Asee peer logo

Inquiry Based Activities In A Second Semester Physics Laboratory: Results Of A Two Year Assessment

Download Paper |


2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Innovations in Teaching Physics

Tagged Division

Engineering Physics & Physics

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.901.1 - 12.901.9



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Robert Ross University of Detroit Mercy

author page

Eswara Venugopal

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract


The Physics program at the University of Detroit Mercy has redesigned the introductory physics laboratory course on electromagnetism in order to implement an inquiry-based approach1-4 into the learning experiences of our students. The redesigned experiments have been modeled after the text Physics by Inquiry5 and have been previously described6, 7.

In an earlier paper8, we presented preliminary results of the performance of a broad cross-section of our laboratory students when compared with those published in a national study9. Our results indicated that our students performed slightly better than the national average for university and high school students. We believe that this result is significant due to the highly diverse nature of the student population that exists in the College of Engineering & Science at the University of Detroit Mercy (UDM). The student body at UDM is nearly sixty percent women, and over forty percent students from underrepresented groups. Enrollment in introductory physics courses that are part of various engineering and science undergraduate programs, broadly reflect this diversity.

However, the results presented in reference 8 had two limitations: the sample size was not very large, and the ongoing assessment was conducted during one semester alone. In order to ensure that our results were more broadly applicable, we conducted the same assessment over a two- year period, incorporating 12 groups of students in multiple laboratory sections. The goal of this paper is to demonstrate that an approach that utilizes simple, inexpensive materials in an electricity and magnetism laboratory, and guides the students though a series of inquiry-based activities, produces learning outcomes comparable to traditional and/or more expensive innovative methods, including computer-based laboratories.

The paper is written as follows: In the next section, we briefly describe the laboratory activities and materials used. We follow that with a description of the test and the learning objectives incorporated into the test questions, as outlined by its authors. Subsequently, we do a comparative analysis of the results of the assessment versus those in the national study, and indicate directions for further work.

Description of Laboratory Activities

The second semester laboratory focuses on experiments in electricity, magnetism and optics. The activities are structured so as to force students to develop mental models and test these models in new situations. The equipment needed for these activities are readily available at a hardware store with a combined cost less than one hundred dollars. In this paper, we focus only on the DC electric-circuit activities, since these are the concepts assessed by the Determining and Interpreting Resistive Electric Circuit Concepts Test (DIRECT) utilized in the national study9.

Our students construct a model for electric current and use their model to predict the behavior of

Ross, R., & Venugopal, E. (2007, June), Inquiry Based Activities In A Second Semester Physics Laboratory: Results Of A Two Year Assessment Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1873

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2007 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015