Course: PHY103
Instructor: Galbiati
F 2016

Description of Course Goals and Curriculum

  1. PHY 103 is a general introduction to mechanics, covering topics including 1D and 2D motion, forces and Newton’s laws, circular motion, work and energy, momentum and collisions, rotation and angular momentum, gravity and Kepler’s laws, oscillations, and waves.
  2. While it is helpful to be very familiar with the formulas used in the course, the emphasis is on problem-solving methods rather than memorization of formulas. This is reflected in that formula sheets were provided for the midterm and final. The intention is that students finish the course with a better understanding of general physics concepts and a good grasp of why the formulas make sense and how to apply them to solve problems.
  3. The class is also a lab course so there is emphasis on practical application as well as general laboratory methods and techniques - how to verify formulas through lab testing and how to determine certain constants such as g and how to measure quantities such as velocity and acceleration.
  4. The course is divided into units, with a new topic every week ordered in increasing complexity. While not essentially comparative, the course builds on prior content. For instance, the first weeks are spent learning about 1-dimensional and 2-dimensional motion, including distance, velocity, and acceleration problems. The successive topics on the course, such as forces and circular motion build on those basic concepts and problems will assume an understanding of those previously covered concepts. As a result it is a good idea to never let yourself get behind - always clear up any confusion in the week that a unit is being covered because otherwise the following weeks will be much more difficult.
  5. The course is divided up by week, but structured such that each week starts Tuesday and ends Monday. Lectures are on Tuesday to introduce new material, and the precepts on the following Wednesday, Friday, and Monday focus on reviewing and extending that material and doing practice problems. Labs also work to develop students’ understanding of the material and apply it in a practical context. At the end of every Monday precept there is a short (20 minute) quiz to assess the students’ understanding of the week’s content.
  6. The course assumes a certain level of mathematical maturity so it is preferable for the student to at least have taken MAT 103. Many students take PHY 103 concurrently with MAT 104 or MAT 201. The student should come in with a very solid understanding of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and single variable calculus.

Learning From Classroom Instruction

  1. This course can be somewhat time consuming in terms of class hours, because there are 3 1-hour precepts, 1-hour lecture, and a 3-hour lab every week. The course has a textbook which is not strictly mandatory, but can be helpful to read before lectures.
  2. Lectures are meant to introduce new concepts. The instructor would typically explain a new concept with definitions and formulas, and then do a sample problem, and then have the class respond to a problem with iClickers. The iClicker responses are recorded and account for a very small (2%) portion of one’s grade. They are mainly meant to encourage participation and attendance so one shouldn’t worry too much if one is not doing well with iClicker questions. Lectures also include demonstrations which apply the concepts and are helpful for visualizing the concepts and seeing how they apply in real life. Lectures are pretty fast paced so it can be difficult to copy down everything from the powerpoints into a notebook, and laptops are not allowed in lecture. As a result it is often helpful to read or even skim the textbook before lecture to see what will be covered and copy down the formulas and definitions in advance.
  3. Precepts are used to extend lectures and cover some things in more detail that the lecture introduced. Precepts are especially helpful for getting practice at solving the kinds of problems that will be on the problem sets. Friday precepts include “Friday packets” which are a set of problems that cover the main concepts from the week, and it is important to be able to do all the problems in the Friday packet because problem sets and the midterm and final often have problems that are similar or can be solved using similar methods.
  4. Labs are used to help see how concepts covered in class apply in practical situations as well as to help understand typical laboratory methods and techniques. Students in a lab group share a notebook and take turns writing in it. It is very important to do the prelab and understand all the questions in the prelab because the lab is usually an extension or builds on the prelab. Lab reports are completed in the lab and are not graded on correctness necessarily but rather on demonstrated effort and general understanding of the concepts. Labs can be really interesting because they let the student see the formulas and concepts in action and help show why various formulas or calculations make sense. The student also gains practice with lab tools such as Excel, image capture programs, and other devices. Graduate lab assistants are there to help and are very good with answering questions on how to complete a lab, how to do calculations, or any other questions one may have throughout the lab. There will also typically be one lab-related question on the final so it is necessary for the student to understand the calculations done in each lab. There is also some emphasis on calculating uncertainties and significant figures so the student should try to keep that in mind when doing calculations in lab.
  5. McGraw has PHY 103 group study sessions as well as individual tutoring which can be very helpful with problem sets or other questions.

