Department of Physics and Astronomy, Dartmouth College
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Spacer The following are the standard operating procedures for the introductory undergraduate teaching laboratories.

Lab Locations:

All undergraduate teaching labs are located on the second floor of Wilder Laboratory. They include rooms 216 - 219 for the introductory physics labs, room 200 for astronomy labs, and rooms 209 - 210 for the advanced physics labs.

Lab Times:

There are 10 possible lab sections: Monday - Friday afternoons and evenings. The labs are generally 3 hours long and run from 1:45 - 4:45 pm in the afternoon and from 7:00 - 10-00 pm in the evening. The choice of lab sections is up to the instructor. Evening sections tend to be more popular.

Lab Section Assignments:

The Registrar used to make lab section assignments, but historically more than 50% of the students requested reassignment due to course changes, work conflicts, athletic participation, etc.. Therefore, the Department has taken on the job of making lab section assignments, usually sometime in the first week of classes.

Faculty are welcome to do their own lab section assignments, but this is one of the services that the lab staff provides to those instructors who request it. In that case, the procedure is as follows.

  1. The lab manager will prepare a paper form (sample) which will be handed out to the students in class. It is recommended that this be done as far into the term as possible to allow student schedules to stabilize. The forms are collected by the faculty member (usually at the end of the same class when they were handed out) and given back to the lab manager.

  2. The lab manager starts by assigning everyone to their preferred lab section. The number of people in each section is then determined. If a specific lab section has more than the maximum allowed number of students, students in that section are shifted to other lab sections (based on their second or third preferences noted on the sign-up form) until the overloaded section is down to the maximum number allowed. In most cases, 90% - 95% of the students get their preferred lab section.

  3. The completed lab assignments are uploaded to the course web site and the students are notified by email that the lab section assignments have been posted and where to find them.

Number of students per lab:

One of the objectives of the laboratory exercises is to allow the students to gain hands-on experience in making measurements and using various kinds of lab equipment. This can only be effectively done if the number of students per lab station is limited to two students.

This means that for those lab exercises with 10 setups the maximum number of students per lab session is 20. For those lab exercises with only 5 setups, the maximum number of students per lab session is 10.

Temporary Lab Section Changes:

The Physics Department recognizes that there are legitimate reasons for a student not being able to make their assigned lab section. To accommodate these situations, the Department allows students to temporarily switch into another lab section for a specific week.

Students are generally limited to the number of temporary lab changes they can make in a given term. The default number is 2. Experience has shown that when unlimited changes are allowed a certain number of students will abuse the system.

To make a temporary lab section change, the students use an electronic form on the course web page. The form is submitted to the lab manager who approves or denies the change request. If a change is approved, a confirming email is sent to the student. If the requested section is full or the student has already used the maximum number of temporary changes for the term, an email is sent to the student denying the change and stating the reason for the denial.

Students making a temporary lab change should hand their lab report in to their regular TA.

Permanent Lab Section Changes:

Permanent lab section changes are made using the same electronic form desribed above.

Making Up a Missed Lab:

One setup of the previous week's lab is left set up in the lab room for 1 week after the last lab session for a given lab exercise. Students must make up the missed lab during that week. Due to a lack of space in the lab rooms, make up set ups cannot be left up longer than that.

To make up a lab, the students makes an appointment with the TA. The TA/student meeting is required to allow the TA to go over the use of the lab equipment, to note any saftey concerns and to give any special instructions for the lab write report. The TA is not required to stay in the lab while the student does the lab work, but must be available to answer any questions the student may have.

Lab Report Notebooks:

The standard lab notebook is the National Brand Quad Ruled notebook (10 1/8" X 7 7/8). They can be purchased at the Dartmouth Bookstore. Spiral bound notebooks also work, but have the disadvantage of not having graph paper. Loose sheets of paper stapled together are not recommended because they are easily lost.

