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Quantitative Comparisons to Promote Inquiry in the Introductory Physics Lab

TitleQuantitative Comparisons to Promote Inquiry in the Introductory Physics Lab
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsHolmes, NG, Bonn, DA
JournalThe Physics Teacher
Date Publishedsep

In a recent report, the American Association of Physics Teachers has developed an updated set of recommendations for curriculum of undergraduate physics labs. This document focuses on six major themes: constructing knowledge, modeling, designing experiments, developing technical and practical laboratory skills, analyzing and visualizing data, and communicating physics. These themes all tie together as a set of practical skills in scientific measurement, analysis, and experimentation. In addition to teaching students how to use these skills, it is important for students to know when to use them so that they can use them autonomously. This requires, especially in the case of analytical skills, high levels of inquiry behaviors to reflect on data and iterate measurements, which students rarely do in lab experiments. Often, they perform lab experiments in a plug-and-chug frame, procedurally completing each activity with little to no sensemaking. An emphasis on obtaining true theoretical values or agreement on individual measurements also reinforces inauthentic behaviors such as retroactively inflating measurement uncertainties. This paper aims to offer a relatively simple pedagogical framework for engaging students authentically in experimentation and inquiry in physics labs.