Course: PHY 102
Description of Course Goals and CurriculumPHY102: Introductory Physics II is a course that is complementary to the first semester course PHY101. Like its partner, this course explores several fundamental concepts and principles of physics and their various applications to the world around us. The course emphasizes quantitative problem solving and experiments with a range of scientific instruments. Conceptually, PHY102 is organized into four main units: electricity/magnetism, waves, optics, and atomic/nuclear theory. This organization is loosely based on the course’s textbook, “College Physics: Explore and Apply” by Etkina, Planinsic, and Van Heuvelen. However, the course also progresses from more basic topics (e.g. reflection and refraction) to more complex topics that integrate multiple simpler concepts (e.g. lenses) over the semester. PHY102 is unusual for its intense and varied workload, which includes weekly problem sets, weekly quizzes, and self-guided labs. The course also moves at a quick pace due to its sheer amount of material, so students might find themselves falling behind or overwhelmed by the combination of work and the rapidity by which material is covered. The concepts in PHY102 are hard to grasp because of their theoretical nature; it is counterintuitive to visualize physics concepts in a context outside of pure math and formulas. As a result, students might grow a dependence on formula memorization; while this is a helpful strategy, understanding the fundamentals of such formulas and concepts is important in order to better understand the problems and their applications to real life.
Learning From Classroom InstructionPHY102 features a unique 7-day learning cycle for each weekly topic that begins on Wednesday, as opposed to Monday for most classes. As a result, weekly quizzes are held on Mondays, and the new concept for the week is introduced on Wednesday. The lecture takes place after the second class on Thursday, and the last class of the week on Friday continues building on the week’s topic. The weekly problem set is also due the following Monday, with the next weekly quiz. Labs are interspersed throughout the week. Lectures There is one 50-minute lecture per week. Historically, the lectures have been between the second and third classes of the week, which means that the lecture both reinforces material already shown and introduces new concepts. In lecture, the professor builds on concepts by showing the history behind the creation or discovery of the idea, giving example problems, or doing live demonstrations for the class. As such, the main purpose of the lecture is to enrich learning beyond formulas. The demonstrations are a highlight of the lectures (and of the course in general) and provide an opportunity to observe how simple physical concepts can create tangible and often flashy impact in the real world. Lectures also place an emphasis on attendance and iClicker questions. Every lecture, there are several relatively simple iClicker questions asked; the resulting answers are graded and comprise about 2% of the total grade. The professors use these questions to motivate attendance and see which concepts are difficult for the class. To be prepared for lecture, students should be at least familiar with the concepts introduced in the class before. Because the questions in lecture are meant to be easier than normal problems, there is no need to extensively look at example problems or the week’s problem set. The slides from the lecture are also provided online, so notes can be taken on additional concepts or strategies for problem-solving that the professor mentions outside of the prepared slides. This combination of slides and notes provide a comprehensive summary of the week’s topics for preparation for the midterm or final exam. Classes Classes occur three times a week for 50 minutes each. With each containing approximately 15-20 students, the classes are meant to provide a time for more personalized learning. The classes are also where the bulk of problem-solving and learning occurs, so they are most relevant to the problems that appear on the midterm and final exam. On the first class on Monday, the preceptor usually goes over the previous week’s material in preparation for the weekly quiz on that same day. Students have a chance to ask questions about the previous week’s problem set or seek clarification about a specific topic. On Wednesday, the new concept of the week is introduced in class. Students, along with the preceptor, often work on a handout that focuses on the theoretical side of the topic, rather than the specific problem-solving strategies. This allows students to derive relevant formulas for themselves through guided learning and creates a more nuanced understanding of the fundamental concepts for the week. After lecture, once the topic has been thoroughly explored, the class looks through multiple problems on another handout on Friday. The problems resemble those on the week’s problem set, which will be due on the following Monday; because of this similarity, working through the handout in class with the help of the preceptor will make the problem set more familiar and easier to complete. Because each class focuses on a different aspect of the weekly topic, going to all of the classes, even the earlier ones, are most helpful and will solidify your total understanding of the material significantly faster (especially because the problem set, midterm, and exam all concern both theoretical and practical problems). Because the class size is fairly small, the preceptor will be very available to help with problems and also open to questions. Reading the textbook before the last class on Friday will also reinforce your knowledge of the material so that you are ready to solve problems and eventually move on to the problem set. Labs There is one 3-hour lab per week. The focuses of the labs are often concurrent with the respective week’s topic, but sometimes they study topics that have not been explored in class or lecture yet, resulting in additional time needed to look at the new topic. Unlike other scientific labs and like PHY101 labs, PHY102 labs are largely self-guided: students must “create” and propose their own experiment that falls within the guidelines and goals of the lab. As such, the main purpose of the lab is to stimulate students’ critical thinking about concepts, cause students to “think outside of the box” about physics topics, and introduce students to practical scientific aspects like uncertainty analysis, trial-and-error, and educated assumptions. Although the independent nature of the lab might raise some concern, the ideas for the experiment and formulas needed for the data calculations are often included in the prelab. As a result, it is important to finish the short prelab and understand the details and situations that are being introduced in it. The lab is challenging because it usually has multiple parts to it and continues topics from PHY101, like uncertainty analysis. Watching the videos provided by the instructors or even from external resources like Youtube can help in relearning these recurring scientific skills, as they are general and well-known to the scientific community at large. Completing the lab is often a large task in itself because of its multifaceted and lengthy nature. However, there are two lab instructors in each session that are readily available to help your group with questions or other obstacles. Learning the skills, concepts, and approaches to the experiments transfer to outside the lab as well; the final exam has historically integrated lab-based questions into its problems.
