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!
By the end of the three-course intro lab sequence, students should be able to:
- Collect data and revise an experimental procedure iteratively and reflectively,
- Evaluate the process and outcomes of an experiment quantitatively and qualitatively,
- Extend the scope of an investigation whether or not results come out as expected,
- Communicate the process and outcomes of an experiment, and
- Conduct an experiment collaboratively and ethically.
Suddenly teaching labs online?
We are feeling quite lucky here in Ithaca, in that we have three weeks off to get ourselves prepared for online teaching for the rest of the semester. That being said, information keeps changing, so we've been hesitant to make too many decisions too quickly.
Our plan for our introductory labs this semester is to run at-home projects, where students conduct experiments with materials around the house. Here are some in-progress google docs for our instructions for the Mechanics Lab and the E&M Lab. Hope these are some helpful inspiration for you!
How will we grade this? No clue. I feel that, as long as students have fun and do something interesting, everyone gets an A at this point?
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.
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|
|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)|