About The Laboratory

If you are a physics teacher, you are likely passionate about getting your students involved in hands-on, minds-on learning. And however it is that you have arrived here at The Laboratory, it is hoped that you will find some ideas that will satisfy that passion. While you explore the approximately 150 labs here at The Laboratory, you will likely generate some questions about how they are used and how you can use them. This page, and the pages it links to, are hoped to provide some answers to those questions. Those teachers who would like more information or wish to participate in some discussion regarding the task of engaging students in effective labwork are invited to follow along and participate in the Lab Blab and Assorted Gab blog.

Who can use The Laboratory?

Anyone and everyone can use the activities in The Laboratory. The Laboratory is for teachers, for students, for teachers in training and for the general public. The Laboratory is intended for anyone. But primarily, The Laboratory is designed with classroom physics teachers in mind. The intent was to post approximately 150 lab ideas on the usual topics which are discussed at The Physics Classroom. The lab ideas posted here in The Laboratory are quite different than the labs that are typically included in the Laboratory Manual that's included with the teacher's edition of a physics textbooks.The labs found in the textbook's Laboratory Manual typically contain extensive step-by-step procedures, already prepared Data Tables and a collection of post-lab or analysis questions. For certain, those labs will get your students doing physics. But the lab ideas here in The Laboratory will get your students doing physics quite differently. They are different in at least two ways. First, there is no written, step-by-step procedure. Decisions about how much procedural detail is provided to students is left up to the teacher. Teachers vary considerably in terms of the amount of procedural detail which they tend to provide their students. But the general intent in the writing of each lab idea was to write it in such a manner that very little procedural detail would need to be provided. Careful consideration was given to how the Question and the Purpose were written. Insofar as possible, a clearly wordedQuestion and Purpose statement is provided with the hope that it would drive the entire lab. Decisions which students make regarding what to measure and how to measure it are driven by the Purpose statement. Decisions about what to calculate or what to graph or what to conclude are once more be driven by the Purpose statement. The intent of The Laboratory was to provide students a lab with a purpose ... just a Purpose. And it is hoped that the purpose is clear enough and detailed enough that students can be freed up from a lengthy list of procedural directions in order to spend their time thinking about the question which is presented in the Purpose. Read more ....

Second, these labs were designed to be notebook labs - labs which would require students to organize, document and report their findings within a lab notebook. These labs were written with the intent that very little paper would be distributed to students. Instead students bring their own paper - the paper in a lab notebook. As students probe the question raised in the Purpose of the lab, they will begin to make observations and measurements related to the question. As they do, they will record their data (observations and measurements) in an organized manner. The Data are followed by a Conclusion and a Discussion in which students present the answer to the question raised in the Purpose of the lab and discuss the manner by which observations, measurements, graphs and calculations of the Data section provide the evidence for the answer. The hope is that as students progress through the course, they would improve their documentation, presentation and reporting skills. Read more ....

How can a teacher use The Laboratory?

The Laboratory consists of a collection of web pages which describe the underlying Question and the Purpose for every lab in a given unit. These pages also provide a brief description of the types of information which should be included in the student lab notebook. Lab Description pages are intended for the student - either delivered as a handout, delivered verbally with some notes on the board, or delivered via a computer projection display. In addition to Lab Description pages, every lab is also accompanied by its own unique Scoring Rubric which can be used as a student checklist and as a teacher assessment tool. In addition to all this, every lab is also accompanied by its own Teacher's Guide. The Teacher's Guides are intended for teachers who wish to use the lab in their classroom. They list the required materials, describe the general procedure, suggest alternative materials and procedures, mention safety concerns, offer helpful notes and suggestions regarding student difficulties and various nuances associated with each lab, and identify the connections between the labs and specific pages at The Physics Classroom Tutorial and specific sublevels of the Minds On Physics Internet Modules. These Teacher's Guides are viewable as PDF documents (which requires the free Adobe Reader plug-in) and downloadable as Microsoft Word documents. Having access tothe lab information (Question, Purpose, description of the lab notebook, Auxiliary Materials, and Rubric) as a Microsoft Word document allows teachers to add, subtract and change items to suit the needs of their individual classroom as well as to match the teacher's personal style. For a beginning teacher, a cross-over teacher, a teacher-in-training and even a veteran teacher, the Teacher's Guides can be a real time-saver, allowing for the quick creation of a lab, a unit's worth of labs or even an entire laboratory program which dovetails with an existing or a developing curriculum and is consistent with the teacher's style. View the Teacher's Guide pages ....

Is there a prescribedmethod by which a teacher should use the lab ideas in The Laboratory?

