physics I

About the Course

here's what i hope you learn in this course

Course Goals

  1. I want to help you improve your quantitative analytical skills, problem solving skills, and mathematical confidence.
  2. I want you to learn several big physics ideas: conservation of energy, momentum, and angular momentum, and Newton's laws, and be able apply these ideas in quantitative and qualitative settings.

Basically the idea is to learn some physics and also to learn some of the analytical and quantitative skills that physicists use. These include:

  1. Developing a systematic, organized, and effective approach to problem solving
  2. Becoming comfortable and confident making approximations and estimations
  3. Mastering unit conversions and gaining familiarity with dimensional analysis

some nuts and bolts

About this Course

  • There will be several problem solving sessions in the dining hall each week. I can meet individually by appointment.
  • TAs: Ky Osguthorpe and JuneSoo Shin.
  • Thomas A. Moore. Six Ideas that Shaped Physics: Unit C: Conservation Laws Constrain Interactions, second edition. McGraw Hill. 2003. ISBN: 0-07-229152-4. You don't need to buy this book; I've gotten copies for all of you using lab fees.
  • Your evaluation will be based roughly as follows:
    Weekly Homework 60%
    Class and lab participation 10%
    Midterm 15%
    Final 15%

some important but not very exciting details

Policies and Stuff

    • Homework will be due Fridays at the end of the day. More than one unexcused late homework assignment will result in me mentioning this in your narrative evaluation and may result in a lowering of your grade.
    • You are strongly encouraged to work together on homework. You can also consult me, class tutors, other faculty, friends, and family. However, the homework you hand in should represent your own understanding. This means that if your friends get a homework problem and you don't understand how they did it, you shouldn't photocopy their solution and turn it in.
    • Exams will be open notes, open book, and (essentially) untimed. You may not, however, get any help from any humans during the exam.
    • I will almost always assign reading for each class. You should do the reading. I strongly recommend reading over the chapter before class and being prepared with questions and comments.
    • You'll want a calculator that can handle scientific notation, trigonometry, and logarithms. There's no need to buy an expensive graphing calculator.
    • I expect you to attend labs.
    • I will be sending out class info via email. Thus, it's important that you check your email.
    • By enrolling in an academic institution, a student is subscribing to common standards of academic honesty. Any cheating, plagiarism, falsifying or fabricating of data is a breach of such standards. A student must make it his or her responsibility to not use words or works of others without proper acknowledgment. Plagiarism is unacceptable and evidence of such activity is reported to the academic dean or his/her designee. Two violations of academic integrity are grounds for dismissal from the college. Students should request in-class discussions of such questions when complex issues of ethical scholarship arise.
    • Workload: In addition to the 4.5 hours of scheduled class time every week, I expect that between readings, going over notes, and doing assignments you will spend at least an additional 10.5 hours a week on this course, for a total of at least 150 hours over the term devoted to this class.

