Physics 459 offers the student an experience in laboratory instruction and is primarily intended for physics and astronomy majors undertaking the Concentration in Education or considering a career in secondary education. The course objectives are to give the student experience in physics instruction in the laboratory context, to enable the student to assess the effectiveness of laboratory experiments and to develop new ones, and to acquaint the student with the array of resources available to support laboratory instruction.

Meetings, Schedule and Requirements

The detailed course arrangements will be determined by the responsible faculty member, i.e. instructor assigned to the Physics 102b laboratory. A typical schedule will be as follows. The 102b laboratory meets bi-weekly in two sections. The student taking 459 will be expected to be present at all the laboratory sessions for one of the two sections, which are currently offered on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. The student would also meet weekly with the instructor and possibly other members of the department for discussions relating to the progress of the laboratory and to the following specific assignments.

  1. During each laboratory session the student will interact with students taking the lab. The student will circulate through the lab while the experiment is in progress, responding to questions and stopping at each group from time to time to check on progress. The instructor will monitor this activity to ensure that the student engages appropriately and when possible enables and encourages the students to work out their own answers to questions. The student will be evaluated by the students involved in the lab using an anonymous format twice during the semester, once near the beginning and once near the end.
  2. The student will prepare and deliver the pre-laboratory lecture for one experiment (probably earlier rather than later in the semester). The lecture will be delivered/practiced in advance for the instructor in order to ensure that the 102b students will be effectively taught.
  3. For the same experiment the student will evaluate the work of the students under the supervision of the instructor.
  4. After this evaluation the student will analyze the extent to which the laboratory accomplished its curricular objective and then critique and suggest improvements in the existing experiment and writeup.
  5. Using the Bibliography below the student will choose, design and build a prototype of an experiment appropriate to the level and content of Physics 102b. The choice will be discussed in advance with the instructor and the approval of the department for any necessary equipment purchases will be sought. (The Department expects to be able to support purchases up to about $500 for this purpose. The student will first consult with the Physics Instructional Laboratory Associate to determine whether the needed equipment is currently available in the department inventory. Machine shop facilities can be used if needed) The student will also prepare the accompanying writeup for the guidance of students performing the experiment. The writeup is expected to include pre-lab questions and to conform in other ways to the format used in the course.
  6. The student will carry out the experiment as designed, and should arrange for other students to perform it as well (not on a for-credit basis). He or she will then analyze and critique the laboratory on bases similar to those in requirement (4). The analysis will be included in the final paper for the course.
  7. The student will write a paper including the analysis of the experiment he or she designed and an analysis of the entire Physics 102 laboratory addressing the issues of: coherence of the laboratory experience; coverage of basic laboratory skills; communication of the important idea of obtaining knowledge via experimentation; and whether the course syllabus is adequately addressed by the selected experiments; etc. This analysis should be informed by a broad perspective on laboratory instruction as revealed through library research.


The individual elements of the students work will be graded and a final course grade will be assigned according the following weightings:

Interaction with laboratory students (with special attention given to improvement in response to suggestions from the instructor and the first evaluation by students enrolled in the lab)


Pre-lab lecture


Evaluation and analysis of existing experiment


New experiment developed by student (factors to be considered in evaluation include the soundness of the curricular objectives; level of attention to pedagogy; clarity and effectiveness of writeup; and whether the experiment works)


Final paper (includes student's assessment of the new experiment)



The monthly journals American Journal of Physics and Physics Teacher regularly include articles relating to laboratory pedagogy and descriptions newly developed instructional experiments for introductory level physics.

See the Resources listed under Physics 460 for a fuller reading list

This website maintained by Suzanne Amador Kane.