Using log books

For schools and colleges where they are not already in use, September 2015 is the ideal time to introduce A level students to the laboratory log book. Log books are a quintessential part of practical science and engineering, and for students to be competent in their use before they enter industry or undergraduate labs is a great advantage both to the student and the institution.

The new A level regulations requiring students to complete (at least) 12 practical activities do not require that the students employ a log book, and in a way this is a good thing. Should the awarding organisations have decided to use log books as an assessment tool then it could have led to artificially pristine entries with students ‘working in rough’ and ‘copying up’ later which would defeat the objective of the log book being a live document.

The disciplines required to keep a contemporaneous record of the practical activity without resorting to drafting, using correction fluid or ripping pages out of the book can be instilled in students during the A level course. Similarly, encouraging students to plot their graphs as they go through the practical, encourages them to identify early on when something starts to go wrong.

The log book ‘should contain sufficient information to allow a third party, together with the script, to understand what you did on the day.’ 1 The script might be included in a lab manual which contains the theory and experimental procedure so that students need not write up lengthy methods (though doing so for an independent inquiry based project would be essential). Of course, students will need instruction and they will need to practise working with a log book; they will make mistakes and they will learn from them but these lessons are best learned early on in the students’ careers.

Guidance on using log books can be easily found by searching for university lab guides on-line but provided the log book contains titles, dates, diagrams, neat data tables, graphs, some consideration of uncertainties and a conclusion then they won’t go far wrong. The nature of the book itself is not of key importance though it should not be loosely bound. It should be relatively hardy to resist wear and tear and alternative graph / lined pages are an advantage.

There may well be some degree of grumbling at first but you will be thanked for your perseverance later on.

1. Lancaster University Lab Manual 2012, Dr R P Haley