We present several studies conducted in our lab that shed light on what students attend to when performing cognitive tasks in physics. The studies, drawing from a variety of methodologies from the learning sciences, aim to understand the obstacles to, and factors facilitating, competent performance. The findings from some of the studies debunk biases/hunches that many physics professors have about what students do, and the audience will very likely find several of the findings surprising. Pedagogical implications of the findings will be discussed.
We have built an inexpensive battery powered wireless laboratory system that allows students to do hands-on physics activities outside the classroom, guided by their own computer. The system, called IOLab, combines flexible software with a wireless data acquisition platform containing an array of sensors to sample and display real-time measurements of position, velocity, acceleration, force, rotation rate, orientation, magnetic fields, voltages, light intensity, sound intensity, pressure, and temperature.