YORK, Pa. — Kip Trout, lecturer in physics at Penn State York, investigated whether improved student learning occurs when Video Analysis Physics Labs (VAPLs) are used to help students make a connection between the physics learned in the classroom and the real world. Throughout the spring semester, undergraduates involved in the research had the opportunity to engage in lab experiments, which provided them with hands-on experience using iPad cameras and video analysis software.
According to Trout, science students doing traditional laboratory experiments often feel as if the apparatus and experiment have been specifically chosen for good results. They suspect, in the everyday world that they experience, that the scientific predictions will not match nearly as well. Trout explained they misconceive a disconnect between what happens in a lab setting and what happens in the real world; however, many educators have observed that student motivation and learning are improved when students make a connection between the classroom and the real world.
Thinking outside the box
In this particular study, students in Physics 211 chose the video projects that they analyzed, based upon their interests.
"Since many of our physics students at Penn State York are biology majors, they were encouraged to think outside the box and consider investigating the motion of a biological system," said Trout.
Taking up this challenge, one group of biology students measured the force dynamics of a jumping field cricket. By measuring the size and mass of the cricket, and analyzing the cricket's horizontal velocity near the peak of its jump, they were able to measure the air resistance force on the cricket. They discovered that the air resistance on the cricket was larger than expected.
Another group, comprised of engineering students, investigated the acceleration of a falling drop of honey, and found that it is only two-thirds that of free-falling objects. This is due to honey's viscosity and cohesion forces.
Other students chose projects of interest to them. For example, one group with members who enjoy popcorn as a snack chose to study the acceleration and force acting on a popping kernel of corn. They patiently popped one kernel of corn at a time until they were able to capture one that flew close to vertically.
"It was apparent from the beginning that allowing students to select their video project was helping to bring the real world into the physics lab," commented Trout.
Chelsey Kornbau, a sophomore at Penn State York, said that using technology helped her better understand what was being taught. She also like being able to select the type of experiment with which she could be involved.
“I thought it was fun and very helpful,” she said. “Doing those experiments helped me better understand the material being taught in the class.” Kornbau also noted that using the technology provided her group with more accurate information.
Kornbau’s group tracked the movements of a variety of objects that were tossed in the air, and then filmed them falling in slow motion, using an iPad. The information gathered through the videos was then used to make graphs, with the computer graphic program, Logger Pro. The graphs presented information that was easy to understand.