In preparation for my AP Summer Institutes for 2016, I've redesigned how I present experimental work.

When I began teaching AP Physics B, I did lecture and problem solving four days a week, with lab work on the fifth day. I integrated more and more experimental work into my daily classes, especially as I amassed equipment for each topic area.

Nowadays, experimental work is part of virtually every class all year. My minimum goal is to get student hands on equipment three of five days each week; my students will tell you that the reality is more like four or five out of five.

Okay, many of you share this lofty goal. But how to accomplish it? Upperclassmen don't like routine; they will not be comfortable doing the same styles of activities every day all year, even if the topics change.

So, for Summer Institute and for reference purposes, I've categorized eight styles of lab work that I've been using for my classes. All are applicable to teaching physics at any level, but are optimized for AP Physics 1 students.

The styles are listed roughly in the order I introduce them to my classes. Remember, at the beginning of the year, students certainly aren't ready to do AP Physics 1 test problems in the lab with little guidance! We can talk 'til we're blue about "open inquiry" and ideals of "student-centered learning", but it is incumbent upon us to teach fundamental skills before opening up the lab for the students to play. That doesn't mean we TALK at students about lab skills; that means that each style of experiment builds skills in context that are taken for granted at the next style.

Read on... at my AP Summer Institutes (I'm doing four in 2016, listed in the sidebar -- please sign up!) I'll be doing experiments in each of these styles with all the participants. And please bring your own ideas to share with us.

**1. The Quantitative Demonstration**

Instead of
showing how to solve textbook problems in the abstract, try setting up the
actual physical situation presented in the problem – do the problem, treat the
answer as a prediction, and then verify the prediction experimentally. Take a look at

this post about my first day of AP Physics, or just

search "quantitative demonstration" on this blog for more ideas.

**2. The whole class as a lab group for live data collection**

For example… to get data for
voltage vs. current to show the ohm’s law relationship:

· * I put a blank set
of axes on the screen; I give everyone a hard copy of blank axes.

· * I bring the class
to the front of the room to see the setup – they see the voltmeter, ammeter,
and how I vary the voltage by turning the dial on the power supply.

· * We discuss how to
scale the axes such that the data will fill the page.

· * Each student in
turn is called to the front of the room to adjust the voltage, and to read and
record current and voltage data.

· * Before going back
to his seat, the student writes his data in a chart on the board; and he graphs
his data point on the screen.

· * Meanwhile, each
student is responsible for making his own personal graph.

· * I move quickly –
the next student is ready to go while the first student is still writing and
graphing his data.

· * As the experiment
goes on, students begin to suggest how to fill in such that the entire
parameter space is explored.

· * When we have
plenty of data (usually meaning everyone in the class has had a turn), everyone
draws a best-fit and calculates the slope.

· * We estimate an
average resistance with uncertainty from the class’s slopes – this always
matches the resistance of the resistor nicely.

This is an excellent
technique early in the
year, when you’re introducing and modeling lab skills; whenever you need
quick data – this takes maybe 1/4 of the time it would take for the students to
do it independently; and anytime you have
only one set of equipment.

**3. Quick data collection to verify prediction of a qualitative trend, or to determine the trend**

Students must be able
to describe the shape of a graph given the relevant equation; and students must
be able to suggest the form of an equation given a graph of experimental data.

By scaling the axes
ahead of time for the students (and being sure that the scale represents an
appropriate range of values), you can save time in lab; more importantly, you
focus the students on just this particular skill of translating equations to
graphs and vice-versa.

**4. Create a linear graph, use the slope to determine a physical quantity**

I believe in putting data
directly on a graph; I believe in hand graphing; I believe in taking slopes by
hand.

If your students graph asthey go they understand intuitively what it means to “explore a parameter
space.” (And it’s easier to convince
them to take more data if they haven’t put their stuff away and expected to be
all finished.)

Your students are not skilled
at graphing by hand; yet they are likely to have to graph data as part of an AP
question. You can teach them how to use
excel to make a graph at year’s end. And
they’ll actually understand what excel is doing if they’ve been graphing by
hand all year.

Similarly with taking
slopes. Make them write out (*y*_{2} – *y*_{1}) / (*x*_{2}
– *x*_{1}). Make them circle the points on the best-fit
line (not data points) used to calculate slope.
Make them write the units of the slope.

Then make the students
explain how to determine the physical meaning of a slope using equations, not
just guessing based on the units of the vertical and horizontal axes.

**5. Linearize a graph, use slope to determine a physical quantity**

The AP physics exams expect students to be fluent in
linearizing graphs. See the 2009 Physics
B problem 1 for the canonical example of an experiment requiring graph
linearization.

This is one of the first linearization lab exercises I
do. We hold a cart on an inclined track
with a string attached to a spring scale, varying the angle of the track. Initially, we graph tension vs. angle – this
graph is curved. By writing out the
relevant equation *T = mg*sin*q*, we recognize that a graph
of tension vs. sin *q* will be linear with slope *mg*.

**6. Open-ended determinations – are you hired?**

Students aren’t usually aware
of the intended audience for lab write-ups.
“Mr. Jacobs has done this experiment a million times, he knows how it
works, and he saw us do it. So answering
these questions is just a formality. He
knows what I know and what I mean.”

Imagine that you and your partner have been asked
to make this determination for a Fortune 500 company as part of the competitive
bidding process for an engineering contract.

You will submit your marked pipes and an
explanation of your methodology to the company.
From that writeup alone, they will decide which partnership to hire.

Therefore, I will have someone – not me – rank the
submissions from strongest to weakest.
They’ll be placed in piles:

·
Hired (1 submission)

·
Not hired, but recommended to other companies

·
No action

·
Blacklist

**7. Independent prediction exercises **

These are like quantitative
demonstrations, but with the students doing all the work. Other teachers do similar activities, calling them "stations".

I have students work
independently, at their own pace. They
are welcome to collaborate; since everyone has something slightly different on
their sheet, their collaboration is authentic.

**8. Experiments taken (nearly) straight from the AP Physics exam**

Virtually every AP Physics 1
problem can be set up in the laboratory.
I modify the problem so that it scales to the equipment in my lab; for
example, using 500 g carts rather than 500 kg cars. I often try to set up the experiments such
that we can produce a graph, perhaps even a linear graph with a meaningful
slope, even if that graph wasn’t part of the original AP problem. I can't post these online, because they are based on College Board questions. However, come to my AP Summer Institutes, and these exercises will be on the CD that you get.