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An extensive list of what can be taught in science labs and why such labs are the heart of science teaching.

Why labs should be taught (if possible) by teachers experienced in applying the discipline. And, what to do if you are not experienced in applying a discipline but must (or want to) teach a lab!


  • Science is EXPERIMENTAL! Most science jobs are not theory but hardware oriented.
  • Educational research in physics shows that student involvement is extremely important in learning.
  • Students learn experimental attitudes in labs:
    • Be suspicious of everything
    • Check everything
    • Look for a more accurate method
    • Check it several other ways
    • Are your results statistically significant?
    • What can be done with the equipment on hand?
    • Does the equipment do what I think it does?
    • What are the principle sources of error and how significant are they?
    • Is there a faster, cheaper way?
    • Can I simplify the design to make the analysis more reliable?
    • Does 'Theory' ignore effects that are important in the real world?
  • Labs build and / or correct student's intuition concerning the reality of nature in contrast to what they learned "on the street" or in lecture.
    • Labs can demonstrate the fallacy of common beliefs.
      • Such a lab might be an investigation of what does and what does not influence the period of a pendulum.
    • Labs may help build correct intuition.
      • A "plot yourself" lab can demonstrate clearly that zero velocity is not the same as zero acceleration.
  • Labs teach experimental techniques:
    • Read veneers, micrometers
    • Read manuals (e.g. find the accuracy of instruments, . . .)
    • Use Electronics: signal generators, frequency counters, multa meters, oscilloscopes, . . .
    • Design experiments to minimize errors.
  • Use computers to support experiments:
    • Take data
    • Manipulate instruments
    • Analyze data: least squares, FFT, . . .
    • Present data
    • Word-processing.
  • Learn to write competent lab reports:
    • Scientific work is useless if not communicated
    • Report writing skills are useful in all classes / jobs for the student's entire career
    • Reenact historic experiments: e.g. Milliken Oil Drop, e/m of electron, . . .
  • Learn "Tricks of the Trade"
    • How to avoid being electrocuted.
    • How to avoid eye damage from lasers.
    • How to protect equipment: e.g. how to plug and unplug wires, . . .
  • How to check whether equipment is working properly:
    • Do lights light?
    • Does it measure a known value correctly?
    • Are the readings reasonable?
      • Does it zero with no input?
      • Are calibration and range knobs where you intend?
  • Learn to use the common "Tools of the Trade":
    • NOT special purpose equipment only seen in school labs
    • NOT as black boxes but with enough understanding to use similar equipment (older, newer, other purpose,   or made by another manufacturer)
    • NOT to "Prove Theory"
      • This is contrary to everything science stands for!
      • Experiments suggest theories, disprove theories, at best experiments fail to disprove theories (i.e. "the results of this experiment are compatible with theory to within the accuracy of this experiment").
  • Students learn to think about the real world, not just juggle numbers.
  • Observe startling results illustrating things that are hard to believe until seen with ones own eyes (versus cross B force, superconductivity, critical damping, virtual images, . . .)
  • Have fun actually using physics!
  • Students have to use their knowledge of physics to design their own experiments: learn by doing!

 

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