Course: PHY 101
Instructor: Visjnic
F 2018

Description of Course Goals and Curriculum

PHY 101 Is a course that is meant to teach and establish students in foundational principles of physics. It also aims to provide students with crucial critical thinking skills needed in formulating and testing questions in a physics laboratory setting. The course does not have any prerequisites, so a student can take the course without having a previous background in physics. PHY 101 emphasizes the topics of: kinematics, momentum, energy, harmonic motion, fluids, and the First and Second Law of Thermodynamics. Coursework is very cumulative and as the course progresses, concepts from earlier weeks will be needed to process questions on problem sets, quizzes, and exams.

Weekly PHY 101 consists of a class which meets Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for 50 minutes. Additionally, there is a lecture that meets once a week for another 50 minutes, as well at a 3.5 hour lab section. In this class, grading is determined as follows:

-Final exam 30%

-Midterm exam 15%

-Weekly Quizzes 15%

-Labs 15%

-HW 20%

-Lecture participation 2%

-Precept participation 3%.

It is important that students stay on top of work in class and lecture, to be successful in the course.

Learning From Classroom Instruction


In PHY 101, topics are taught on a weekly cycle. A new topic from the syllabus is introduced on Wednesday in class. During this class, the instructor largely explains the foundational elements behind the topic, and appropriate demonstrations are displayed. In Friday’s class, more time is devoted to solving physics problems related to the topic introduced that week. To conclude the weekly topic, a quiz is administered on Monday in class, with a short time to ask the preceptor questions beforehand.


At lecture, the professor performs dynamic demonstrations and presents application questions tied to the topic. It is important for students to attend lecture, as clicker questions are asked at random times to test students’ comprehension of the material. These questions count for a small percentage of the student’s course grade.


Likewise, during a typical week, the laboratory component is meant to apply the weekly concept in a real-world application. Labs are also important as they teach students the skills of: maintaining a detailed scientific notebook, formulating hypotheses and assumptions, performing calculations (paying attention to significant figures and error ranges), and refining the hypothesis based on results.

Learning For and From Assignments

Problem Sets

In PHY 101, problem sets account for 20% of a student’s grade and are a bulk of the work assigned out of class. Problem sets are one good way to get a feel for exam style questions, as they demand that a student apply what they have been learning in class and lecture to more challenging situations. Each problem set averages 8-10 questions and consists of three parts. The first part is true-false, a statement is presented, and students must use their understanding of physics to explain why that statement is either true or false. The second section of the homework assignments consists of short answer questions, similar to textbook-style questions. The final part of homework assignments is long answer. Here, students are required to show pictures, diagrams, charts, and mathematical representations for full credit. Understanding all homework assignments is critical to being successful on quizzes and exams.


Occasionally, pre-lab assignments will be assigned for students to complete before the week’s lab. These assignments allow students to apply critical thinking which will be useful in formulating equations and procedures needed in the lab.


Quizzes are administered on a weekly basis at the conclusion of each topic every Monday. These quizzes are not cumulative in nature and are meant to serve as a way to check one’s understanding of the material from the previous week. Quizzes from previous years are available for students as a form of review. It is recommended to do these past quizzes timed and in a testing environment to simulate what it is like during a quiz.


In PHY 101, there is a midterm and final exam. Both deal with questions which are of higher complexity compared to homework assignments or quizzes. Unlike the quizzes which are not cumulative, the midterm and final rely on a student’s ability to synthesize topics from various units to successfully answer questions. As in the homework assignments, exams contain a true false section as well as long answer questions. On the final, there is also a lab-based section which tests a student’s ability to formulate assumptions and handle uncertainties in their calculations. Once again, the best way to study for these exams is by taking past exams in a test-like environment.

External Resources

McGraw Study Sessions

I found these sessions to be highly useful when working on problem sets. They allowed me to collaborate with other students as I worked on questions and we were able to bounce ideas off one another to get to the correct solution. Furthermore, gaining feedback from a McGraw tutor helped me make sure that my approach to problems were on the right track. I would highly recommend this resource as it helped me streamline my thinking process.

“The Organic Chemistry Tutor” Physics YouTube Videos

These videos were helpful in reviving certain topics, beginning with more basic steps than what was covered in class. I especially liked the fact that these videos both explain the concept, and also provide practice questions to complete. While at times the practice questions were more basic than those covered in class, they helped me fill in crucial fundamental gaps for some topics which I had a hard time initially grasping in class. These videos are best used by watching the introduction and pausing the video to complete each practice question. After each question, watch the video to understand the correct solution, and make sure to understand how the solution was derived. After this, go back to class level questions, using the foundational principals to help answer those. 

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

Students should keep in mind that this class has quizzes every Monday, so it is important to plan studying and other commitments accordingly. While it is an introductory course, students will learn a wide array of physics concepts in this class. Even if one comes in without any physics background, the course is geared with resources to help students succeed (from the way classes are run, to office hours, to the McGraw Study Sessions).

Introductory Physics I

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