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[Phys-L] Inference Lab Design

I've been banging my head on how to design a lab which will impart a
sense of using inference. I intend this for our lower level
(non-calculus) freshman labs, so should be fitting for AP High School
physics range as well I imagine.

General thoughts I have had are to place something in a box and have
them tell me everything that they can about it without sight or direct
physical contact. But framing this so they can determine a worthwhile
quantity of information with minimal direction is a fine line.

Another thought was to allow them to make actual measurements of
something with proper tools (so they know the right value, as long as
they did things right) then require that they obtain the same
information by some quantity of other methods, choosing the precise
number to force them to get creative. This runs the risk of failing to
think of some easy approaches, so groups who think of those ones get off
easy, and groups who fail to think of something easy which you thought
to be obvious flounder helplessly trying to fill the arbitrary number.
Plus since it is a measure you already know... it just feels pointless.

The primary obstacle is that this is intended for the first week in a
first physics course for students who likely have many unfamiliar with
any form of scientific thought. If I could use electronics, I have many
more promising possibilities. But really I can only assume they know
how to use a few basic tools: Balance, ruler, scale, graduated
cylinders. And of course sight, sound, and tactile senses.

Right now, I am giving it up as a nice ideal, but not practical. Anyone
else have some ideas which can get students to think and start the
semester out with some thought?

Jacob Turner - (208)885-2730

Director of Physics Laboratory Education

University of Idaho