Innovative Teaching, Innovative Students

My Modern Physics (PHY210) students perform experiments most weeks and write up a formal lab report.  We do not use lab reports in Intro Physics, so this is a new task for many of them.  While I provide extensive written documentation regarding the required structure and my expectations, many students struggle to execute a good lab report.  After grading the first lab report, I realized that many just need a good example of what they are aiming for.  However, I can’t easily provide an “example” report – would it be over a lab no longer used?  Would it be a “real” student report, or a fake one I wrote?

I decided to have them refer to journals (such as Science and Physics Today) to see professional quality papers, which serve as an appropriate model.  Of course, students won’t fully understand these papers – but they will see the sections that appear in the articles, the use of inline citations, and the clarity with which procedures and results are presented.  My plan was to make this an “extra credit” assignment, partially to help offset the low scores on the first lab and partially because I hadn’t planned for this assignment when I wrote the syllabus.

I didn’t have a great idea on how to have the students execute this project – I knew that I was going to hand them journals and ask them to relate the articles to the lab report rubric.  One of the students saw the pile of journals and asked if we were making a physics collage – oh!  Some of the students were quite excited about this option, so I told them that the delivery format was up to them.   I was a little concerned when one student asked if there was a maximum size the project could be…

A few different approaches were used, and I was quite impressed.  They all demonstrated meaningful engagement with the process of connecting these articles to the lab report rubric.  But some of them also incorporated glitter paper, lights, and stickers!


I’m really enjoying PHY210 this semester, and I think a large part of that is due to the creativity and enthusiasm that the students are bringing. Often there isn’t a place in physics class for glitter paper or gel pens – but I think I have created a class where students can express themselves (perhaps to excess). Not only are student attitudes more positive than I typically see, but the grade distribution is also quite high. This is a class about relativity and quantum mechanics, so no one would say it is easy – but it might be at the level where students are excited to rise to the challenge.