The Joy of Lab Design
I’ve been a theorist and an experimentalist at different times throughout my career. When at university, theory won out over experimental but now, as a teacher of high school, experimental easily wins. There is nothing like watching students figure out problems, deduce scientific laws and test theories. The old problem was the equipment.
What can I do with ticker-tape?
How responsive are the thermometers?
How reliable is the data?
How big are the errors?
Is it going to work?
But now, with my PASCO equipment, things are changing. I’m more excited and so are my colleagues. The students are picking up on that excitement too. The labs we’ve done for decades are being updated. However, the real joy is in designing new ones.
Since September I’ve created three new labs besides updating the other eight I do. One for kinematics, one for gravity and one for momentum. The momentum one is great because we were never able to do a reliable lab before. Using the Smart Carts and Sparkvue the kids are designing safe barriers and analyzing crashes. My favourite part of that lab is having the students figure out if movies are lying to you when they show a person getting shot, flying backwards through a window, and landing a few metres on the other side of it. We can recreate the situation with the Smart Cart acting as the bullet and looking at the forces involved.
This screenshot represents a head-on collision between two smart carts. They were released at different times to offset v-t graphs.
As I was working on the design of the labs and testing them out, my colleagues and administration stopped by. They all wanted to see what I was up to. They could see my excitement. They were infected. Two team members went away and started designing their own labs. We are talking more, sharing more and the kids benefit from it.
We can ask deeper questions because the data is more reliable and relatable. We can do so much with the carts and are figuring out more each time. Labs in physics 12 were hard because of analysis to 2-D. We are creating labs for them. The goal is a least two new labs a month. The labs are also not so cookie-cutter. They don’t always have to be quantitative. They are exploring more and, hopefully, learning more.
All of this is possible because of the Smart Carts, Sparkvue and the joy of lab design.