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1. Saalih Allie, Andy Buffler, Bob Campbell, Fred Lubben, Dimitris Evangelinos, Dimitris Psillos, and Odysseas Valassiades, “Teaching measurement in the introductory physics laboratory,” Phys. Teach. 41, 394401 (Oct. 2003).
2. Marie-Genevieve Sere, Roger Journeaux, and Claudine Larcher, “Learning the statistical analysis of measurement errors.Int. J. Sci. Educ. 15, 427438 (1993).
3. Rebecca Lippmann Kung, “Teaching the concepts of measurement: An example of a concept-based laboratory course,” Am. J. Phys. 73, 771777 (Aug. 2005).
4. For example, see T. T. Grove and M. F. Masters, “Mechanical simulation of a half-life,” Phys. Teach. 46, 369 (Sept. 2008).
5.How Experts Differ from Novices,” in How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition, edited by J. D. Bransford, A. L. Brown, and R. R. Cocking (National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2000), pp. 2950.
6. Matthew d'Alessio and Loraine Lundquist, “Computer Supported Collaborative Rocketry: Teaching students to distinguish good and bad data like expert physicists,” Phys. Teach. 51, 424427 (Oct. 2013).
7. The full exercise is available online at

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Helping students develop an understanding of how to interpret experimental data trends is an important part of the introductory physics laboratory. Unfortunately, many of my colleagues have lamented that too many of their students do this poorly. This is a common refrain, and past research has already revealed student difficulties with measurement, uncertainty, and the overall meaning of data.1–3 Like many instructors, I prefer discovery-style labs and in many laboratory investigations students are asked to use curve-fitting tools to discover a relationship.4 But one day in lab, I began to wonder if students were looking at data and curve fitting in a way profoundly different than scientists. Research already indicates significant differences,5,6 but to get a clearer understanding of how students would treat general data, a hypothetical set of data using fictional parameters (plumbdads and quarkles) was given to first day students.


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