LAB PROGRAM ACADEMYOF SCIENCE
Lab Note Books
All Academy students will have an extensive lab program. Lab reports will represent 40% of your quarterly grade. The key to success in any laboratory setting is to be organized both in what you do and how you report what you have done. The Lab Notebook is the key to this organization.
Lab activities will be performed frequently. Usually, you will generate the questions being answered, develop the techniques for answering these questions, and collect and report the data. Occasionally you will be given worksheets and “cookbook” activities but for the most part, you will design your own labs.
As you can imagine, this means you will need to make good plans, keep great notes, and have a format to use in order to report your work.
You should have a hardcover, composition style, lab notebook with graph paper rather than lined paper. Spiral notebooks and binders with removable paper are not acceptable as a lab notebook.
This notebook is your way of recording observations, procedures and results in a clear manner so that when you or someone else looks at, it is obvious what was done and can be repeated by anyone else. Think of it as a cross between a data collection device and a science diary. When keeping a lab notebook there are several important factors to keep in mind. Hopefully the following information and accompanying explanations will help clarify the lab note taking process.
- All lab notes must be written in blue or black ink. If you make a mistake you can cross it out with a single line.
- Never remove a page from a lab notebook; removing a page can invalidate an entire research project. You should number your pages in the lab notebook, in pen, in the top right hand corner.
Lab Notebook Organization
Very often in class, a discussion of a scientific principle or concept will lead to a group question that needs research. At that point, you’ll need your lab notebook. First, you will be divided into small research teams of 2-4 members. The job of each of these teams is to solidify and detail the question being asked. Then, once you have a satisfactory question, the team must agree to a hypothesis that predicts an answer to this question. In order to test the hypothesis, you must then design a procedure and gather data from that procedure. Eventually, you can then report on what you found in a formal Lab Report. Lab Reports will be discussed at a later time.
Please note that lab notebooks may occasionally be collected.
At the top of each lab, be sure to put the date and the names of the partners you worked with.
Defining the Problem
After some discussion, you and your team will come up with a problem or research question to be investigated. The question you should write in your lab notebook is one that you and your team have developed, not the general question put forth by the teacher or class. For example, the question may have come up in class as to whether gravity causes all objects to fall at the same rate if you neglect air resistance. Since it is impossible to experiment on “all objects”, you and your team may decide to test the effect of gravity on two different masses. You have decided to test this effect by seeing if they accelerate at the same rate when dropped. You should clearly put in your notebook something like this:
Will two different masses undergo the same acceleration when dropped?
The problem does not always have to be stated as a question, although this format helps when formulating a hypothesis.
Once your team has agreed on a question, you must hypothesize an answer to this question. A hypothesis must be more than just a guess, you must give a reason for your hypothesis. So, using the example of gravity above, you and your team might think that a 500 gram mass may fall faster than a 100 gram mass. By the way, one of the great things about science is that it is OK to be incorrect in your hypothesis….as long as you can explain why in your report (more on that later). Generally hypothesis are written as “if/then” statements and should include your independent and dependent variables (see section below on variables) and constants.
So, in your lab notebook, you should write something like this:
Since a 100 gram mass is lighter than a 500 gram mass, gravity is pulling on it with less force. If a 100 gram mass and a 500 g mass that are similarly shaped are dropped from the same height, then the 100 gram mass will fall more slowly.
Variables, Constants and Controls
As you and your team sit down to design a way to test your hypothesis, you must first determine what you are going to change (your independent variable), what you are going to measure because of that change (your dependent variable), and what aspects you are going to keep constant (constants), and any control groups you use (comparison). This can be shown as a list:
Variables, Constants, and Controls
Independent Variable-mass of the dropped objects
Dependent Variable-time it takes for the object to fall 1 meter
Constants-Distance it will fall
Shape of the object (to avoid air resistance)
Again, as you begin to formulate your plan for solving your problem, you are going to be finding out what materials you want and what materials are available. As you sit down with your team and form this plan, you will want to make a list of materials. This will be especially important to have as you start to gather your materials together. In your lab books you could write something like:
100 g mass
500 g mass
In this section you‘ll want to write down, in straightforward language, what you will need to do in order to complete this activity. It will be a step by step “protocol” to help you and your partners complete the task. Obviously, this will be very important later, when you report on what was done in this investigation. It might look something like this:
1. Using the meter stick, measure out a distance of 3 meters against a wall. Place a piece of tape on the wall to mark 3 meters.
2. Take the 500 g mass, and standing on a chair, raise the mass to the 3 meter mark.
3. Have your partner hold the stopwatch. At the count of 3, release the mass and start the stopwatch. When the mass hits the ground, immediately stop the stopwatch.
4. Record your Data.
5. Repeat this procedure 4 more times.
6. Now, repeat steps 1-4 for the 100 gram mass.
Data and Observations
Before you can begin the procedures you have outlined above, you must have a designed data chart in your lab notebook. In this case it might look something like this:
Data and Observations
Time to drop 3 meters (sec)
In addition, you should include in this section, any computations you make (for example the average amount of time), conversions, or data manipulations that you will need when you finally write up the lab. It also helps to write down any things that occurred during the lab, difficulties you may have had, observations you and your team members made, etc.