Course organization, grades, et al.


Because you and your fellow students have different goals, needs, and interests, this course allows a variety of ways to learn physics.   Within certain limits, you will select what you do.   While this will give you choices normally made by the instructor, you will also be more responsible for your own fate.   You may of course seek as much advice as you desire.


Experimentation is how scientists advance knowledge.   So to understand physics, you must do experimentation.   But there are many reasons for experimentation.
Experiments may reveal hidden aspects of nature.

Experiments often show the beauty of nature.

Repeating key experiments helps understand theory.

Doing experiments helps understand scientific methods.

Doing experiments is often fun!

This course contains different aspects of experimentation.   Activities are the simplest form.   Many activities will be conducted in class either as a class group or in smaller groups.   Numerous additional activities are suggested in the back of the textbook; these often require no elaborate laboratory equipment so may be done at home.   A record of such activities should be kept in your journal.   A brief written report should be submitted for credit.

Experiments involve detailed procedures investigating either a more complicated, or a more thorough study of nature.   Suggested procedures will be provided either by handout or in the back of the textbook.   A written report is necessary to receive credit.

Experimentation by professional scientists differs in several key ways from the activities and experiments described above.   Scientists develop their own directions;  their experiments often extend over considerable time;  and the outcome is not well established at the beginning.   This kind of experimentation that most nearly approximates true science, is typically called a project.   It is recommended you to do such a project each quarter.   A formal printed or typed report is appropriate.   Each team may also be asked for a brief oral report to the class.

In every case, be sure to secure approval of your plans with the lab supervisor BEFORE experimenting. As true for all scientists, to garner credit for your research, submit a written report including the experiment's (or extra credit activity's) purpose, relevant background information, procedure (including diagrams), results (using tables and graphs), and conclusion. Credit will vary depending of what you report, the difficulty, and your devotion to accuracy, detail, and analysis.   Each student should submit their own UNIQUE activities and experiments reports.   (If you experiment with a team, you obviously share team observations and measurements.   You must do your own reports.   Copying will be penalized!  You should do your own calculations or at least check those you rely on in your report.)


Obviously no scientist does every experiment nor creates all theory from scratch.   Everyone gains by reading the results and ideas of others.   Your textbook contains observations and theories found to be essential by others in the past; read these carefully and ASK questions about what you don't understand.   Besides your textbook, you have received a book of reader articles.   These are printed selections that many people have found valuable:  some are the original papers presenting new findings or ideas;  some are particularly clear explanations;  some are eye opening science fiction! R ead those of interest and gain points towards your unit grade (See details listed separately for each unit;  maximum 20 points from readers per quarter) by writing brief summaries to convince the instructor you read the reader.   Include:
  1. the identity of the article,
  2. a brief summary,
  3. ideas you find new, and
  4. a brief analysis how it fits the rest of what you're studying.
For articles or books related to physics, but not in the reader, negotiate with the instructor for credit.


When you really want to understand something, you often have to use the more precise language of mathematics.   Particularly if you plan to study more science in college, you should develop mathematical skills.   You may volunteer to explain a problem to the class (4 or 5 points for each you do well to a maximum of 25 per quarter) and you may have your journal containing all board problems graded (earning about 15 additional points per quarter).   For both class presentation and journal, you should
  1. describe the problem,
  2. identify any equations used,
  3. demonstrate the solution of the problem,
  4. give the answer, and
  5. describe the significance of the answer.
See the class calendar for the problems selection.


The traditional method of testing what you understand remains valid.   Chapter tests (open notes) and standardized unit tests (closed notes) will evaluate your general understanding of basic physics.   Your test average may count up to half of your quarter grade or as little as 20% if you do sufficient activities, experiments, projects, problems, and readers.

Because this course allows you to make many decisions traditionally made by teachers, the grading system is more complicated than most.   You need to do AT LEAST 50 POINTS of activities, experiments, problems, and readers including a quarter project. Submitting for grading less than 50 points worth of lab work will reduce your grade and may jeopardize course credit! (At least 25 points of lab work should be submitted by midterm.)

Your test score will determine the balance of your grade.   Since your test average is likely less than 100%, you will raise your grade if you earn more than 50 points from activities, experiments, projects, problems, and readers!

The instructor anticipates determining the actual grade by a formula close to the following.   The formula may be useful to estimate your course letter grade.

Let T = average test %; P = project points; A = all other points.
If A < 35, then grade = A + P + 50T, (Note, too little effort hurts!)
If 35 < A < 65, then the grade = A + P + T (85 - A) ,
else, (if A > 65) then the grade = 65 + 0.2 (A - 65) + P + 20T
(Note, extra effort always raises the grade some.)

Quarter letter grade curve:

A- > 92 A > 95 A+ > 100
B- > 80 B > 85 B+ > 89
C- > 64 C > 70 C+ > 75
F < 40 D > 40 D+ > 58

FINE PRINT: The instructor reserves the authority to evaluate each students work and assign the letter grade the instructor determines to be most appropriate. The curve above should be considered a guide normally followed closely.


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