Welcome to practical physicsPracticle physics - practical activities designed for use in the classroom with 11 to 19 year olds

Collecting and recording data

Collecting and presenting data is vital to identifying trends and patterns between variables. Data analysis becomes difficult or impossible if adequate data is not collected or if it is not properly recorded.

The experiments in this collection provide opportunities to collect good data sets, or highlight issues and problems that need to be considered.

Using equipment
Collecting data requires skills in using scientific equipment and devices. Generally, you can teach these skills whilst students are carrying out investigations, but sometimes you need to allocate time for students to become familiar and confident with new equipment.

These experiments develop skill in using particular measuring instruments.

Improving the quality of measurements
The quality of measurements limits any conclusions that can be drawn from an experiment.

There are several things about measuring that a teacher might hope to convey to students:

  • A sense of pride in measuring as well as possible, given the tools they have.
  • An ability to recognize the limitations of instruments and to evaluate the quality of measurements.
  • An ability to improve experiments by reducing uncertainties in measurements and systematic errors.

When providing equipment for some experiments, you could give students a choice of instruments with different scales. Encourage them to justify their selection. Measurements of length and temperature provide good opportunities for this approach.

Some small improvement to the instruments used or the method can make a big difference to the quality of the data collected. These experiments use techniques that improve the quality of data collected.

Designing and using data tables
It is generally useful to collect data in a table format, with columns correctly labelled (units at the top and not in the main body of the table). Students should be encouraged to draw their results table before they start collecting data.

These experiments yield data sets that clearly benefit from using a well-designed data table.

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