Why do Practical Work?
Experimental investigations have to be carried out carefully and accurately, if you to learn from them. In many schools, teachers have abandoned practical work as there are too many classroom management issues that arise. In other words, idiots take over the lesson and wreck the learning as well as the equipment. Even the best students get few meaningful results.
Physics experiments have a reputation for not working properly and being rather difficult to interpret as a result. This is not helped by sketchy instructions that are hand-written on a piece of A4 paper and photocopied, often just as the teacher is about to go to the lesson. Often they are written in blue biro (because that was the pen he had to hand) and photocopied so badly that they are barely legible...
Even word-processed material is not much better, even if it is bought in at great expense!
This need not be the case, if you do the following:
Read the instructions carefully;
Ask if you are not sure - your teacher is paid to help you;
Do exactly what you are asked to do, no more, no less;
Record data to an appropriate precision;
Plot them on a graph;
Think about your data to assess whether they are reliable;
Discuss the physics behind the experiment.
You will use a variety of equipment, much of which is actually really simple to use. Even the most complex item is much simpler to use than a mobile telephone. The object of these notes is to help you to understand the nature of practical work and how you can benefit from it.
Practical work is a very important part of successful study of physics. The majority of the laws and principles of physics were worked out by experimental work. Theoretical physicists have come up with ideas, worked out with complex mathematics, but those ideas have been verified by experiment.
What about in school or college? Practical work helps to:
Develop skills in using equipment;
Illustrate physics concepts;
Verify physics concepts, showing you that they are true, not just an idea;
Challenge understanding, especially if things donít turn out as expected;
Promote co-operative work with others;
Get you off your backside, off an uncomfortable stool.
So practical work is vital part of the successful study of physics. So get on with it, and you will learn something!