Learning For and From AssignmentsProblem Sets There is one problem set, comprising around 7-10 problems, every week. The first two problems are always true/false questions, whereas the others are largely quantitative problem solving. The problem set is divided into three sections: the true/false, the short answer questions, and the full response questions. Each section contains different levels of depth and complexity. The true/false questions require a thorough explanation of the answer and usually test for understanding of a fundamental concept that week. The short answer questions involve mostly simple computations and plug-and-chug formulas; these questions do not require an explanation. The full response questions are multi-step problems that require a four-step approach: 1) sketch/translate, 2) simplify/diagram, 3) represent mathematically, and 4) solve and evaluate. These problem sets, particularly the true/false and full response questions, are meant to reflect types of problems that are seen on quizzes, midterms, and exams. Students can learn how to argue positions on concepts (true/false), practice basic calculations (short answer), and become accustomed to complex, multi-step problems that require more critical thinking (full answer). The classes and lecture cover most of the material in problem sets, but some problems may be derived from textbook topics that were not explicitly covered in class. As a result, reading the textbook may sometimes be more helpful for some problems than others. It is very helpful to keep track of which formulas and approaches work for which types of problems, as similar problems will appear on future assessments. Working through problems independently provides a way to understand the problems thoroughly and develop a personal approach to learning, but working in groups can also clarify any questions and introduce easier approaches to problems. Quizzes Weekly quizzes are very short, lasting only around twenty minutes and comprising 2-3 questions. The quizzes are meant to be reflect the problems in the problem set. The best way to prepare for them is to complete the problem set and ensure that you understand the concepts both in the assigned reading and in the classes over the week. There are also past quizzes made available online that will most likely reflect the level of difficulty and type of problem that will be found on the quiz. Exams The midterm and final exam both contain a true/false section in addition to the conventional multi-step problems. Many of the multi-step problems introduce situations or contexts to the problem that are foreign or unfamiliar (e.g. applications of physics to other fields like biology, chemistry, architecture, etc.). Additionally, there has historically been a written lab-based portion in the test that requires understanding of previous labs. Almost none of the problems or their parts require just straightforward recall of one or two formulas. All of the problems on the midterm and final exam are notably more difficult than those on the quizzes or problem set. To study for these tests, it is very helpful to gain a basic understanding of the fundamental principles that govern the topics that will be on the test (e.g. laws, mechanisms); this can be done through looking at lecture slides and notes, reading the textbook, and going over the class handouts. However, as in any class, practicing problems similar to those on the midterm or final is also immensely helpful: these can be found on past quizzes/exams that are made available to the entire class. The professor-suggested approach to these practice exams is to work through a problem as much as possible without looking at the solutions. Once you reach a barrier, look at the next step in the solutions and then attempt to solve the rest of the problem. Repeat this process until the problem has been solved. Then, attempt to solve the entire exam the next day with this same process. This approach is indeed effective and gives you a lot of practice and comfort with exam questions. Given that the exam is timed and is crunched for time for most students, the main focus of preparing for exams should be getting accustomed to solving many application-based problems. Concerning the lab portion, it is helpful to look through the different lab reports and focus on the different approaches and formulas used in each one, rather than the specific results or data. Since uncertainty analysis and scientific assumptions are emphasized in the labs, these topics are also critical to learn thoroughly so that you are able to apply them during the exams if needed.
External ResourcesThe most prominent resource available for this course is the 3-hour weekly review sessions, which are partnered with McGraw Center. These review sessions were held on weekends, so they provided timely opportunities to meet with groups and instructors to clarify homework questions or receive more information on how to tackle different types of problems. Logistically, these sessions were also beneficial because they also were an opportunity to check your homework with others, given that the quiz would be administered the following Monday. Besides review sessions, there were the conventional resources of office hours and study groups, both of which can be helpful to students. Whenever I was stuck on problems by myself, I also found it helpful to find explanations of concepts or similar problems online via resources like Khan Academy. Because most of the topics in PHY102 are widely known introductory topics, different approaches and explanations can be found on different sites and online resources; subsequently, you can choose which explanation/approach works best for you (assuming that they are all correct).
What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course SelectionOverall, PHY102 is a comprehensive introductory course that offers coverage of many topics that hold significance in today’s scientific world. Beyond just physics concepts, PHY102 also provides opportunities to practice scientific skills, such as laboratory work and problem-solving, that can be applied easily to other fields and studies. Academically, this course is a prerequisite to many other courses that are not necessarily in the physics department (e.g. it is a requirement for thermodynamics). Many students also take this course as a premed requirement to fulfill their necessary coursework. In terms of fundamental skills, PHY102 does not require much background knowledge, beyond algebra and basic trigonometric functions; however, the course does build directly off of PHY101 and also involves topics that include material from its previous complement. As a result, it is important to keep PHY101 concepts fresh on the mind while taking PHY102, as the course has a fast pace and does not allot time specifically for refreshers on previous material. Despite the demands and rigor of the course, PHY102 offers many opportunities that will increase students’ appreciation for physics. Whether it be through the variety of interesting topics, the exciting demonstrations, or the many instructors available to share their interests and passions, PHY102 has many avenues through which many students can enjoy the course and learn much at the same time.
Introductory Physics II