How to Choose Appropriate Equipment for Physics Activities

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  • 0:00 Planning Experiments
  • 0:38 Considering Abilities
  • 1:40 Considering Availability
  • 2:30 Considering Safety
  • 3:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

When preparing a lab exercise for physics students, a variety of factors must be considered when selecting equipment. These include not only the nature of the experiment but also the abilities and safety of students.

Planning Experiments

One of the most important parts of being a physics teacher or professor is making sure that lab activities are prepared. After all, it is in the lab where students not only put what they have learned about the scientific method to use, but also where they can see firsthand how closely the calculations that they have performed match up with the real world. Still, it's not as easy as picking experiments at random. When planning experiments for a physics classroom, an instructor needs to be sure to consider things like abilities, availability, and safety of the activity at hand. In this lesson, we're going to look at how to do all three across a variety of age groups.

Considering Abilities

Let's start by considering two groups. The first is an honors seminar in Newtonian physics at a prestigious institute of technology. The second is a middle school physical science classroom. Chances are you wouldn't want to perform the same experiments with each group. As a result, you should carefully consider the abilities of your class when planning activities. In the first group, you should feel free to include more advanced techniques. In the second group, you would be well advised to make as much of the process as straight-forward as possible. Also, a word should be said about maturity and focus. The students from the honors seminar are not only going to be physically more mature and therefore able to manipulate different activities, they're going to be much more invested than the middle school class.

Let's take a look at an example that would work well with each. Let's say that you were demonstrating how elastic collisions work. With the middle school group, it may suffice to just use meter sticks and similarly sized balls. However, with the other group, you may want to use carefully massed objects along with a more sophisticated way of checking changes in velocity.

Considering Availability

Still, there is a great difference in availability when it comes to physics experiments. You may want to show your middle school class how the planets move around the sun, but chances are that parents are not going to tolerate more than one night spent out late gazing at the stars. Meanwhile, you can have a college astronomy lab meet weekly and have them use more advanced telescopes to boot.

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