General Physics INSC 223 - 4 credits - Introductory
- Times: MWF 11:30 - 12:50
- Place: Sci117A
- Text: Understanding Physics (Part 1) by Cummings et al.
- Faculty: Travis Norsen
Course Overview: This is the first half of the year-long introductory physics sequence. It covers the crucial discoveries of Galileo and Newton, including kinematics in 1-D and 2/3-D, Newton's laws of dynamics, momentum, and energy (the first 10 chapters of UP). But the course will not look or feel very much like a traditional lecture-based science course. Class time will be spent on a variety of hands- (and brain-) on activities intended to help students form basic concepts, develop skills that are central to doing empirical science, discover important physical principles directly from nature, and apply this knowledge to solving problems. In short, most class time will be spent actually doing physics (rather than listening to someone talk about physics). The course is designed to fulfill the needs both of students intending to continue on in physics or one of the other sciences (and this includes, in all but rare circumstances, students who have already taken a bit of physics in high school) and of students who will do (or intend to do) Plan work outside the natural sciences, but who want to "study broadly" and get a sense of what science is all about.
This course grew out of my frustrations (first as a student, and then as a teacher) with traditional, lecture-based intro-physics courses. I have thus abandoned the idea that my job is to spend 4 hours per week reading to you from the text. You paid good money for it, so I'll let you -- indeed, expect you -- to study it yourself, outside of class. One of the principles behind the course is that you should be learning physics primarily by doing physics -- by discovering things for yourself from nature -- and not simply memorizing dogma. We will thus typically start each week with some kind of experimental activity, designed to help you grasp firsthand some important physics concept. But I am by no means anti-textbook. The text will play an important role in helping you organize and systematize your knowledge, so you really will need to use it. My hope is that the weekly schedule and weekly assignments will reflect these goals and priorities, and that you'll come away from the course with a much clearer, firsthand, intuitive understanding of the material we've covered. Another major goal for the course is to help you develop specific skills used in doing science. These skills will of course be bound up with the experiments you do in class, but they will also have value beyond the purview of the course: being a skilled and confident empirical scientist will make you a better user/consumer/producer/critic of quantitative information out in the real world.Assignments and Grading: Weekly homework assignments will ask students to analyze and report the results of in-class experiments, relate material from class with concepts from the text, and solve problems. Since the course centers around the in-class activities, attendance, class-participation, diligence, preparation, and seriousness will be worth 20% of the final grade. The weekly homework assignments will be worth 50%. (I will automatically drop your lowest score before averaging.) A final exam (and maybe one or two short midterm quizzes) will be worth 30%.
- Attendance is mandatory. (Let me know if, and why, you will miss a class.)
- Late work will not be accepted without prior arrangement.
- In addition to being fully present in class and handing in all the assignments, to really succeed in the class you should expect to spend several hours each week (outside of class) interacting with the textbook.
- Students are encouraged to work together on the homework assignments (and to get help from me or the tutor). However, your final write-up of the solutions must represent your own understanding; copying another person's work is plagiarism and will result in no credit for that assignment (and possibly worse). If there is any question about a specific case, simply cite your sources as you would in any kind of research paper (e.g., "I worked with Joe Schmoe on this problem.").
- Excel: We'll often be using Excel (or your preferred spreadsheet program) to organize, analyze, and graph data that we acquire in class.
- Excel tutorial: Here is a nice online tutorial for using Excel in physics. If you've never used Excel before, you might want to look at this a little before classes start just to get a sense of things. And it's a nice reference to keep in mind for later in the course.
- Histograms: Here is a nice explanation of how to make a histogram in Excel.
- Statistics: Some statistics concepts will occasionally come up in the course (especially in regard to uncertainties of measured values). Here is a list of resources from a recent statistics course taught here.
- Data Studio: We'll often use a program called Data Studio in class to run various data-collection devices. (Chapter 1 of UP talks about these a bit.) Here is a link to a starter manual for that software, in case you ever want to look at it.