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12 August 2013

Mail Time: What if I have to start a physics lab from absolute scratch?

A participant at my summer institute writes in...

I hope this email finds you well. 

It does, except that I am in no way ready for my fantasy football drafts, and Arsenal is negotiating with Satan Himself Luis Suarez.  In other words, my non-fantasy life is going quite well, thanks.  :-)

The note continues:

So, here is the thing... I went into a Science Department meeting and found out quite to my dismay that the school has absolutely no equipment for Physics demo or labs, which I knew going into it that they didn't have much, I just didn't think they wouldn't have anything at all.
I was told that if I made a list I could order some equipment using the curriculum budget, which I am still unclear what that means on a financial point of view, my assumption is that it won't be anything extravagant...
So here is my problem, this is slightly overwhelming, having never taught physics before, I am not entirely sure what are the essentials when it comes to equipment and it's basically going to come down to what demos do I absolutely need and how can I do them with a minimum of resources?
Do you have any suggestions or advice on what I should put on this equipment list of things to order? Anything will help. It more or less dawned on me today that I am basically on my own when it comes to physics at the school.

Aah, you're stuck building from scratch.  That sucks, but at least you're being offered something.  Just AP Physics 1 for now, right?  As we discussed, the course audit provides you some leverage -- it requires a laboratory experience that is in some way comparable to a college physics lab.  You can certainly wait to sign off on the audit until you have some minimum equipment.  (Or you can offer to teach just "Physics" rather than "AP Physics" for now.)

If I'm you*, I get a Vernier Labquest 2 with a motion sensor, force sensor, it comes with a voltage probe, and maybe a force plate.  Then I get a Pasco 2 meter track with a set of cars.  That'll run you in the neighborhood of $1000 as a start-up.

*  Ed. note: grammar correct.  Sportscaster subjunctive mood.

For this year, I'd scrounge other stuff (basics like rods and clamps, spring scales, etc) from other departments, local colleges, hardware stores, and parents.  As the year goes on, make a wish list of the equipment you'd like to have.  When the opportunity comes up to buy something, have a list so you know exactly what you want right away.  

Good luck... hope this helps.  

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