Thinking Critically in Physics Labs

These labs aim to teach students about the nature of scientific experimentation and to develop their experimentation and critical thinking skills. In the materials below, you will find the most recent incarnation of our Introductory Mechanics labs, with Electricity and Magnetism labs on their way!

COURSE-WIDE OBJECTIVES

By the end of the three-course intro lab sequence, students should be able to:

  1. Collect data and revise an experimental procedure iteratively and reflectively,
  2. Evaluate the process and outcomes of an experiment quantitatively and qualitatively,
  3. Extend the scope of an investigation whether or not results come out as expected,
  4. Communicate the process and outcomes of an experiment, and
  5. Conduct an experiment collaboratively and ethically.

Learning Goals

Introductory mechanics labs

In the introductory mechanics labs, our theme has been on introducing students to ideas around model testing. Where do models break down? What are their limits? What can we learn? Students typically spend two weeks per lab unit. In a 15-week semester, we have 10-11 weeks of labs. For example:

Lab week Lab name
1 0. Introduction to Model Testing 
2 1. Model testing
3 1. Model testing
4 2. Model testing and ethics
5 2. Model testing and ethics
6 3. Model testing and extending
7 3. Model testing and extending
8 4. Project Lab
9 4. Project Lab
10 4. Project Lab (presentations)

In each lab session, students answer questions in the lab manual (see the student instructions documents for each unit below), conduct a group check-in with the instructor, submit group lab notes electronically by the end of each session, and submit an individual post-lab assignment at home. The early labs provide more scaffolding for what students are expected to do, and this is faded (almost eliminated) by the final project lab. We have recently increased the amount of structure in the early labs in response to student frustrations about not knowing what is expected of them or what they should be doing. 

0. Introduction

1. Model testing

2. Model testing and ethics

3. Model testing and fitting

4. Project lab

Introductory electricity and magnetism labs

In the introductory electricity and magnetism labs, our theme has been on introducing students to ideas around model building. How do we use evidence to develop and refine models?  Students typically spend two weeks per lab. In a 15-week semester, we have 10-11 weeks of lab. For example:

Lab week Lab name
1 0. Introduction and surveys
2 1. Modeling electrostatics phenomena
3 2. Circuits
4 2. Circuits
5 3. Electricity! Magnetism! Fun!
6 3. Electricity! Magnetism! Fun!
7 4. Magnetic fields and coils
8 4. Magnetic fields and coils
9 5. What does this thing do?
10 5. What does this thing do?
11 5. What does this thing do? (Presentations and surveys)

1. Modeling electrostatics phenomena

2. Circuits

3. Electricity! Magnetism! Fun!

4. Magnetic fields and coils

5. What does this thing do?