The laboratories are coordinated with both the lectures and the discussion sections, always dealing with the same content at the same time as the other components of the course. The laboratory problems are designed to allow students to apply the problem-solving strategy to concrete situations and thus to help them confront their misconceptions. This emphasis on problem solving implies a laboratory with fewer specific directions, and more decisions left to the groups about what data to collect, how the data should be collected, and how the data should be analyzed to solve the experimental problem. To focus students' discussions in their groups on the physics of the situation, rather than on the quick collection of data, students are required to qualitatively analyze the situation and make group predictions about all measurements before data collection and quantitative analysis.
A given laboratory topic consists of a series of related problem and lasts two or three weeks to allow students to come back reexamine their apparatus and techniques if their measurements conflict with their predictions. Since the purpose of the laboratory is to develop students' understanding of the content of the course, different groups may, at the discretion of the TA, finish different numbers of problems in the time allotted for that topic. Before students can begin a laboratory, they must pass a short preparation test available on University computers. The tests consist of questions randomly selected from a large pool of similar questions about basic physics knowledge necessary to understand the laboratory problems. Students can take the test as many times as needed to answer successfully 75% of the questions.
The instructional structure of the laboratory is almost identical to that of the discussion section. The major difference is that the groups work on a set of concrete problems and have more than twice as much time per session. Again each session has a predetermined introduction, task, and closure with the function of the TA concentrated on coaching individual groups with specific weaknesses which s/he has observed either in the laboratory or discussion section.
Go to more pages describing our Problem-solving labs