Learning For and From Assignments

  1. This course has a large number of components in terms of grade - there is a midterm exam, a final exam, weekly quizzes, weekly prelabs/lab reports (see previous section), participation (iclickers - see previous section), and problem sets twice a week. Since there are so many components, each component is not worth a significant portion of one’s grade so it is not a problem if one does not do well on a few assignments and assessments. In addition, the lowest quiz score and the lowest homework score are dropped. As a result, students should not focus or worry about losing a few points here or there but should instead focus on ensuring that they understand the general concepts and are keeping up with the overall content of each unit. It is also useful to develop a schedule for completing all the assignments - since problem sets are due Thursday and Sunday, and prelabs are due the day of the lab (Mon-Thurs), quizzes are on Monday, and lectures are on Tuesday, there is almost always something due for PHY 103 so it is easier to keep track of what is due if one has a set schedule with a particular day for completing each problem set, prelab, or studying for quizzes.
  2. The midterm and final exam are worth the most; together they form 50% of the overall course grade. Their purpose is to assess the student’s understanding of the content covered. The midterm covers only the first half of the course (up to momentum), and the final exam is cumulative, covering all of the content of the course but with emphasis on the second half. It can be difficult because whereas weekly problem sets and quizzes test strictly the content of that particular week, the midterm and final cover a wide range of topics so it may not be easy to figure out exactly which formula or concept should be used in a problem. Moreover, one problem may test multiple concepts or have multiple parts that connect to each other and connect different topics or formulas from different weeks. The best way to prepare is to do many practice problems, and the instructor will release previous years’ exams. It is helpful to do those practice exams in a exam-like setting so the student has practice with doing problems under time pressure.
  3. Weekly quizzes are a review of the week’s concepts and are more meant to help the student identify areas of difficulty or confusion than for grade purposes. While quizzes can be somewhat time-constrained, they are typically two problems and there are practice quizzes so the student should have a good idea of what to expect. Since quizzes are restricted to that particular week’s content and don’t usually have formula sheets, it is a good idea to review and compile the formulas, definitions, and concepts covered in that week. The quizzes also draw from problem sets so a good way to review for them is to look over the problem sets from that week and make sure one understand how to do all of them.
  4. Problem sets are twice a week, due on Thursday and Sunday. They help the student gain practice with solving problems that are based on the week’s concepts. Problems done in precept, lecture, and in the textbook can be helpful with understanding how to apply the formulas and concepts to solve various types of problems. Problem sets are done on a website called ExpertTA, which gives the student 3 attempts to solve a problem and takes off small proportions of points for incorrect submissions. Since ExpertTA is an automated online grading platform, it is important to be very careful with things such as units, which variables are being used, and rounding errors.

External Resources

While there are many amazing resources within this course, if a student finds that he/she is still having trouble with any topic/concept, it can be helpful to look at YouTube videos for either AP Physics C or other physics courses. Since General Physics I - Mechanics is a course offered at nearly every university, it can also be helpful to look at other schools’ powerpoint slides or notes that can be found with a simple Google search. In particular, GSU has a good compilation of topics relevant to this course and can be a useful reference or review ( - click on Mechanics).

What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection

  1. Since PHY 103 is a requirement for BSE students, the majority of students taking the course are engineers in their first year. It also counts as an STL for distribution requirements.
  2. This course can be somewhat a large time commitment because of the number of class sessions a week and the large number of frequent assignments. However, each individual assignment is not worth a large proportion of the grade and does not take very long to complete so overall it is not an overly stressful workload. There is a lot of help available for this course and a student comes out of the course with a much better understanding of mechanics as well as a better appreciation of physics. The student also improves his/her problem-solving abilities which can be widely applicable across disciplines, as well as lab skills and techniques.
  3. It covers essentially the same topics as AP Physics C so a student with AP credit can place out. However, since the requirement is that students receive a score of 5 in both AP Physics C-Mechanics and AP Physics C-Electricity and Magnetism, and many students come from high schools which only offered one of the two, there are a good number of students taking PHY 103 who have already taken AP Physics C-Mechanics and consequently will find the course less difficult. On the other hand many students have not taken any AP Physics, and can still do very well in the course because while fast-paced the course does not assume any prior physics knowledge and starts from the basics.

General Physics I

Add a Strategy or Tip