All posts by iteachphysics4all

The first lab and lab report

After the measurement activity and some practice which I wrote about here. We are going to start our first inquiry style lab and lab report. I’ve budgeted 3 days to do this first lab. It’s a lot of time but I’m hoping a large time investment will pay off later. We will ease into writing lab reports because for most, if not all, of my on-level students this will be the first lab report they’ve written in high school. I will probably use a grouping method when they walk in the front door. . . . . . popsicle sticks or stickers or playing cards. . . So we’ll do a warm up and then break into groups. I’ll have matching marks on tables so they have a work space to gather around based on the object they received at the door.

I’ve read suggestions to start with the students creating the data table and graphs independently first and with each lab have them create another part of the lab report.  I think we’ll create all the parts of the lab as a group except for the data table and graph using whiteboards. If students bring tablets they may use a whiteboard app. I’m going to use this rubric (found it here: to structure our lab write ups. So this will act as an introduction to the lab report rubric, a structured introduction to inquiry style labs and the expectations concerning them both.

I want them to use the meter tape they made in the measurement activity. I’ve been reading Making Sense of Science: Force and Motion. I think I’ll set up our first inquiry lab based off the first speed activity described in the book: They will measure distance and time. I think we’ll start off with a question that is intuitively easy (Which is faster walking or jogging?) so that we can focus on the inquiry process and measurement.

What I’d like to do is present the question: which is faster walking or jogging? They’ll write this down and check it off on the rubric. Next, I’ll give them 2 min to discuss in their lab group how they will know which is faster. Take some answers afterward. Then I’ll ask them to decide what they will measure and give them another 3 min. I’ll have them go around and announce what they plan on measuring and why. Record ideas on the board. Next, I’ll give them 1min to discuss the different ideas in their group and pick one. I’ll have each group write their measurement selection on their white board and hold it up. I’m hoping they will use the measuring tape and a timer to measure the distance and the time. Then I’ll ask them to take 1 min to identify their dependent and independent variable. They will show their answers on white boards and which is which and why. They will share out here.  Next, we’ll craft a hypothesis. I will give them 2 min to discuss and write a hypothesis on the white board.

I’m hoping they will choose a hypothesis along the lines of Jogging is faster than walking. And then hopefully the amount of distance they cross in a certain amount of time or the time it takes to cross a certain distance will be what decides which is faster. So the independent and dependent variable would depend on the setup. I’m hoping this will take a good junk of the first day. Remaining time will be for writing the procedure. They’ll write their procedure in a group but each will write separately.

When they come back the next day they’ll be sitting with non-lab group peers. As a warm up they will read their table partners procedure and write comments on a sticky note and discuss. Then they’ll go back to their lab groups and have 3 min to discuss any changes to their procedure. Once finished discussing and finalizing they will have 5 min to create data tables on their dry erase boards. They’ll share out the how and why. We’ll discuss any variations and need for repeat trials. They’ll record their data table. Next I’ll free them for 5 min to take data (it may take longer but I can always extend. Calling it early never goes well. . . ). Once the data is recorded then we’ll review types of graphs (Eeeeek!) I’ll give them 2 min to select which type of graph to represent their data. We’ll go around and share out if their is a lot of variability. I’m thinking a bar graph is the way to go. They seem to love bar graphs so it’ll work well for them. Next they will have 5min to create their graphs on the dry erase boards. Next well do a mini lesson on error and I’ll give them a few minutes to calculate their error and add error bars to their graphs. This should be near the end of class so the last few minutes everyone will spend time creating graphs on their paper. (Will probably offer markers and color pencils to jazz them up a bit)

Last Day!!!!

Today we’ll write our conclusions. I usually provide a very structured way of writing the conclusion. An opening sentence that restates the hypothesis. A sentence that describes how the data supported or didn’t support the hypothesis (with reference to the graph!). A sentence addressing any sources of error and error calculations. A sentence addressing possible future follow up. And a closing sentence restating the hypothesis and if it was supported or not.  I will give them 5 min to write the conclusion and extend if necessary. After conclusions are completed on the white board each group will share out. Any issues will be addressed. Once the conclusions are concluded students will return to their assigned seats and complete the assignment assessment (5min).

Next we will move on to formative assessment questions to prep for the lab quiz. Dry erase boards or socrative.


General Strategies and First Days

Those first few days . . . . .

Day 1: Student Survey and . . .

I read a suggestion to sit students in first name alphabetical order to help in memorizing names. I’m thinking I’ll use that as an icebreaker activity for day one. Seat yourselves in alphabetical order by first name. Class that does it the fastest on the first day gets a prize. I’m thinking headphone Fridays for a month will be the prize. Time is very short on the first day usually but they are changing the registration process this year so I may have more time with them than last year. Once they are sat I’ll probably ask them what physics is and why we study it. Usually a few students know why. . . . if not I have a short video: What is physics?

