Course: PHY 103
Instructor: Cristiano Galbiati
F 2016

Description of Course Goals and Curriculum

  1. Course Goals: This is an introductory calculus-based mechanics course mainly geared towards BSE majors, or AB majors looking for an accessible but rewarding STL distribution requirement. The goal is to provide students with a quantitative understanding of mechanics in everyday scenarios. As such, the emphasis is mainly on applications and problem-solving, rather than formal mathematical derivations and proofs.
  2. Curriculum: The topics covered by this course can be roughly divided into 4 sections:
    • Weeks 0-3: Motion & Forces (1D & 2D Motion, Newton's Laws, Circular Motion)
    • Weeks 4-7: Energy & Momentum (Work, Collisions, Rigid Body Rotation, Angular Momentum)
    • Week 8: Gravity & Kepler's Laws
    • Weeks 9-12: Periodic Motion (Oscillations, Waves)
  3. Weekly Class Structure: Each week of instruction included the following components:
    • Demo Lecture (Tuesdays): This 1-hour slot is where the professor introduced the week's topic, briefly went through any relevant equations and then provided students with practical demonstrations.
    • Class (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays): This is where the week's topic was explained in detail, problems were solved and assigned, and weekly quizzes took place.
    • Lab (multiple slots): This is where students designed, performed, measured and analyzed an experiment relevant to mechanics in small groups of 2-3. Whenever the experiment did not directly relate to that week’s topic, the Lab Guide provided any additional necessary background
  4. Weekly Assignment Structure: Aside from a Midterm during Week 6 and a Final during Finals period, every week students were expected to compete the following assignments:
    • Weekly Quiz (Mondays): Short 10-minute quiz on the previous week’s material, usually including 1-2 problems.
    • Pre-Lab Questions (due at the beginning of Lab): Small number of questions aimed at ensuring that students had understood the experimental procedure before entering lab.
    • ExpertTA Assignments (due Thursdays and Sundays): Electronically administered Problem Sets pertinent to the current week’s topic.

Learning From Classroom Instruction

  1. Demo Lecture:
    • Purpose: To provide students with a practical understanding of why that week’s topic was important and how it was related to previous topics. This was mostly achieved through demonstrations that illustrated the concepts through real-life scenarios (think giant pendulums hanging from the roof).
    • Preparation: Since the focus of Demo Lectures was demonstrations, many students found that time did not allow for a very detailed derivation of any relevant equations; the presentation of such background information was usually brief. As such, it can be helpful to do the assigned readings before lecture, in order to be able to keep up with the pace.
    • Participation: In Fall 2016, Demo Lectures included numerous iClicker questions, for which students had to select the correct answer using a wireless iClicker device provided by the Physics Department. Make sure you write down your work for these, since only answering them in your head might sometimes give you the wrong answer. Also make sure to note the correct answer, since similar concept questions might appear in other coursework, including quizzes and problem sets. Finally, if your schedule permits, make sure to approach the professor with any questions or insights after lecture, since the pace might not allow for many questions during the lecture.
    • Notes: Since all of the equations can be easily found in other course materials, your priority should be noting down concepts and qualitative relations rather than mathematical expressions; you can fill these in later. Also, as previously stated, make sure to take note of demonstrations and iClicker questions, which may re-appear in similar form in other assignments.
  1. Class:
    • Purpose: To explain the week’s concept in more detail, answer any questions about derivation and use of equations, go through sample problems and have students attempt problems on their own or in small groups.
    • Preparation: Since the focus of Classes is understanding, it can be useful to come with an organized list of questions about the current topic, if any. This way you can maximize what you get out of it, while simultaneously provoking class discussion. Also, since PHY 103 is a very large course, there are numerous Class Instructors, possibly with very different teaching approaches from each other; make sure you try out at least 2 different ones during the first week to find what works best for you.
    • Participation: This is the time to interact with your classmates and the instructor! Don’t be afraid to ask, pay attention to and answer questions until you are confident that you have mastered the topic in question. Listening to other people’s questions can reveal hidden gaps in your own understanding, so pay special attention to these.
    • Notes: Make sure you take detailed notes of how example problems are solved. The numerical solution is less important than the steps of the thinking process: during an exam, it’s easy to use an equation but difficult to decide which one to use. This process will often be verbal and might not be written on the Blackboard, so try to keep your ears open to how your Instructor justifies their solution steps. Another important thing you might want to note are analogies and shortcuts offered by the Instructor and your classmates: while no replacement for genuine understanding, they can prove extremely useful when tackling problems on your own.
  1. Lab:
    • Purpose: To introduce students to the reality of laboratory work, including experiment design, measuring tools and their uncertainty, assumptions and their impact, data analysis and extracting results, and compiling a lab notebook.
    • Preparation: It is essential that you read through the Lab Guide before the lab begins and try to understand what is expected of you. Some of the labs will require intense work for the entire duration of the 3-hour slot, so make sure that you don’t need to waste time to understand the procedure during the lab itself. Moreover, some labs might not directly relate to that week’s topic, so you will need to understand any relevant background information included in the Lab Guide. Allow yourself enough time to complete the pre-lab questions, since while they are generally straightforward, there might be some that require additional thinking/work every week. Compile a list of questions about the Lab, if any, and ask these at the beginning of the lab, so that the TAs can offer an explanation to the whole class before each group begins their experiment. Try to create an approximate mental time budget of how long each step in the procedure should take, so that you can adjust your pace accordingly.
    • Participation: Since a small component of the Lab Grade concerns participation, be active within your group, so that the TAs can grade you accordingly. Some TAs will go around and ask teams questions about their current proceedings, so ensure you understand every step of what your team is doing. While working very fast might result to incorrect experimental designs, you should try to apply your time budget in order to be able to complete the experiment in time.
    • Notes: Since there are no required Lab Reports, your Lab Notebook essentially defines your Lab Grade. Remember that the aim of these labs is not to achieve perfect measurements or even complete all the experiments in the Lab Guide, but rather exhibit an ability to estimate and explain your measurements and why they might diverge from the mathematical predictions. As such, any part that concerns stating assumptions and their effects on your measurements should be treated with care. Without sacrificing time from actual lab participation, you should aim for complete and detailed notes, including graphs, figures, and drawings. Excel is your friend (there are computers and printers in the labs); do not waste time performing manual calculations or hand-writing the result of every single measurement.

