Great question from a prospective physics teacher—is there a canon of physics labs?
Today, I got this fantastic email from a student at Olin who has fallen in love with physics and designed her own major, which is so cool. My first question is how could we get more engineering students to fall in love with physics to the point where they’d major in physics?
But this student’s question is more pressing, and I’ve quoted the body of her email below.
None of you know me, but this summer I discovered the awesome world that is all of your blogs (and those of many other teachers), and I’ve been reading them a lot. I’ve been inspired by John’s recent post to reach out and ask you all for help with an idea I’ve been thinking about recently. I should probably start by actually introducing myself:
My name is Becca, and I’m a junior at Olin College, a small engineering school in Massachusetts. Even though I’m at engineering school, I’ve realized that I actually love physics, not engineering, so I designed my own major so that I have a “concentration” in physics. Also, I plan on becoming a physics teacher after I graduate.
So, the reason I need your help: in my made-up major, I’ve realized that it’s actually possible for me to graduate without ever taking a physics lab class. But it’s important to me that I have some lab experience. So I’d like to do an independent study next semester in which I complete various physics experiments. My problem is that since I have no experience with physics labs, I’m not really sure where to start in planning this independent study. I’m hoping that since you all have more experience than I do you can give me some advice on what experiments I can do to learn about experimental equipment and procedures related to mechanics and/or E&M. Here are some more targeted questions that I’ve been thinking about:
- For the sake of a well-rounded physics education, what types of experiments should I be able to do?
- Is there a way I can structure the semester to give the work I do some sort of overarching story? Perhaps a question or design goal that I can spend the semester addressing? (What would that question be?)
- What equipment will be most important?
- When I teach physics, I want my students to learn through inquiry/experimentation. What equipment/procedures/etc. do I need to be familiar with in order to be able to facilitate that inquiry for a typical high school physics class?
Okay, I’m sorry this e-mail is so long. If you are still reading, thank you! If you have any amount of advice for me, however small, I will definitely appreciate it!
This is something I’m going to think about for a bit and try to come up with some advice for, but I realized this student should not have to wait for me. I can kick this out to my blog, and hopefully many people will chime in with their own advice.