A trip to the MALL

Cover Story

View of the Macdonald Active Learning Lab

The Macdonald Active Learning Laboratory (MALL), the first of its kind in Canada, is a technologically advanced 80-seat undergraduate science lab that has been built to support active learning methods; methods which have been proven to create deep, long-lasting learning outcomes.

All Physics labs have been rewritten to maximize use of the new facility. The experiments, designed in three parts, include a computer simulation, a hands-on experiment and good old-fashioned experimental data-based problems. The work takes place on three-sided workstations specifically designed for group work.

I have to admit that I thought I was going to be in and out of there in a flash. But once Professor James Hedberg starts to roll out the experiment du jour, I am hooked.  Hedberg’s instructions? Come up with an experimental protocol to measure the rate of acceleration of an elevator. Students are allotted a budget of $10 to solve the problem.

Solutions appear on the screen

Students work in groups to first define the elements they need to factor into the equation, a few of them working through potential equations on whiteboards as James walks around the room helping them flesh out their ideas.

The room cracks up when he tells them that they are going to have to present their solutions to the rest of the class, and as the room fills with the sound of a drum roll, randomizing software chooses one group after another to cough up their plan.

[/caption]It takes a couple of rounds of presentations before “RED Z” comes up with a workable solution, one that requires a super-strong device to measure the mass of the object being moved in the elevator. And voila – it just so happens that Professor James has just the thing – a $7 scale.

A group of students are sent off to the elevator with the scale to collect the data needed to test their formulas.

When the students return to the lab, the class begins to discuss the data; the weight of the subject appears to have varied during that trip up the elevator. One of the “elevator” students shares that she recorded the experiment on her iPhone. Professor James plops the phone on a document scanner and projects the video to screens at all workstations. The class then comes to an agreement on the mass to be used for the experiment. Students then spend the remainder of the lab working through the experiment.

The lab ends with a quick review of data collected on that iPhone during the experiment. It just so happens, if you want to measure the force of acceleration in an elevator, there’s an app for that.


3 Responses to “A trip to the MALL”
  1. Stefan Sobkowiak says:

    Fantastic venue. Is the MALL available for rent by alumni in off hours or summertime? Who is the contact?

    • Katherine Mary Maclean says:

      Use of our labs and classrooms off hours falls under the jurisdiction of our Dean’s office. Your question has been forwarded along to them for response.

  2. Dr. Kevin Sibley says:

    Ah…sorry to burst your bubble, but your MALL is not the “…the first of its kind in Canada…”. The Engineering Department, of which I was Department Head at the time, at Nova Scotia Agricultural College, now Dalhousie Agricultural Campus in Bible Hill (Truro) Nova Scotia, set up an active learning physics lab back in 2004 if my memory serves me correctly. I believe this was the first in Canada, although that really does not matter. What does matter is that is was a huge success and the students did achieve higher level learning outcomes. The Physics professor at the time, Prof. Graham Pearson (now retired), did a sabbatical leave the year prior, learning all about Active Learning Lab methodology, visiting such pioneering labs in the United States. Engineering Departments at St. Mary’s University and University of PEI I believe soon followed suit using our lab as a model of excellence.