Learning For and From Assignments

  1. ExpertTA Problem Sets:
    • Purpose: These twice-weekly assignments are aimed at testing understanding of the current week’s concepts. They are completed and graded electronically, and you will normally be allowed 3 attempts at each question. Usually, the Thursday Problem Sets will include shorter, simpler conceptual questions to test general understanding, while the Sunday ones will be comprised of longer problems, aimed at preparing you for next day’s Quiz.
    • Preparation: Go over your lecture and class notes and make sure to have the book around, as you might need to more carefully go over specific sections (that were not covered in detail during the week) for some questions.
    • Approach: Even if the question looks similar to something you have already seen, read all instructions very carefully before submitting an answer. Pay special attention to units, values of constants (how much is g?), positive/negative signs and whether a symbolic or numerical answer is expected. If something is unclear, ask your Instructor before submitting an answer (you can do this after Class or during Office Hours); this way you will avoid getting penalized for a wrong attempt by the electronic system.
    • Takeaways: Even if you do not manage to answer a question correctly, check the correct answer against your own and try to understand why they are different; do not simply move on to the next problem, or you might simply repeat the same mistake.
  1. Weekly Quizzes:
    • Purpose: These weekly Monday quizzes are aimed at testing your accuracy and efficiency in solving problems related to the previous week’s concepts. Even though their short duration might make them stressful (they are usually 10 minutes long), they end up being very effective at ensuring you are up to speed and ready to digest new material.
    • Preparation: Your most important resource for these quizzes are past quizzes, which can be normally found on Blackboard. Make sure you first try solving such quizzes and then go through the answers. Even if you know exactly how to solve a given problem, the answer key might provide shortcuts and alternative approaches that can make your problem-solving faster. If your class normally takes quizzes at the end of class, make sure to ask any questions about past quizzes during Monday’s class; if you usually take them first thing Monday morning, then try your best to go over past quizzes before the weekend and ask any questions on Friday.
    • Approach: The problems on these quizzes are usually short and straightforward, but it is always possible that you might get stuck somewhere. With only 10 minutes at your disposal, continue working right away on a different question if this happens; your initial goal is to maximize your score. If time permits, however, go back to check and explain your answers, since few questions means that each of them is worth a lot of points.
    • Takeaways: Do not focus too much on a bad grade in a weekly quiz, if it was simply a matter of available time; try to do your best every time, but remember that you will most probably be able to make up for that grade in the following weeks, so invest your energy in understanding any mistakes and learning the new material. Remember that, during longer and more important exams, you won’t be under so much time pressure, so knowing the material will be what matters most.
  1. Pre-Lab Assignments:
    • Purpose: These weekly assignments are aimed at ensuring that you have the necessary conceptual and mathematical background to tackle the week’s lab. You will usually be asked to draw diagrams or derive mathematical expressions useful for your experimental procedure.
    • Preparation: Read the Lab Manual and any necessary book chapters to make sure you are familiar with the general structure and goals of the week’s experiment.
    • Approach: Although generally not designed to be difficult, some of these questions might require some extra time to think about the phenomena – and correct algebraic mistakes. As such, make sure to budget enough time for them and do not simply rely on the last 20 minutes before lab. Also, if you need to draw diagrams, make sure to explicitly label all new variables you are introducing.
    • Takeaways: Pre-lab assignments are mostly there to facilitate labs, so their content might not be directly relevant to other parts of the class. The most important takeaways are therefore just familiarizing yourself with mathematical descriptions of systems that might initially seem complex.
