>Last year I tackled a common problem in our Modern Physics lab: too many students, not enough copies of the equipment for them all to do the famous labs of the early 20th century. My solution was to have them all get a little time on the lab/equipment but not let anyone do the whole lab outright.
Here’s how it worked. In the first week they break into four groups, one for each experiment (Franck-Hertz, Millikan Oil Drop, e/m measurement, angular momentum study (the TeachSpin one with the magnet in the cue ball)). In that week they were tasked with writing the theory and set-up/procedure section of the eventual write up. That’s it. They were given manuals for all the equipment and, of course, they had their text books from class to help with the theory section.
In the second week they come in and are expected to only do data collection. On a different apparatus. For a different experiment. The only thing they are allowed to use is the write up from the previous group from the previous week.
In the third week they analyze data. For a different experiment. From a different lab group.
Then the Frankenstein lab reports are mashed together and turned in. It worked pretty well last year and I’m between weeks 1 and 2 this year.
At first I told them that the last group would get the full grade for that lab report. That didn’t go over very well. We ended up deciding that I would grade each group and their contributions, trying to be careful not to penalize a group for some other group’s poor work.
Spreading it over several weeks was done because some of this equipment is finicky and the analysis can be tricky. Typically I don’t like students to have to do too much outside of our three hours per week together so the three weeks is about the right amount of time is you consider all the analysis and all the writing being done in class. What was cool, though, about the three week spread was how the groups pushed each other. If a group knew that it was going to have to take Millikan data, they would pressure the set-up group to make sure to give them all the details they would need. Last year Millikan gave us some fits and it was cool how the data collection group worked with the setup group to figure out the glitches.
I see a lot of value to the way this is set up. In three weeks they get exposed to different aspects of three different labs. They understand the value of a carefully written setup section and the value of carefully organized data. I do it because I don’t have enough equipment to do it other ways but I have to say I like this solution.