Discovering physics: how the new labs at Princeton have improved student engagement and learning

Katerina Visnjic, Ph.D.

Senior Lecturer
Department of Physics
Princeton University

The experiments that students do in introductory physics labs today were once very exciting to those who pioneered them. This excitement is seldom felt by students who carefully follow the instructions in their lab manual, hoping to get the “right answer” How can we bring the element of discovery back into the classroom?

Attempting to do just that, the Physics Department at Princeton University is in its 3rd year of implementing a new laboratory curriculum. In the 'new lab' activities, students have the opportunity to design their own experiments in order to answer a specific question. Teaching students this process requires walking a fine line between giving too little guidance, where students can feel lost and frustrated, and giving too much guidance and taking away their sense of accomplishment and discovery. To navigate this line, we have adopted the teaching approach of the Investigative Science Learning Environment (ISLE) developed at Rutgers.

This talk will explain the motivation for the ISLE-inspired lab transformation, describe some of the innovative lab activities, and share the students' creative solutions. It will also present some of the exciting preliminary data comparing the “classic” and the “new” labs.

Last modified: Mon Sep 28 11:11:10 2015