I have written about my overall approach to labs in both Physics and AP® Physics in a previous post. Everything in that post still applies in my courses today, including the two lab skills I use for lab report assessment. However, I am shifting how I support students in their writing of formal lab reports, which I only include in my AP Physics course. Over the years, despite any preparation we do as a class and any resources I provide to ensure universal understanding of the goals of a lab report and the expectations of the content and analysis, my students struggle with the first few reports of each academic year, learning what is expected seemingly through trial and error. This summer, I worked to add more scaffolding and support to my lab report templates to (hopefully!) help my students experience the value of documentation. I am going to share the details of this new approach here and then I will make sure to add an update when I see how the students take to this new system!
What was I doing before?
This isn't the first time I have used a template in which I break out the sections of a lab report to give students a starting point and avoid the intimidation factor of the blank, white page! I shared a pdf of my template in my previous post as well. Here is what my templates used to look like:
You can see in the image above that there is a link for the students to reference. This took the students through each section of the report and detailed the expectations. I gave this same information to the students for every single lab report. This made my life easier for sure and gave the students a familiar starting point each time they sat down to write. However, I overestimated my students' capacity to shift their work depending on the context of the lab. I have realized this is a skill I need to help them practice! This leads me to my plan for this year. Read on!
What do my NEW templates look like?
First, I decided to create a customized template for each lab investigation so I could include targeted questions and recommendations. Second, I gradually reduced the level of my support in each subsequent template. This means that my template for the first lab report of the year includes A LOT (TONS) of support and specificity about the expectations of each section. The next template includes a bit less, allowing the students to build on their learning from their previous writing experience. This incremental reduction of my support continues throughout the year. To illustrate this with an example, below is the analysis section from my first lab report template of the year:
THE LINEARIZED GRAPH (FIRST LINEARIZATION OF THE YEAR!!! YES!!!!!!)

This is where your work goes for section 3!! Delete this message, please :)

THE NONLINEAR GRAPH

This is where your work goes for section 4!! Delete this message, please :) 
There is SO MUCH detail here! The students are linearizing on their own for the first time using software they have used very little. By comparison, below is the analysis section from my last lab report template of the year:
LINEARIZATION!!
Create a data table of the manipulated data you calculated for your first linearized graph. This should be of the horizontal axis data and the vertical axis data (two columns only). Include an explanation of why you decided to perform these calculations. Include a LINEAR graph of the data. The graph must be created in LoggerPro with proper labels on the axes, including units. Your plot must have a clear bestfit line superimposed with the equation visible. Explain and digest the meaning of the graph. Describe what the graph is showing, state the bestfit equation (include units on numerical values only when you write out the equation and use proper variables based on the axes of the graph, example not based on this lab: x = 7.5m/s*t + 0.1m), discuss the meaning of the slope and yintercept and whether they make sense, and state and discuss the correlation value. Basically, discuss your graph and results in detail. Don’t forget units on all numerical values! If you do any math, show your steps and explain. If you can perform % error, go ahead!

This is where your work goes for section 3!! Delete this message, please :)

You can see some repetition, and I have included a lot less guidance. Ideally, students are now owning the report! If you would like to see the complete templates for my first lab report and last lab report, feel free to do so by clicking on the links! You will also see my introductory letter to my students on the first report file in which I introduce the process. Please forgive any typos! I am sure I will catch them as I use them this year!
I will update this post when I see these templates in action!!
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