  1. Exams (Midterm & Final):
    • Purpose: These exams are aimed at thoroughly testing your understanding of all concepts covered in the class up to that point. Problems might synthesize ideas across multiple chapters and will usually be broken down into multiple parts. Time will be usually adequate if you are working at a reasonable speed, since you are tested on whether you know the material, not how fast you can write it.
    • Preparation: First make sure you understand all the logistical details of the exams: duration, calculator policy, equations sheet etc. Review your notes and quizzes by week, and use office hours to ask any question. This part of your preparation should ideally be completed by the Friday of Week 5 for the Midterm, and at least 2 days before the exam date for the Final. Then go through each past exam and try tackling it on your own before looking at the solutions. Do the 1-2 oldest exams without time constraints, to familiarize yourself with the length and difficulty of problems; do the 1-2 most recent exams under normal exam conditions. Don’t be afraid to go back to your notes at this stage, but refrain from doing that while taking the exam, as it might create an illusion of (not) knowing things. In any case, make sure that you know how to completely solve all of the past problems by the exam date, no exceptions – you should be able to get a perfect 100 if you were given a random assortment of these problems. There are only so many possible different problems on these topics, so your exam will look very similar to the past ones.
    • Approach: Generally try to work as quickly as you can without losing accuracy, in order to be able to return and check your answers in the end; the probability of having a small algebraic mistake somewhere is considerable. Draw your diagrams big and label them clearly, and make sure to always define your axes and positive directions before writing down any equations. Start with problems you know how to solve and move to harder ones later – they will not necessarily be presented by increasing difficulty.
    • Takeaways: Make sure to go over any mistakes you made on the Midterm during Office Hours on Week 7. At this point you might want to leave the Midterm behind you, but it is crucial that you ensure that you don’t repeat the same mistakes in the future, since each new chapter builds on previous ones.

External Resources

  1. Office Hours: PHY 103 is a large course with several faculty members involved in the teaching process, so chances are that at least one of them has scheduled Office Hours on any given day. You can find these under “Contact” on Blackboard. Remember, you can freely attend the Office Hours of any of these Instructors, regardless of whether or not you are actually enrolled in their Section.
  2. Review Sessions: The Physics Department and the McGraw Center will organize several review sessions before each of the exams. These sessions are typically meant for answering questions, so study before and attend with a list of questions in order to get the most out of them.
  3. McGraw Center: The McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning offers several options for both Individual and Group Tutoring for this course. Make sure to check the full schedule at:

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

The physics department also offers two other introductory Mechanics courses, while the School of Engineering and Applied Science offers a third one, all of which are considered equivalent to PHY 103 for some purposes:
  • PHY 101: Covers similar topics but doesn't use calculus. This is the version of Mechanics that most pre-med students or students not taking calculus usually take. Note that this course does not fulfill the BSE introductory Physics requirement.
  • PHY 105: Covers similar topics but at a higher mathematical level. The emphasis here is on deriving equations from fundamental laws of Physics, so the level of rigor of this course is significantly higher. This is the version of Mechanics that most prospective Physics majors usually take, but there is also a significant number of BSE students in the class. Fulfills the BSE introductory Physics requirement.
  • EGR 151: Covers similar topics but with an even greater emphasis on engineering applications. This course was first offered in Fall 2017 to serve as a more applied and versatile (smaller class size) alternative to PHY 103. Fulfills the BSE introductory Physics requirement.
General Physics I

Add a Strategy or Tip