Practical Investigation

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.

Log Book

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.

Scientific poster

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.

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.

Resources: i) Conference papers, ii) Files on planning, iii) Files on Video analysis

Resources: i) Conference papers

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.

Resources: iii) Files on Video analysis, etc