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Re: [Phys-l] Understanding the physics lab

You might want to look into:
- Physics Tutorials
- Physics by Inquiry - teach a class with it now.
--- both of the above by Lillian McDermotts group in Washington
- Minds on Physics - MIT i think - comes highly recommended by others on this list. it is a drastic change in the lab approach.
- Workshop Physics - Priscilla Laws - pretty good stuff. used it as a student.

They'd all adjust the lab process to shorter lab segments that could be arranged to build upon themselves. You'd have to do some tweaking to make these work as a lab separate from class. Most are intended to act as a replacement for both lab and lecture. However, they should give some good ideas about how you could adjust the lab portion.

Good luck.

Paul Lulai
Physics Teacher
Medtronic - St Anthony RoboHuskie 2574
3303 33rd Ave NE
St. Anthony Village Senior High
Saint Anthony Village, MN 55418

(w) 612-706-1146
(c) 612-208-PHYZ (or 4799)
(fax) 612-706-1020 <>


From: on behalf of Arts, Robert W.
Sent: Sun 1/3/2010 10:58 AM
To: Forum for Physics Educators
Subject: [Phys-l] Understanding the physics lab

Greeting and Welcome to a new year and teaching semester...

While this topic is nothing new, I wanted to approach it in the context of the upcoming semester and my ongoing syllabus and laboratory writing. That being said, I'm looking for a "new" (new for me) approach to my second semester, algebra-based physics laboratory. Let me preface by saying that my students (for the most part) are not physics major (mostly pre-med or pre-pharm). I want to try and get the most out of their time with me in the laboratory. We have a three -hour block once a week and seemingly, in the past, many cookbook labs take only a fraction of that time; after which the students head off on their own to complete a laboratory report or notebook. I'd like to change that format. I've attempted inquiry-based laboratories with this group in the past with mixed I'm not looking to really go down that road again.

What I'd like to accomplish is that they remain in the laboratory for the entire three-hour block of time but at the end have produced suitable laboratory report that can be handed in as they leave. My main interest is their ability to not only connect the experiment to the concepts but to be able to relate their own data to the indicate clearly that they understood what really happened in the experiment and what the data meant (good or bad). I'm not really interested in getting a formal lab report out of them with all of the bells and whistles. Those students that are moving on to graduate school will take more advanced laboratories from me in which they will be able to build that skill-set; these current, algebra-based students need to be able to explain why they did what they did and why the results mean something.

More than a decade ago I wrote the laboratory manuals we use in the physics laboratory and continually revise them each year in hopes of finding my "happy place"...which never seems to appear. I've changed many labs into design challenges but feel that leading up to those there should be some formality to their process skills and their ability to understand data.

I could just say "tell me everything you learned from today's experiment based on the data you collected" but that seems too open-ended (maybe not). Nor do I want to simply have a series of bulleted questions or statements that lead them down a path of understanding. Maybe a hybrid of a worksheet and a final essay?? question is more of "what advice can anyone offer?" or what suggestions might you have?

Many thanks, Robert.