Adding Value to Physics Laboratories for Pre-service Teachers

Lorna Elaine Jarrett, George Takacs, Brian Ferry


This project focussed on first-year physics laboratories for pre-service teachers. It aimed to make laboratories more aligned to future teachers’ needs; contributing to their confidence with apparatus, conceptual understanding and effectiveness as communicators. However, our approach is also relevant to mainstream science laboratories.
Firstly, we flagged links with practical investigations in the NSW year 11 / 12 physics syllabus in the lab manual. Secondly, we incorporated qualitative multiple-choice questions at strategic points based on the Peer Instruction work of Mazur (1996), Crouch and Mazur (2001) and Cox and Junkin III (2002). Finally we employed principles of Cognitive Load Theory in the laboratory manual design to decrease extraneous cognitive load and make learning more efficient (Paas, Renkl, & Sweller, 2004; Purnell, Solman, & Sweller, 1991; Chandler & Sweller, 1991). Three experiments were modified. Evaluation involved observation, comparison of marks and a focus group. Peer Instruction succeeded in uncovering misconceptions and engaging participants in meaningful discussion but was too time consuming for the two-hour laboratories and increased participants’ cognitive load. Recommendations include using Peer Instruction at the start of laboratories, use of Cognitive Load Theory to inform laboratory manual design and further research with a larger participant group to validate findings.

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