Students may be required to purchase 1 or 2 lab notebooks. If only one lab book is required and prelab preparation in the lab notebook is required, the TA's will need to have the lab reports graded and returned to the student in sufficient time for them to do the required prelab preparation. If 2 lab books are required, the TA's can return the previous labs notebook in lab and the students can use the 2nd book to prepare for the upcoming lab.

Lab Report Format:

There is no standard lab report format. Instructors may handle this issue any way they choose. Often it is left up to the TA's to require a specific format.

Lab Report Due Dates:

The default due date is 48 hours after a lab session is done. If a student does a lab on Tuesday, the report would be due by a specified time Thursday evening. Forty eight hours gives the students sufficient time to do the write-up while it is still fresh in their mind.

Some instructors choose to have the lab report turned in at the end of the lab session. If this is done, the lab hours are extended by one hour to give the students time to complete the write-up.

Lab Report Turn In:

There are a series of slots under the student and staff mailboxes opposite the Physics Department Office (Wilder 102). At the beginning of the term, the slots are labeled with the course name, TA's name, and the TA's lab sections. The lab reports are turned in to these marked slots.


Unless otherwise specified, lab grades are based on a 0 - 10 scale. The following are guidelines when assigning grades to individual lab reports:

  1. if the lab work is not done and no lab report is handed in, give a 0;

  2. if the lab work was done, but no lab report was handed in, give a 5;

  3. if all of the required work was completed and there were no major errors in the lab report, give an 8;

  4. if some of the required work was not done or there were major errors in the lab report, give an appropriate grade between 5 and 8;

  5. if extra work was done by the student or the lab report showed above average understanding of the physical concepts involved in the lab, give an appropriate grade between 8 and 10.

Fractional parts of a point may be awarded.

Late Lab Policy:

This varies widely from course to course. Some faculty do not accept late lab reports. More commonly, 1 point is deducted from the lab grade for each day the lab report is late. While no particular policy is advocated, it is recommended that some policy be set and that it be observed consistently by all TA's for the course. Allowing each TA to set their own late lab policy has in the past led to complaints from students when one TA was very lenient and another was very strict.

A penalty for a late lab is usually only levied if the lateness is unexcused. If a student gets permission from a TA in advance to turn a lab report in late for a valid reason, no points are deducted. What excuses are considered valid has historically been left up to the individual TA.

Lab Report Return:

Two primary locations are used for the return of graded lab reports: (1) in the class student mailboxes or (2) in lab the following week. If the latter is used and the students are required to do prelab preparation in their lab books, two lab books will be needed by each student.

Lab Briefings:

It is highly recommended that a weekly lab briefing be done with the TA's before each new lab. This is a service that the lab manager provides to those faculty who request it. If an individual faculty member would prefer to do his/her own lab briefings, it is recommended that the lab manager be included.

Course Mailboxes:

The lab staff handles the set up of student mailboxes for Departmental courses. These mailboxes are used to return homework, exams, lab reports, etc.. The default location for these mailboxes is by the front door to Wilder on the ground floor.

Standard procedures for the course mailboxes are:

  1. Mailboxes are labeled with the students names approximately two days before the first time they will be used. Waiting until the last minute to label the mailboxes allows the class roster to stabilize.

  2. After the initial labeling, any student names added are placed at the end of the previously applied labels.

  3. The lab manager receives daily class rosters from the Registrar. The mailboxes are checked for new students, usually every other day, until the final class roster is sent to the lab manager.

  4. Materials remaining in the mailboxes at the end of a term are left there for the first week of the next term to allow returning students to retrieve the contents. At the beginning of the second week in the new term, the mailboxes are emptied and the contents are place in labled boxes under the blackboard in the lab manager's office (Wilder 220A). They are kept until the end of the term. Any unclaimed materials are then discarded.

Homework Boxes:

Lockable homework turn-in boxes are available. These are usually located near the course mailboxes or outside the instructor's office. The lab staff handles the set-up of these boxes.

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