Course: PHY101
Instructor: Visjnic
F 2015

Description of Course Goals and Curriculum

This course offers an introduction to the laws and principles governing physics with a focus on kinematics and thermodynamics. The curriculum, especially at the beginning of the course, starts at a more conceptually basic level and then builds on previous material as the course progresses (for example, the first weeks progress from 1D Kinematics to 2D Kinematics to Rotational Kinematics) so it is important to stay abreast of course material even after the week focused on a particular topic has concluded. The goal of this course is not only to provide a background in physics that may be applied to other sciences but also to develop students as scientific thinkers in terms of their ability to make conclusions based on observations, interpret results, design experiments to test a hypothesis and integrate knowledge to solve problems.

Learning From Classroom Instruction

Classroom instruction consists of three main parts: class or precept three times a week in addition to lecture and laboratory components once a week. Lectures, labs and classes are consistent and focused on the same topic for a given week, but they provide different and often complementary approaches to engaging the concept of focus.


Class or precept occurs most frequently throughout the week and as such it serves as one of the main points of becoming familiar with course concepts and working through questions or difficulties students may be experiencing. Each of the three classes serves a different function in the course.

The first class on a topic typically involves working through a handout. Handouts provide exercises or small experiments to introduce the concepts relevant to the topic in question. The goal of these often interactive worksheets is to allow students to deduce given concepts based on observations and/or scientific reasoning rather than simply by reading them in a textbook. Therefore students not only gain insight into the scientific process and the interpretation of results in order to make claims about the physical world, but they are also able to identify, and then hopefully as a result remember, the concept for themselves. While the handout can seem tedious or confusing on the first attempt for some, especially those unaccustomed to less answer-directed learning, it is important that they try to complete it before the answers are posted later in the week. The key can provide additional conceptual clarity and nuance, but ultimately the process of working through the concept without these conclusions already provided offers a fuller understanding of concepts needed for succeeding in the course.

The second class explores applications of the concepts that were identified in the first class and then elaborated in lecture through problem-solving exercises. The goals of these classes are to provide quantitative exercises that not only help students to develop and apply knowledge but also to prepare them for the types of problems included in written homework. The third class features the weekly quiz and also serves as a time for students to ask questions they may have encountered during their reading, completion of the problem set or other independent study. It essentially solidifies, extends and tests knowledge that has been acquired throughout the course of the week.


Lecture features a more extended introduction to the weekly topic. While not entirely comprehensive (because second and third precepts in the weekly cycle often extend and build on content from lecture), lectures touch on almost all relevant concepts for the subject while giving more in-depth and quantitative examples for a few.

Demonstrations are another key element of lectures that provide illustrations of physical concepts and highlight interesting applications of relevant topics. Demonstrations often begin with a goal similar to that of the handout exercise described above in that Dr. Visjnic will often ask questions that require students to draw a conclusion based on their observations of the demo before giving a more in-depth explanation of the physical principles illustrated. Therefore, in addition to being great for visual (or kinesthetic if you volunteer to participate in one) learning, they also once again help students to apply principles to observed realities or phenomena.

iClicker questions are interspersed throughout the lecture and, based on correctness, contribute a small percentage to students’ final grades. These questions are designed with the acknowledgement that the concept being tested has in many cases just been learned or observed. Therefore, while not extremely complex, they do serve as a way for both the student and the professor to gauge which concepts students are having some difficulty grasping. Ultimately, for the student, they are a great method and motivation to engage in active learning while in lecture rather than just later when reading the book or studying for the quiz at the conclusion of each week.


The physics lab is distinct from those that students may encounter in other science courses principally because the exact procedures are often student-guided or determined. At the beginning of each lab manual, students will receive a question that they are meant to test or a hypothesis they are meant to try to disprove given the materials provided for that particular lab. The goal of this aspect of laboratories is to develop students as scientific thinkers with the ability to form experimental designs to properly test a particular hypothesis or question. While offering this autonomy, lab manuals also provide a rough structure in terms of how many experiments ought to be conducted and with what progression. Like handouts, because of their reliance on inductive reasoning, labs can sometimes be initially frustrating or somewhat confusing to students more accustomed to very directed learning. However, if students fully engage despite these frustrations, they ultimately equip them not only with a better understanding of the material but also with how to think through procedure and results scientifically. Lab reports are in-class write-ups that include detailed procedure, observations, sketches and answers to questions from the manual. Overall, the lab extends on the purposes and goals of demonstrations by providing hands-on application and illustration of the week’s material in addition to concepts like uncertainty analysis.

