Luggage Lab - a set of six self-contained, portable physics experiments for outreach

Lead name:
Sean Ryan
Collaborating Institutions:
Institute of Physics, Science Learning Centre, East of England
Funding call:
Programme contact:
National HE STEM Programme
Attracting students to study physics through A2 into HE is a national priority. Luggage Lab will strengthen students’ interest in and commitment to physics by exploiting their preference for practical activities. It will develop six self-contained, high-impact experiments which can be taken to schools in supported outreach or made available as loans. It expands on the Stimulating Physics Programme, in particular the “Teacher Support” element of the “demand strand”, and will tie into and build upon the resources within the Stimulating Physics Network of 276 partner schools. The experiments will be supported by standalone multimedia packages which students can explore outside class. The experiments and support materials will promote positive gender and ethnic minority” practices, e.g. echoing the importance of practical work for building enjoyment in physics. The project will support non-specialist teachers of physics who may lack the experience or confidence to develop and interpret advanced experiments, which may have shut them off from this importance aspect of teaching physics. The project takes some of its inspiration from “Lab in a Lorry”. Approximately half of the funding will be used to purchase kit, while the other half will fund a developer to implement the experimental packages and support resources.
Project Aims

Attracting students to study physics through A-level into HE is a national priority. The aim of this project is to strengthen students’ commitment to physics through the inspiration and engagement they derive from practical activities. This will improve learning, and build the number who continue physics into HE. It expands on the Stimulating Physics Programme, in particular the “Teacher Support” element of the “demand strand”.

Project Objectives

Research demonstrates that students are inspired by practical lessons more than theory (see “Rationale”). Luggage Lab will develop six high-impact, readily transported, self-contained (luggage-style) experiments not routinely available in schools, supported by print and multimedia materials. Luggage Lab experiments will be taken into Schools in supported outreach or as loans through the University of Hertfordshire (UH) and the Science Learning Centre East of England (SLC-EoE). They will be piloted with the Physics SASP (Science as an Additional Specialism) teacher programme at the SLC-EoE, and teachers will be supported in their use of the experiments through the SLC-EoE CPD programme. The project extends the IoP (and partners) “Lab in a Lorry” project, but in a more scaleable form. “Lab in a Lorry” consists of three experiments in each of three regionally-segregated lorries, aimed at 11-14 year olds. Luggage Lab will (initially) develop six self-contained experiments and support material for 15-17 year olds, emphasising the A-level-to-HE transition. The project will thus tie into and build upon the resources within the ongoing Stimulating Physics Network of 276 partner schools, and will interface with SLC-EoE SASP and CPD programmes to support teachers in their use of the experiments.

Objective 1: Selection of experiments

The first objective is to establish with certainty what experiments schools typically already have and do not have relevant to the A-level-to-HE transition. We will use UH undergraduates and our extensive links with schools in Hertfordshire (UH), and nationally (IoP) especially through the Stimulating Physics Network and (SLC-EoE) the Physics SASP programme, to inform decisions on the most beneficial experiments.

Objective 2: Development of packages

The second objective will be to design, assemble and test the experimental setups. (Due to the lead times for the procurement of equipment, experiments may be trialled using equipment loaned to the project by the UH physics laboratory, which is later replaced.) The development will incorporate recommendations from the study “Girls into Physics” to help address the gender imbalance, such as avoiding male-sphere metaphors, emphasising girl-friendly learning activities, using female (and also BME) role models, and making links to real world benefits.

Objective 3: Development of support resources

We will develop print and multimedia resources to support teachers in the use and exploitation of the experiments, and to provide students with an additional dimension to their study via interactive multimedia. These too will be designed to promote positive gender and BME actions. The resources will be provided via the internet. (UH has experience developing standalone multimedia resources in support of physics laboratory work, which is well suited to Luggage Lab because of the large numbers of potential users, most of whom lack technical support.)

Objective 4: Piloting and revision

The fourth objective will be the piloting of the implementations, with teachers on the Physics SASP programme at the SLC-EoE.

Objective 5: Launch of Luggage Lab into public domain

We will launch Luggage Lab through the IoP Stimulating Physics Network and the SLC network, with SLC-EoE providing specific CPD support to teachers. The Luggage Lab materials will be hosted by UH and made available to Schools either directly or through the SLC-EoE.

Objective 6: Dissemination of lessons learned

We will disseminate information through the SLC network, the IoP Stimulating Physics Network, and the HEA Physical Science Centre concerning the selection and development of the resources, enabling them to be duplicated elsewhere. We will develop case studies describing the way the experiments are used by teachers in improving students’ engagement with physics.



Project Outputs

The major tangible outputs will be the development of:

  • six self-contained, simple-to-use experiments in easily transportable luggage-style packages;
  • print and multimedia support resources covering technical and health & safety aspects, background science, historical and modern context, and interpretation of the experiments;
  • descriptions of lessons learned including experimental details and case studies concerning their use in schools.

The major intangible benefits will be:

  • better educated, engaged and more enthusiastic students in who are more likely to succeed in their studies and be inspired to remain in physics into HE;

better supported teachers who are then better able to support and inspire students.

Contact Sean Ryan