Usually whenever a student mentions lab, it is accompanied by a groan or complain. This is to be expected, considering it is a three hour class where you have pre-work (usually timed quizzes), the actual lab to complete (super stressful), and post-lab work (like the report and follow-up questions.)
Even so, I love labs. I happen to be taking two this semester, one for chemistry and one for physics, and I am a teaching assistant for the first year chemical engineering lab. The thing about a lecture, is that even if you attend, there is no way to guarantee that you pay attention 100% of the time or retain everything that was said. In a lab, it is your job to know, or you could end up with bleached clothes and a solid zero for that report. Those reports can make or break your grade. The structure of having to read the lab prior, carrying it out, and following up on what was seen during that experiment truly solidifies what you have learned in lecture regarding the subject of that particular lab.
For example, my most recent physics lab was on waves, both pulse and standing. Measuring the period and wavelengths of the vibrations of a wire and graphing the wavelength vs. the period is a much more affective way of learning the relationship between these two elements than learning about it in a textbook, mainly because you get a visual representation. Furthermore, looking at the units (meters for the wavelength and seconds for the period), you are able to deduce that the slope of these values is the velocity of the wave. Through this one graph you discover numerous properties and relationships of waves. This also makes a connection to music, such as the affect of tuning an instrument, which was addressed in a post lab question. Not only did we draw the relationship conclusions on our own, but we were able to link them to every day things around us. This is one of the best ways of truly taking ownership of the information being presented to us.
Finally, one of my favorite things about lab, is that you cannot be wrong. I mean, you could potentially mess EVERYTHING up, but as long as you recognize it, address it in your conclusion, and show an understanding for what should have occurred had you not messed everything up, your grade remains virtually unharmed. I would say one of my personal talents is coming up with probable sources of error to discuss in my conclusion. For the lab I mentioned in the last paragraph, I think I discussed at least five.
In conclusion, I would say the best thing about labs is that they are a practical application of what you learn in lecture. Any time you aren’t sure of what to do for a lab, you have a specific topic that you can then read about in your textbook or seek help with. Labs are a great way to improve working with others, time management, and following directions. Does it sometimes get annoying to have 9 hours of my week dedicated to labs? Yes. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t numerous benefits that come with it.