Practical investigations or (EPIs) have been part of Physics courses in Victoria since the 1980's. In that time the style, amount of class time and mode of assessment have undergone numerous changes, but the task has required students to:
- have some input in the decision making on topics, variables and equipment,
- undertake research of some depth, beyond what is commonly done in a conventional experiment,
- analyse the data in some detail and
- acknowledge uncertainties by some basic error analysis.
It is the expected norm that students would investigate different topics, either individually or in pairs. A separate webpage of advice for students doing the practical investigation has been set up. It can be accessed here.
New Physics Study Design 2016 onwards
In the new study design the Practical Investigation is a separate Area of Study, both in Unit 2 and in Unit 4. The types of investigations has been broadened to include 'construction and evaluation of a device'. The number of variables has also been specified with two variables in Unit 2, one of which must be continuous, while in Unit 4 both must be continuous.
In Unit 2 the report of the investigation can be by a scientific poster, but in Unit 4, the report must be in the form of a scientific poster, so it would be advisable for students experience the format in Unit 2 investigation. Some examples of posters, advice and helpful hints are provided below.
Assessing the Investigation
In the study design, there is a list of dot points for the 'Key Knowledge' for the Practical Investigation, covering aspects such as: use of relevant physics concepts, experimental design, practical skills, data collection and analysis, consideration of uncertainty, interpretation of results, and suggestions for improvements and further research.
The assessment should look at each of these aspects and can do so in different ways and at different times. The assessment strategy could include some or all of the following:
- developing an experimental plan, possibly under test conditions,
- observation of practical skills, such as equipment layout and use of equipment and measuring instruments,
- monitoring of the compulsory log book for observational insights, appropriate number of repeated readings over a broad enough range,
- in depth perusal of the log book. This should be the largest contribution to the overall assessment and could be done after the poster is submitted,
- a poster summarising the key parts of the investigation.
For some of these early assessments, feedback can be provided to correct for any weaknesses in the investigation, but the initial assessment can still stand.
The log book has become a significant part of a student's investigation. It is where the students keeps everything from:
- their initial ideas for topics,
- plans for their approved topic,
- summary of relevant physics,
- all their measurements, calculations and graphs,
- photos of equipment and the experiments,
- reflections on how the investigation is going, difficulties faced and how they were overcome,
- reflections on how the investigation could have been improved and suggestions on what you would next investigate if you had more time,
- to a draft of a conclusion.
The logbook can a hard copy exercise book or an electronic folder on the school's website, but it should be in a format that the teacher can readily and frequently access, and annotate as needed. It is the logbook that shows that the investigation is the student's own work. It is where the full story of the investigation is told. It should be like a diary, with period by period entries of what has been done and what is planned for the next class. Most of the teacher's assessment will be based on it.
Each year in Germany in the month before Christmas, there is a Physics event called 'Physics in Advent'
It presents on line '24 small, simple experiments and physics mysteries to young researchers' to do at home. A new problem is released each day from 1st December until Christmas eve. They offer prizes to winning entries. The problems and solutions for the previous year are on their website. The archive at the bottom of the page gives access to the problems and solutions back to 2013. The problems are simple, but engaging for students from primary to upper secondary and could be done in a range of settings from the classroom to home or on camps, etc.
This is the WJEC (Welsh Education) AS/A Level Physics lab book. It is a 132 page pdf with specific pracs and space for working out. The introduction covers graphing and uncertainties up to page 10.
The Physics Practical Handbook, a 150 page pdf on practical assessment in the UK, there are sections on significant figures, uncertainties and graphing.
The scientific poster should be a summary of the investigation, just the bones and the highlights. It is not a full report, the logbook provides the details and gives flesh to the bones.
The poster should have the following sections:
- Title: Question under investigation is the title.
- Introduction: Explanation or reason for undertaking the investigation, including a clear aim, a hypothesis and/or prediction and relevant background physics concepts
- Methodology: Summary that outlines the methodology used in the investigation and is authenticated by logbook entries. Identification and management of relevant risks, including the relevant health, safety and ethical guidelines followed in the investigation
- Results: Presentation of collected data/evidence in appropriate format to illustrate trends, patterns and/or relationships
- Discussion: Analysis and evaluation of primary data. Identification of outliers and their subsequent treatment. Identification of limitations in data and methods, and suggested improvements. Linking of results to relevant physics concepts
- Conclusion: Conclusion that provides a response to the question
- References and acknowledgments: Referencing and acknowledgment of all quotations and sourced content as they appear in the poster.
The poster can be done as an electronic poster using a template containing the categories listed above, with text entered or pasted into boxes. Some websites that provide templates and tips are listed below.
It is worthwhile checking out some of the posters that were entries in last year's Poster Competition for the Unit 2 Practical Investigation.
A PowerPoint slide template for a poster with sections for each of the categories required of VCE posters. Each category has a short desciption of what should pasted there.
A PowerPoint slide template for a generic poster based on one prepared by Medical Illustrations Unit of the University of New South Wales.
A comprehensive website full of useful hints. One eye-catching feature is a faux poster about what makes a good poster. Different styles are also included as well as links to other poster design websites. Its audience is university students, but the style and language is very accessible. No samples are provided.
Free PowerPoint templates for Scientific posters with a basic four column format.
Useful tips for poster design as well as links to numerous examples, but mainly tertiary biology.
Advice that is clear, to the point and well presented. The emphasis is on the poster as an aid to oral communication, but definitely worth checking out.
Information from the UK's National STEM Centre, more for middle school students. Worksheets for students and a teacher's guide.
A four page pdf of advice for students with examples and several weblinks.