Learning For and From Assignments

Online Assignments

Online assignments are due earlier in the week than the written assignment and often fall on the same day as the lecture. Because they occur earlier in the sequence, they are typically less complex and less involved than written assignments and assessments. However, it is expected and encouraged that the week’s reading be completed prior to attempting the online assignment. Online homework consists of two assignments: ‘Is this true?’ and WileyPLUS. ‘Is this true?’ provides two statements related to the week’s material that a student must designate as either true or false with an explanation. The goal of this assignment is to test and extend conceptual knowledge by asking students to critically consider and apply principles to a novel and often more complex context. The explanation or defense of students’ answers is far more important than whether or not they designated true/false correctly because it illustrates their thought process and understanding of a concept in attempting to extend it to the scenario in the question. WileyPLUS questions, which are multiple-choice, provide a more quantitative, though sometimes conceptual, application of material. The goal of these questions is to assess comprehension of the reading and to a lesser extent the introductory lecture for a topic.

Written Assignments

Written homework averages about 7 problems that are more involved and complex in nature than those in the online assignment because they are further along in the week’s cycle and are therefore meant to reflect a fuller comprehension of the material. Another goal of these assignments beyond quantitative application is to prepare students for the types of problems they will encounter on the weekly quiz. The course prepares you to solve these problems using a comprehensive four-step strategy (Sketch & translate, simplify & diagram, represent mathematically, solve & evaluate). Students who adapt to this strategy quickly and utilize it widely often find written homework and assessments more manageable. In particular, sketches of problems (even if not required for a particular question) can simplify the process of determining what exactly is being asked and of solving the problem as well. Students are allowed and encouraged to work in groups, but I recommend at least attempting each of the problems independently first as this will be most helpful when it comes to assessments.


The quiz that concludes each weekly cycle serves to test understanding of material. They are short, consisting of only a few questions. In addition to using the written assignment to prepare for the quizzes, I recommend trying the 'Extra Practice Problems' which are taken from another textbook and posted on Blackboard with their solutions. Quizzes are designed such that students are expected to earn relatively high scores on if they do the reading and engage with the material throughout the week.


There is a midterm and a final exam. The midterm presents questions that are of a higher level of difficulty than quizzes and written homework because a problem often requires the synthesis of a few different concepts in order to complete it. The types of questions given on exams reflect those from assignments, including both 'Is this true?' and written, quantitative exercises, but they diverge from these assignments in their goal of assessing a student's ability to apply and integrate course knowledge. Per the advice of Dr. Visjnic, the best way to study for an exam is not to reread the book or notes, but rather to attempt problems. She advises that students attempt a problem a good amount of time before the test so that if they have difficulty they can return to the problem the next day to see if they can get a little farther along in solving it (and so on until the problem(s) is completed) instead of merely looking at the solution. This technique is particularly helpful because it allows students to glean problem-solving strategies or methods rather than just the way to solve one very particular problem. The final exam presents questions of a similar nature to the midterm, but it is cumulative.

External Resources

These external resources were adapted from my experience with a larger group listed here. From this set I found the following most helpful:

Khan Academy, while typically aimed at a slightly younger audience, is a great resource for help with specific concepts as its video tutorials are topic-specific and provide a clear and understandable overview of principles with some problem-solving applications.

MIT Open Course on Physics provides undergraduate level resources. Most helpful are the assignments and exams with solutions because, beyond the 'Extra Practice Problems,' they provide exam-level problems for additional practice which is the most effective way to prepare for examinations.

McGraw Study Sessions offered each Sunday are two-pronged. One section helps students become more comfortable with the mathematics required for problem solving throughout the course. The other offers a review of the topics covered that week with example problems.

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

This course, while a requirement for many and a fulfillment of a premed prerequisite, is also enriching for scientific thinking as a whole if students engage with each element of the course. There is less mathematical knowledge or preparation expected and assumed in this course as compared to 103/104 (this course does not use calculus but requires algebra and trigonometry). Assignments and assessments are designed with the expectation of high scores based on readings and supplementary information provided in class.

Because of the introductory and clarifying role that class/precept plays, it is important to select a section during a time when you will be able to engage fully with the material and use the time wisely for clarification and development of problem-solving skills.

Introductory Physics I

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