    further musings

    Some Thoughts about the Course

    • I've taught this class nine times before, although not for seven years. So this class is both new and old to me. I have a good feel for how this class will go. I'm going to try a lot of new things with the labs. Inevitably, some of these things will work better than others.
    • There will be times in class when we go over something that you already understand. There may also occasionally be times when you feel lost in class for a little bit. If this happens, don't despair. Ask a question or talk to me or one of the TAs after class.
    • Falling behind in this course is not a good idea. If you're confused about something, it's very important that you seek help sooner rather than later. This course builds on itself—what we do in week three will depend on what we did in week two, what we do in week four depends on week three, etc. There are many people around who can offer help. However, we can't offer assistance if we don't know who needs it when. You need to take responsibility to seek help if you need it. On a related note ...
    • I do not expect all of the homework assignments to be easy; I don't expect you to be able to sit down and do them easily the first time. Don't let yourself get frustrated—I strongly suggest working with others and seeking help if you need it. I also strongly suggest that you start the homework well before it's due.
    • In many math and physics classes the textbook has a ton of examples in them. The book we'll be using doesn't. The result is that students sometimes find the homework to be challenging, frustrating, and occasionally even annoying. However, I'm convinced that this style of homework—where there's not an example just like the problem you're trying to do—is much better pedagogically. You'll learn a lot more this way.
    • This course covers fairly standard Physics I material. The only exception to this is that our book begins with conservation laws, and leaves Newton's laws for later. There are a few other texts that do this, but most do it the other way around. The text book we're using is used at many other colleges and universities in the U.S. If you've had Physics before, in high school or at another college, you'll probably find most of the material familiar. You should talk with me to make sure that this course won't be too much review for you.
    • This class is listed as an introductory course. I do not assume that you've had physics before. Although our textbooks occasionally use calculus, calculus is most definitely not a prerequisite for this class. This class makes extensive use of algebra and trigonometry. If you've never had trig before, you can still take this class, but you might have some extra work you'll need to do the first few weeks. In the past, students without a trig background have taken this class and done fine.
    • This class is a lot of work. However, the workload is fairly steady; you'll be doing approximately the same amount of work each week. We'll hit the ground running and try to get lots of stuff done the next few weeks. The workload will taper off some toward the end of the term.
    • The workload in this class starts off heavier and increases in difficulty and amount the first several weeks. After around week three and chapter C5 things will level off and perhaps even get easier.
    • Labs in this class may be different than those you've encountered in other science classes. There will not be a formal write-up, aka a "lab report", due at the end of the lab. Instead, the emphasis is on playing/experimenting with some equipment, trying some stuff out, and learning some skills we won't get a chance to go over in class. The exercises are, at times, open ended and deliberately vague. They're not busy work. I think it's important to approach labs with this in mind. Don't try to rush through; if you put a little extra time and thought into the labs you'll get much more out of them.

    what i'm looking for


      Problem write-ups are your permanent record of your understanding of the material covered. You will want your homework solutions to be understandable to you when you are taking the exams.
      1. Solutions should be clearly and logically presented. This means that:
        • Your method should always be clear. It should be easy to figure out what you're doing and why.
        • Use a lot of space. I recommend using unlined paper; there's an almost unlimited supply of this in the recycling bins, and not having lines encourages you to write large and give yourself space. If you are unable to liberate yourself from lined paper, try skipping some lines.
        • Equations should usually be accompanied by prose. Before plunging into algebra, state what it is you're solving for. If there are any non-obvious steps in a calculation, explain them.
        • Write equations in a logical order.
      2. Solutions should stand on their own; they should be understandable to someone who hasn't read the problem. You should almost always paraphrase the question before writing your response.
      3. The reason I emphasize writing up your problem solutions clearly and thoroughly is not because I am a neat freak or that I want to impose a style on you. Rather, I am convinced (and there is evidence in support of this proposition), that the act of writing helps to focus one's thoughts and engages your mind, leading to more enduring learning.
      4. You should aim to develop some sort of semi-structured style for solving problems. Different people have different styles. But good, experienced problem-solvers all have some sort of system that they use.
      5. I will not give numerical grades on HW assignments. Instead, I will give a letter grade and try to include as many comments as I can. I'm mainly interested in seeing that you thoughtfully attacked the problem and wrote it up in a clear and coherent way. It is better to be clear and wrong than unclear and right. If you only want comments and don't want a letter grade on your HW, please write a note to this effect on the top of your assignment.
      6. Finally, a few minor requests:
        1. On the top of the homework, please write the assignment number.
        2. Please do the problems in order. It's very time-consuming to have to hunt around for your problems.
        3. If you don't have a stapler, that's ok. But please don't mangle and fold over the corner in an attempt to get the pages to stick together. Just write your name or initials on all pages and I'll gladly staple them together.
        4. Please don't hand in problems on paper that has been torn out of a spiral notebook.