Yes! There is always a prescribed method for every tool. And that prescribed method is usually the method by which the inventor of the tool tends to use the tool. So here is how the author of The Laboratory uses the lab ideas in his own classroom:

The labs were intended to be implemented with a lab notebook. Students are provided with the Question, the Purpose and a short description of what should be included in their lab notebook. While this information could easily be provided on paper, a teacher who is fortunate to be in a classroom with computer projection capabilities would project this information onto a screen. Students write down the Title and Purpose of the lab as the teacher discusses the question and introduces the big idea. The means by which the equipment can be used is discussed (especially if it is equipment which is unfamiliar to students) and the information which must be in the lab report is also discussed. From that point on, students are on their own - devising a procedure which is capable of answering the question posed in the Purpose. All observations, data, calculations, and graphs are organized by the student in their lab notebook. Their conclusions and discussions answer the question posed in the Purpose and cite the evidence from the lab which supports those conclusions.

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Good tools are frequently found to have many uses. While the method discussed above describes the intended or prescribed means to use the lab ideas at The Laboratory, it is quickly recognized that there are many methods by which these lab ideas could be used. The actual method which is used is not important. The important thing is that students become engaged in doing the types of tasks that scientists engage in and acquire the scientific habits of mind which make for fulfilling and useful lives.Teachers are encouraged to experiment with alternative ideas and new approaches. And if you discover a variation or an altogether different approach which works in the classroom, why not share it with others through the Lab Blab and Other Gab blog? Learn more ....

Where can I learn more about the use of lab notebooks?

One of the best places to learn about using lab notebooks is inside your own classroom. In one sense, a lab notebook isn't all that complicated. They have been used by science teachers for a long time. And one of the best means of learning to use them is to simply try it out (if you haven't already). And as you do try using lab notebooks, experiment with a variety of ideas and methods and find the ones which suit your style, your students and your classroom the best. Another great place to learn about using lab notebooks is right inside your own science department. Ask other science teachers how they use lab notebooks. Ask your colleagues about ideas which have worked well for them. Ask your colleagues about ways they have used them to make laboratory learning so much more engaging, effective and lasting. And ask your colleagues what methods they have used to make the management and grading of lab notebooks less burdensome and more productive. And finally, you can learn more about using lab notebooks right here in The Laboratory. Learn more ....

Should there be a standard format used by students in completing lab reports in their lab notebook?

The implementation of a lab notebook probably works best when students are comfortable with how to use one and what is expected of them in terms of their reports. When students view each lab as being a new experience in lab reporting, then they tend to be preoccupied with the reporting process and lose sight of the purpose. This then becomes a recipe for failure since engaging labs are labs with a purpose - and labs in which students are focused on the purpose and not distracted by other details. So one of the earliest objectives regarding the use of a lab notebook is to train students about what is expected to be in the notebook. And if each lab follows a more or less standard format for reporting, then students will quickly learn the process of lab reporting and be freed up to focus on the purpose. One efficient means of training students to do their lab reporting involves providing them with a set of guidelines or instructions which applies to every lab. An example of such a set of guidelines is provided here at The Laboratory. View example. These guidelines can also be downloaded as a Microsoft Word file and customized to suit the individual style of the teacher. Download Microsoft Word version of the example.

Where can a teacher learn more about laboratory programs?

There are probably a lot of places where you can learn about engaging students in an effective and authentic laboratory program. Discussions with colleagues (in or out of your discipline), discussions with professionals about the types of activities they engage in, discussions with the local chapters of science teaching professionals, reading of science teaching journals and textbooks, and perusing the variety of web sites devoted to novel approaches to laboratory work are all great ways of learning about good laboratory programs. In an effort to contribute to the growing desire of teachers in training, new teachers, crossover teachers and even veteran teachers to improve their laboratory programs, The Physics Classroom is beginning their first blog - Lab Blab and Other Gab. This blog will be devoted to a discussion of the features of effective labs, the nature of scientific inquiry, and the use of laboratory notebooks to foster scientific research. Read more about the Lab Blab and Other Gab blog ....

What if my classroom does not have access to the equipment necessary for conducting the labs?

The Teacher's Guide for each lab identifies the materials which are required to conduct the lab according to the described procedure. In many cases, the materials require computer interfaced equipment which may not be available in all schools. Alternative materials and procedures areoften suggested. But even if neither the required nor the alternative materials are available, the role of The Laboratory is to offer ideas for labs. There are about 150 lab ideas described in The Laboratory. Hopefully these ideas can spur other ideas which can be done in any teacher's classroom with whatever materials are available. The philosophy behind the labs at The Laboratory is to identify labs which center around a testable question. Providing students with a clearly-defined question frees them up to explore the answer within the laboratory environment with whatever materials and equipment are available. The task of the teacher is to inventory the types of tools and equipment which are available, to identify the kinds of observations which can be made and the types of quantities which can be measured with those tools, and then to develop some clearly-defined questions which can be tested with the available materials and equipment. As a teacher gains familiarity with the approach of identifying such testable questions, the sky is the limit on the number of lab investigations which students can do.



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