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CU Physics

Physics 2020 Laboratory Revisions:
sponsored by the Faculty Teaching Excellence Program and Department of Physics

While undergraduate laboratories are considered an essential element of student learning in introductory physics, the laboratory experience remains a highly variable one.  The efforts in the 2020 sequence have been directed at building on what is known from education research in physics (Redish) and revising the labs to specifically promote the following goals:

The approach we have taken in the re-write of the labs has been to combine the approaches of the Tutorials in Introductory Physics (McDermott) with the work of Rebecca Lippmann and Edward Redish at the University of Maryland (Lippmann).  The Maryland labs simultaneously focus on students’ conceptual development, their laboratory skills, and views about physics (what it means to learn physics, conduct experiments, and justify findings). Simultaneously we attempted to reference real-world situations which were engaging and gender inclusive (Rosser). Our emphasis on group consensus and epistemological development has been tempered by pragmatic concerns about maintaining the actual physical equipment from prior years, making sure that TA’s could conduct these labs, and insuring continuity with the rest of the course (and the existing traditions from prior years).   In short, we attempted to move the labs from labs of verification to labs of discovery and inquiry.  Such a procedure also follows work from the chemistry community in the last few years (Lewis).

Each week, prior to conducting lab students complete an online pre-lab assignment (shown in the lab materials section). The pre-lab is submitted online, with hardcopy printed and handed in, in person to the TA at the beginning of lab. This approach achieves two goals:

The labs themselves are designed for students to complete entirely during (the 2 hour) section so they may be handed in to the TA at the end of section. The labs are designed to be easy to grade and quickly return to students. (These features are more thoroughly described in the instructor and teaching assistant notes).

E. F. Redish, Teaching Physics with Physics Suite, Wiley 2003.
L. C. McDermott, P. S. Shaffer, and the Physics Education Group at the University of Washington, Tutorials in Introductory Physics (Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River NJ, 1998).
R. Lippmann, Students' understanding of measurement and uncertainty in the physics laboratory: Social construction, underlying concepts, and quantitative analysis, doctoral thesis, University of Maryland 2003.  Available at:
Rosser, S. V. (Ed.), (1995) Teaching the majority: Breaking the gender barrier in science, mathematics, and engineering (pp. 220-229). New York: Teachers College Press.
E. Lewis, "Multi-Initiative Dissemination Project,(2004)

2005 CU@Boulder for information contact Tobin Munsat or Noah Finkelstein