Teaching Science

Massively off topic, but this is my main social community and I am in sleep deprived giddy mode, so I wanna share :slight_smile:

I run the introductory series of physics labs at a university. These used to be exactly what they are in most places: Cookbook labs. That means there is a list of detailed steps, you do exactly as you are told to do, you see exactly what you expected to see, you plug some numbers into some formula, and apparently you just learned something.

I am working on finding a way to instead teach the students what experimental science is really about (which is mildly laughable since I haven’t officially done any, and certainly wasn’t taught how to myself). First I just stripped away all of the instructions and kept the same labs. That rather annoyed the students, but they did learn more.

But this semester I finally have my full overhaul of the labs started, and while I intended to keep things simple, I have snuck in a few labs in what I hope to be their finalized form.

Stayed up WAY too late for the past couple of nights trying to build some Arduino based Theremin units. I finally got them working consistently, with the sensitivity and range that I wanted from them.

The lab has just started using these devices.

Now… a Theremin is a musical instrument, and these ones modulate their tone to provide better sounding results. But the students were not told that these are musical instruments. They were told that these are “Some kind of sensor which reacts in some way to electric fields, but only gives measurement output via pitch changes”

And now, they have to figure out how to use the sensors to prove something as rigorously as possible. And will present their findings to the rest of the class upon conclusion of the two week exercise.

The students seem excited so far. They have already started to measure some things I hadn’t anticipated. They are doing some actual science, and not complaining about the fact there is no right answer.

Dead tired, but on cloud 9.


Way to go @jacobturner! As one who endured many uninspiring science labs, that great! Your students will reward you with learning, which it sounds like is already happening. :clap::clap: - Rich


This is the best way to learn, using the imagination and finding the way as we used to do as when we were childs.

Excellent idea and great job, believe me :clap:. I had a teacher which did something similar, and even if it is more job to do, your students will learn more and they will be more grateful to you. :wink:


Truly outstanding! Your efforts are likely to result in many more highly functional problem solvers. We need those! Well done!


I would have enjoyed having you as a teacher. :nerd:


Bravo! You’re going to be one of those “favorite teachers” that everyone remembers, and even better, you’re teaching them to think instead of memorize.

Rarer than hen’s teeth. :v:


@Jules, your colloquialisms always make me laugh out loud. Like REALLY laugh out loud. My co-workers must think I’m insane.


Good! (It’s good to laugh occasionally…it makes people wonder what the hell you’ve been up to.):wink:


Usually these teachers are the ones that everyone hates at the beginning :laughing:… but in the end are the ones that become your favorites and with which you feel more grateful.:nerd:


That is fantastic! Inquiry and exploration are way more effective than cookbook “science.” :thumbsup: :thumbsup:


Nice! FWIW, I learned most in into (and other) physics labs when the equipment didn’t work quite right, because then you had to figure out what was going on…


I’m not much on heros but you come pretty close.


That sounds amazing… pun intended :notes:

If you are allowed to release them, I’m really curious to see what some of the experiments and results end up being.


A friend of mine is a middle school science teacher and when he was hired at my wife’s school he tried doing the same thing. It made the students uncomfortable. But it freaked out the patents. He got a ton of heat from the administration who was getting parent complaint du jour from mommies & daddies who couldn’t handle the kid being evaluated on how he got the answer and what he discovered instead of simply needing to parrot something back from the teacher or textbook.

You’re lucky to have a school that supports your innovation.


Good for you! If they need the standard labs, they can just do YouTube. They are all available to watch. There is some value in doing a complete recipe. If your results vary, you can see where your method broke down. But inspiration and creativity teaches so much more powerfully.


The key (in my opinion) here is imagination. Learning like this is what creates inventors and innovators. If you just copy and repeat experiments from books, you’ll never create or discover something new. Video and cell phones and TV (again in my opinion) stifle creativity. Although a small house, I have a 3car wide driveway so kids like to bike or skate on it. I keep a bucket of sidewalk chalk out there always. Some people wonder why Im not upset my driveway gets covered with drawings and writing. As long as none is offensive ( only once have I had to do that) which I hose off, I love to see it. It means kids are using imagination and getting fresh air rather than vegetating in front of a screen.


Congrats! That sounds way better than the cookie cutter stuff. We just switched a few of our programs over to be more open ended too. They are a huge pain in the butt to get off the ground and work out all the bugs, but it really is worth it to see the students struggle a little and then have the light bulb go on. You know they’ll remember it so much better that way!


That sounds great! Science FTW!

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As made famous in the song:

The rim of the star-light
My love
Is wand’ring in star-flight
I know
He’ll find in star-clustered reaches
Strange love a star woman teaches.