Scaffolding laboratory skills

David Low, Kate Wilson


The first-year physics laboratory program at UNSW Canberra has evolved over many years (Low & Timmers, 2011), in response to the commonly-experienced drivers of available resources (material and human) and student feedback (on both enjoyment and learning outcomes). Here, we report on the most recent changes: moving towards an inquiry-oriented system that employs scaffolded skill-development with a capstone assessment task.
By focusing on the processes of designing and performing an experiment, rather than the physics content, students’ skills are built from experiment to experiment. They find this experience, on the whole, both enjoyable and effective. The skills that they have learned – to design an experiment, keep good records, perform uncertainty analyses, and use graphs to interpret data – should stand them in good stead in all their subsequent studies and work.


laboratory learning, physics, first-year

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