Phys 2012 Sapling Learning Setup
The online homework in this course is done through Sapling Learning's servers. Here are their instructions for signing up:
Go to http://saplinglearning.com
If you already have a Sapling Learning account, log in, click "View Available Courses", then skip to step 3. Otherwise
If you have Facebook account, you can use it to quickly create a SaplingLearning account. Click "create account" located under the username box, then click “Login with Facebook”. The form will auto-fill with information from your Facebook account (you may need to log into Facebook in the popup window first). Choose a password and timezone, accept the site policy agreement, and click "Create my new account". You can then skip to step 3.
Otherwise, click "create account" located under the username box. Supply the requested information and click "Create my new account". Check your email (and spam filter) for a message from Sapling Learning and click on the link provided in that email.
Find your course in the list (listed by school, course, and instructor) and click the link.
Select your payment options and follow the remaining instructions.
Once you have registered and enrolled, you can log in at any time to complete or review your homework assignments.
During sign up - and throughout the term - if you have any technical problems or grading issues, send an email to email@example.com explaining the issue. The Sapling support team is almost always more able (and faster) to resolve issues than your instructor.
Why are we doing this? We already bought a book after all! And a clicker and a lab manual...
The goal of this class (from my perspective) is that you learn the physics and get good at problem solving techniques in general. Your goal is that you get the dreaded “General Physics II” crossed off your APAS report, and get a decent grade attached to those four credit hours in the bargain. This online thing will help us achieve both these goals in two ways.
First, research about how people learn says students learn a lot more stuff (more easily!) if they read about a new subject first; then engage brains enough to answer questions about that new subject; then see more explanations about how it works in class; and finally go work some more complicated problems about it. You might even agree that this sort of makes sense and might resolve to study like this. But even the most self-disciplined student finds it easier to keep on top the reading if it counts for points, and online assignments do that. Points for what you should be doing anyway!!!
Second, the only way to get good at physics is to practice. Same as for playing an instrument or hitting a baseball, practice makes perfect (or at least less confused when the test paper hits the desk in front of you). In an ideal world (or the British university system) you and a few of your friends would be sitting down with an expert working through problems, getting feedback and suggestions as you go. The American university system doesn't work like this (although we do have the tutoring center, TA-run help sessions, and office hours – use them!!!) but most schools have discussion sections where you can work things out in “small” groups of 20-30 people. At UMD, historical and budget reasons have conspired to remove even discussion sections from physics classes, although we do have the optional one-credit Phys 2112 “Solving Physics Problems II” class, which would be mandatory at most schools. If you've got a spare hour in your week, sign up for this class, you will do better in the 4 credits of Phys 2012 if you do.
Since we don't have these more usual ways of helping you get good practice at solving the physics problems you will be tested on, an online homework system does an ok (if not great) job at the same thing. And, it prevents you from taking the shortcut of googling up the answer to a problem from the book, copying it down right before lecture, and learning zero from that week's homework assignment. Yes, we profs aren't fools, and it's obvious that some large fraction of the paper-based homework assignments we receive were done in exactly this way. Which then carries through to the the test when that same fraction of students bomb the very same problem from homework which showed up again verbatim on the test, but they couldn't search for the answer at that point.