The VCE Physics Exam and the Practical Investigation
In the new Physics Study Design the Practical Investigation is a separate Area of Study in Unit 2 and in Unit 4. It is expected that the Practical Investigation will be included in the end of year exam along with the other five Areas of Study in Units 3 and 4 in 2017. The questions on the practical investigation may of necessity be generic as students will be investigating different topics from any of the other five Areas of Study in Units 3 and 4. The questions may be presented separately from other questions, or the questions could be embedded in a specific Area of Study to give the questions some context. The actual style of the questions also has not been determined. The Examining Panel is expected to produce a sample exam paper sometime in 2016.
However, the VCE Psychology exam has had questions on research methodology for a few years. With that in mind a few sample questions have been written that teachers might like to try out with their Year 11 students this year and next year. Feedback on the questions is welcome.
Sample exam questions for the EPI prepared by Gary Bass and Dan O'Keeffe. These are based on the research methodology questions in the VCE Psychology exam. It is not known yet what form the questions for physics might take.
Resources: i) Conference papers, ii) Files on planning, iii) Files on Video analysis
Resources: i) Conference papers
Presented by Dino Cevolatti and Stuart Bird, Castlemaine Secondary College. Repeated in B1. A four page handout to support the presentation.
Presented by Dino Cevolatti and Stuart Bird, Castlemaine Secondary College. Repeated in B1. How structured log books, rubrics, and similar
tools, can be used in the classroom to support students in engaging effectively in the inquiry process.
In the 2017 Conference the Keynote address and the follow up small group discussion focussed on the Practical Investigation.
Resources: ii) Files on planning
The web page on Practical Activities also has an extensive range of resources on practical activities.
This is the list of PI topics that were used as part of the Small Group Activities at the 2017 Physics Teachers' Conference. Each of these topics has detailed titles to provide guidance to students. Also added at the end of this list are detailed titles that offer more challenge. At the end of the list there are topics with short titles that students will need to unpack.
This 14 page booklet is designed for students doing Unit 4 Practical Investigation. It is a Word document and tecahers can customise it to suit their needs. The table of contents covers: What will you be doing?, What do you get out of the Practical Investigation? , Deciding on a topic, Identifying variables, Formulating a plan, A Timeline, Hints for the students, Using the log book, Taking measurements and analysing data, Assembling a poster. There are also 7 appendices including a short list of topics.
This seven page document lists topics from the Nuffield physics course that are relevant to the Unit 2 Practical investigation. The topics are sorted in the Motion Area of Study and the 12 options. There are also topics for other areas of physics at the end.
A full page list of topics for Unit 3 Motion, Magnetic fields and Electrical energy.
10 pages of topics grouped by Area of Study. Some have a catchy title with a supportive paragraph, most have self-explanatory titles.
A list of topics from the Young Physicists' Tournament that are suitable for Investigations in Unit 2 Motion and the Light and Sound options, and for Unit 4 Practical Investigation.
The criteria for the Practical Investigation from VCAA Physics Assessment Booklet have been arranged in a table format for ease of use. Each row contains related comments on a particular aspect e.g. 'Understanding' from each of the score ranges, e.g. 'Demonstrates an advanced understanding of the investigation' through to 'Demonstrates a limited understanding of ...'. The full text has been broken up, covering the categories of 'understanding', 'hypothesis', 'procedures', 'safety', 'improvements', 'data', 'records', 'presentation', 'estimates', 'analysis', 'communication', 'explanations', each with a separate row.
The table has been updated with a column indicating whether each category can be assessed by the student's plan, their logbook or the poster.
Guidelines by Paul Fitzgerald from Ivanhoe Girls' Grammar School
Worksheet for students to design their own experimental investigation into the radiation from alpha and beta sources. Submitted by Elena Vakhnin, Balwyn High School
A booklet for students on doing an extended practical investigation for the Motion Area of Study. An extensive list of topics is included, The booklet was prepared by Shane MacLean and Paul Cuthbert while at Kew High School. Note: This was written for the course that finished in 2016.
Resources: iii) Files on Video analysis, etc
Session by Kelvin Barraclough and Andrew MacLean, Gisborne Secondary College. Data file from a helicopter flight from Essendon Airport to Middle Park.
Session by Kelvin Barraclough and Andrew MacLean, Gisborne Secondary College. Data file from a train ride from Bendigo to Malmsbury. Other data files can be found in the proceedings for the 2009 Conference.
Session by Kelvin Barraclough and Andrew MacLean, Gisborne Secondary College. Template for GPS data.
Workshop A17 by Kevin Barraclough, Gisborne Secondary College
PowerPoint presentation by Andrew McLean and Kelvin Barraclough of Gisborne Secondary College.
Some notes to accompany the PowerPoint presentation by Andrew McLean and Kelvin Barraclough of Gisborne Secondary College.
An Excel file to show an example of walking, prepared by Andrew McLean and Kelvin Barraclough of Gisborne Secondary College. Third of eight files.
An Excel file of the original data used to produce the Excel file to show an example of walking, prepared by Andrew McLean and Kelvin Barraclough of Gisborne Secondary College. Fourth of eight files.
An Excel file of the original data used to produce the Excel file to show an aircraft takeoff, prepared by Andrew McLean and Kelvin Barraclough of Gisborne Secondary College. Sixth of eight files.
An Excel file to show an aircraft taking off, prepared by Andrew McLean and Kelvin Barraclough of Gisborne Secondary College. Fifth of eight files.
An Excel file to show an aircraft pulling up and other flight manoeuvres, prepared by Andrew McLean and Kelvin Barraclough of Gisborne Secondary College. Seventh of eight files.
An Excel template, prepared by Andrew McLean and Kelvin Barraclough of Gisborne Secondary College. Eighth of eight files.
Commercial presentation by Gary Bass, CP Software