Instructor Preparation

Instructors routinely tailor classes to their own students. For example, if students have weaker math preparation than is needed to learn course material, we do some math review to reinforce skills. Planning out the use of experiments as part of a course involves the same sort of tailoring. Some suggestions:
  • Student groups with recorder
    Decide how to best incorporate experiments into
    course content. Some suggestions of when to include an experiment include:
    • To illustrate material where students have prior misconceptions about the material or where students normally have difficulty mastering the concepts,
    • When the experiment can become a point of reference for a number of concepts throughout the semester. If the experiment helps make an initial abstract topic more concrete for the students, it gives them a better chance of mastering extensions of that topic,
    • If students perceive a topic as boring, an experiment might help students see what is relevant and interesting about that topic,
    • When you hit a low point in the semester and the class needs to be re-energized, like after midterms or spring break.
  • Designate the appropriate amount of time for the experiment - some experiments might be adapted to take more than one class period while others may be adapted to take only a few minutes.
    • A short experiment at the beginning of class can help motivate a more formal presentation that follows. On the other hand, if students are likely to get very boisterous during the experiment, they might find it hard to concentrate and take notes immediately after the experiment concludes.
    • An experiment that is detailed and where waiting is involved or one that has a number of variations might take an entire class period. On the other hand, if the variations relate to material that would normally be spread out over several weeks, it might be best to divide the experiment up to match the material. That is, unless the experiment takes so long to set up that this is impractical.
    • Experiments don't have to be "long" to be "useful" to students.
  • Match the experiment to the class level, course atmosphere and the personalities and learning styles of your students.
    • To liven up a "sleepy" class, add some drama to the experiment where you can. Hand out candy prizes, ask students to wear badges with their "job title" on them or anything else that fits your style and your students.
    • Experiments can be a great way to get a quiet class involved in discussion, and sometimes once you create a classroom culture where discussions take place, they will continue to take place after the experiment ends.
  • Choose a strategy for dealing with the classroom environment: room layout, number of students, whether the class is taught online, etc.
    • For very large classes it might be necessary to have students work in groups, or to have students take turns carrying out the experiment while others in the class observe.
    • Classrooms with tables may be more practical for experiments than those with small desks attached to the student's chair. Consider requesting a classroom that makes it easy to carry out classroom experiments or borrowing a table if necessary.
    • Online classes can take advantage of computer technology to help with classroom experiments. It isn't necessary in a lot of cases for all students to make decisions at the same time or for all parts of the experiment to take place on the same day.