If time allows, I made a survey for the students: Student Survey (Docx)Student Survey (PDF). We usually only have them for a few fleeting moments the first day. I’m debating offering a BYOD version of the survey. Get them logged into my google classroom site and filling out a google form on day one. Perhaps the wifi will work day one and perhaps it won’t. Maybe I’ll add one of those QR Codes that will take them straight to my google classroom. I’ll give them 10 min to answer the questionnaire and extend time if needed. While they are filling out the questionnaire I’ll hand out the syllabus and work on student names.

If we have time, I’ll present my answers to the questionnaire. I tried to retrieve my prezi that was my mini-autobiography in pics and memes but sadly my account no longer existed. . . . guess I was idle for too long. So I’m adding that to the looooong to do list for the last week before school starts.

The last 5 minutes of class will be the exit ticket: List 3 ways you could work with other students in class to help you each be successful in class. (I’m going to make it available as a google form and post it notes)

Day 2: Modeling Expectations and Lab Safety

We will do a warm up: List two things you do to be successful in class. List two things you expect your classmates to do to allow everyone to be successful in class. Love those warm ups! I’m hoping I can just make them available through my google classroom and we can cut the paper monster down a bit. I want to use the answers to develop a list of what kind of behavior leads to success in class and then list those under umbrella expectation terms. I am working from ideas in these two posts: and More detail to come later.

I also want to build expectations for working in cooperative groups. So after developing classroom expectations, I’d like to develop cooperative group roles and expectations. I found a great resource here:

More detail later!

What do those metric prefixes mean?!

Another year comes to a close. It was a whirlwind year. Next year I want to focus on cutting down on paper and increasing student critical thinking and reading.

The first unit is on the scientific method. We’re starting with measuring. I’ve tried this activity two years in a row: This year it went better. Worked for some but definitely not for those that are in the concrete stage. They just failed to generalize the process to the metric system as a whole. So I’m trying a more concrete thinkers targeted lab. I’m planning on introducing the inquiry style lab and accompanying lab write up next so hopefully my conceptual thinkers won’t tune out all together before the end of the first unit.

Concrete Activity for Metric Prefixes:


Here is the activity: MeterStick Activity (PDF) , Meterstick Activity (Word) They will be provided with cm graph paper ( centimeter that I made here ) and a meter long strip of paper.

Day 1: Pass out lab at door as they enter. PowerPoint: Measurement Activity

Warm Up and discussion (5 min):

Take a poll and record on board. .Ask how long is a meter? Take answers from students. Have one student from each pair come and get a meter strip and measure desk. Is it more or less than a meter? How much more or less. Discuss how they decided how much more or less.

Lab (35)

Lab Intro (3 min): Discuss roles. Have the partners pick roles and read first set directions out loud to partner. Take questions.Explain time limit.

  1.  (10min): Start timer and let them do first set of measurement.  (Put centimeter strips on tables while they are measuring)
  2.  (10 min): When the timer goes off they return to desk and read the directions for the next step. As they are reading. Take questions. Make it clear they may start measuring as soon as the decimeters are ready. Start measurement timer next. (put sheets of centimeter paper on desks while they are measuring)
  3. (12 min): Students return to read directions for centimeters. Pass out centimeter papers while they are reading. Take questions. Next they complete measurements in Centimeters and enter into classroom data table.

Lab Completion: When finished they complete the back page of the lab

Exit Ticket

Day 2:

Warm Up (5 min)

Data Analysis (15 Min)

  1. Discussion (5 min) Look at class data and provide accepted values for % error calculations. Discuss class data as precise and accurate. Average data in excel. Is it close to the accepted value? Are they clustered close together? Have students mark which of their measurements they think is most precise.
  2. Calculating % Error (10 min): Model using the equation for the first measurement. Then have them calculate % error for the rest of their centimeter measurements. Circle the most precise.(We’ll move on to metric prefixes at this point. While they are calculating, I’ll hand out the metric prefixes sheet)

. Metric Prefixes Practice:

I’m only planning on introducing the meters at this point. I want to give them time to make some personal points of reference for the meter since we’re working on 1D and 2D motion next. I found this example on youtube:

I liked the layout but, after conferring with a more senior teacher, decided it’d be best if they write the whole measurement in each square in hopes they will see the pattern more clearly. Here is an example of the practice sheet and answer document: metric prefixes

The plan is to generate 6 unique practice sheets with a unique identifier at the bottom. I will demonstrate the 1st row. We will do the 2nd together. They will individually work the third. After working the third, they will meet in groups with the same sheets and peer assess their work (I’ll be working the room to ensure all are arriving at the right answer and use questioning to guide them if necessary). After peer assessment, they will work the 4th in their group. Then return to their seats and work the rest independently. The exit ticket will be a strip with one problem. Again they will all vary. Any suggestions or questions? Please share!

To make unique sheets easier to generate, I made a spreadsheet that populates the sheet with random numbers between 0 and 100. Then the key is populated with all the answers. If your interested in using the excel sheet feel free to buy it here:

Metric Practice Plan (After Data Analysis)

  1. I do 1. We do 2. They  do 3. (5 min)
  2. They break into peer groups based on identifier on sheet. And peer assess 3. In group they work 4. (10 min)
  3. Return to seats and complete sheet. (10min)