April 21, 2019


Labs & Lab Reports
AP® Physics 1
Dr. Robert F. Szalapski
The Harley School – Physics

§ Introduction

The new curriculum for AP® Physics 1 places a major emphasis on the laboratory component. Time-wise a minimum of 25% of the course is devoted to the laboratory experience. Because it is experimental verification that separates science from philosophy, religion and superstition, a major emphasis is placed upon understanding the experimental component of science. Any aspect of physics or any other science must be experimentally verifiable in order to be established as fact or theory; otherwise it remains unsubstantiated belief. The AP® Physics 1 exam will include questions where the student must design, justify and analyze experiments.

Naturally students will receive feedback from the instructor. Another component of the laboratory experience includes peer review; students will critique each other’s work. Revision is essential, and so students should anticipate making revisions to their work based upon instructor and peer feedback. This will help the students to develop as effective communicators even when dealing with challenging subject matter.

Multiple representations of data and ideas is fundamental to mathematics and science. For example, a data table, a graph, equations and diagrams might all represent different views of what is essentially one thing. In a lab report the textual explanations are one more representation but also serve to connect these different presentations.

§ 1. Format

Some laboratory activities will not include a lab report. We will have about a dozen labs with full reports which will be prepared with Word or something compatible and which will be submitted electronically. If using something which is not compatible with Word, the output should be converted to PDF. Any word-processing software should include support for headings on multiple levels, tables, equations and figures along with proper cross referencing.

The following sections will discuss the sections of the lab report.

§ 1.1. Purpose

This states what we hope to learn or measure. We might state why this is worthwhile. It should be fairly brief.

§ 1.2. Procedure

Here we explain what specifically we intend to measure and what equipment will be used. Provide steps that will collect the raw data.

§ 1.3. Data

Present the raw data oftentimes as a graph or a table. Sometimes it is a bit subjective where we terminate this section and commence the Analysis section.

§ 1.4. Analysis

Here we describe the steps needed to go from raw data to the final results. Always include a discussion of errors. Errors typically do not mean mistakes. Every measurement has an associated error. The first step is identify the errors, and sometimes we can improve the lab with very small revisions. Sometimes we need a different approach. While we may not always have time in a classroom, in the field it is normal to perform the same or related experiments often.

§ 1.5. Conclusion

This should be fairly brief. Oftentimes it restates the purpose filling in the blanks with the answers. For example, if our goal was to determine the force law between two bar magnets we might be stating what the law is or at least describing it as best we can. We might give suggestions for what experiments should come next.


Call Me Dr Rob logo