Phys 2015 Mastering Physics Setup

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 five 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!!!). We do now have a discussion section, which is a start.

An online homework system does an ok (if not great) job at the same thing. And, it makes it a bit harder to take 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!).