;
  2. provide a platform for developing understanding of three-dimensional science and engineering knowledge; and
  3. provide an opportunity for using evidence to make sense of the natural and engineered world beyond the classroom.

These approaches can build on students’ natural curiosity and wonder and support students in developing a useful understanding of the nature of science (pages 14 & 15).

Class periods are of fixed lengths. Investigations are not.

Some laboratory work will continue to look much like it has for generations as schools institute hybrid or fully face-to-face instructional models. While many or all of the investigations and investigative strategies shared here could be done in classroom settings, classroom laboratory activities are not the focus of this resource. We traditionally think of school science labs as settings where each investigation is typically completed in a single class period, about 40-90 minutes in length. Of course scientific investigations in research laboratories and other settings where professional scientists work are rarely completed so quickly. We also know that duration of investigations vary widely. Worthwhile investigations can vary in duration from minutes to decades. The resources within Earth@Home support investigations that reflect this wide time range.

Sample Labs

The Virtual Labs collection is just beginning to come online in Fall 2020. Check back frequently in the coming months for additions to the collection.

The three resources listed here are a sampling of different kinds of labs.

  • Afforestation: tree biomass & carbon dioxide storage This lab could be completed in one or two class periods. It could be done either on the school grounds or remotely. Students are expected to collect data outside as part of the investigation. (pdf, Grades 6-12) (322 KB)
  • Finding Climate's Fingerprints in the Environment This activity could be completed in a few minutes or extended to a longer activity of a class period or two. A view of the local (outdoor) environment is required. The environment can be viewed out the window, and can be urban, suburban or rural. (Google Doc, Adaptable across K-12)
  • Virtual Fieldwork This is a collection of resources that includes dozens of Virtual Fieldwork Experiences (VFEs), resources to support the use of VFEs, and tools and strategies for making VFEs with students or on your own. (extensive collection of activities)

The Lab Lab

The materials in this section are in development. We are investigating these investigations and would like your feedback. A characteristic of PRI's work with teachers is to engage with them as our colleagues, not merely as participants in our programming.

If you are able to explore these activities and perhaps try components with your students, your input on how to improve and complete them will be highly valued.

Each activity here has components and ideas that the adventurous will find useful and interesting. We also believe that trying out activities that are not fully polished is more representative of the scientific enterprise. These activities in development offer an opportunity to model figuring things out, which, as science educators is central to our work.

  • The Virtual Fieldwork Template - Oregon Coast is an opportunity to explore the biology and geology of the Oregon Coast. It is also serves a model for framing the investigation of an terrestrial environment. Ideally, Virtual Fieldwork catalyzes actual fieldwork rather than replacing it. This template is intended to support learners and educators in the doing of fieldwork and provide a way to document that work so it can be shared with others. (Prezi)
  • How many fires burn for you? This activity focuses on the question in its title. For 90% of Earth's history, there was no dry fuel available as there was no life on land. That means there was essentially no fire. Now, billions of fires are burning all of the time. How many are burning for you? (Google Doc)

Notes for teachers of New York State Regents Science Courses