How to Succeed in Physics!

By Really Trying
2012 - 2013
Goal of the Course
Your physics teachers’ overarching goal is for you to master the basics of Newtonian physics. This is not an inconsiderable task. It will require concentrated and sustained effort on your part, as well as constant coaching from your teachers. All students start their first physics course with very well-developed ideas about how the world around them works. Some of these ideas are very good, however some of these ideas are logically inconsistent, improperly applied, or contrary to careful observation. This is true for all students starting to learn physics. There will be times when physics makes your brain hurt and leads to feelings of confusion, but this just means you are about to learn something new. And that is a very good thing!


Models and Objectives

Our challenge this year is to create a learning environment that makes it as easy as possible for you to see what you understand well and what still needs work. To this end, each unit of study focuses on a single model of the physical world. A model is an idealized set of representations that we can use to explain a situation and predict what will happen in similar situations in the future. To help you develop these models to the point where you can use them to explain and predict the world around you, we have identified key learning objectives for each unit. In this way, you can look at your developing understanding quickly and clearly, determining what skills and knowledge you are missing at any point along the way. Learning objectives will most often be in the form “I can do thus-and-such.” or “I know this-and-that.” The learning objectives are designed to give you chunks of knowledge and skills that you can focus on clearly. You will have the complete list of learning objectives from the start of the year. You must must must must must write in pencil in this class. Note: this is not a suggestion. Reason: the pathway to learning is filled with mistakes. You must give yourself permission to make mistakes and to correct your mistakes. Writing in pencil allows erasing instead of scratching out, and helps you start to remove any emotional burden from not doing something correctly on your first attempt. Any work that is turned in (homework, test, quiz, etc) should represent only your own thoughts and understandings. You may talk to a physics teacher for advice. On homework that will not be collected (that is, almost all “homework” in the class: your own practice, problems from a packet, etc), you may talk with whomever you wish (including other students, tutors, teachers, etc). No collaboration or discussion of any kind is allowed on quizzes, tests, and examinations. You are expected to follow the school honor code to the letter at all times during the year.


Honor Code

Missed Classes

I will try to make the best possible use of our class periods by using it for activities that work well only when the class is together. Because of that, missing class for any reason (including sports or illness*) can stall your progress in understanding physics. Still, almost everyone will occasionally miss a physics class.

Help! I missed a physics class! What should I do?!
1) Check in with a classmate who was in class, but please do not “get notes” from anyone. Instead, sit down and talk with your friend about what happened in class, then leave him or her and work through the problems you missed on your own. 2) Meet back up with your friend and check your solutions to the problems you just did. Please, do not look at anyone else’s work (because it will hinder your own development of understanding); instead, ask to discuss the problems with a friend. 3) If you are confused or need more help, bring that work to show me so that we can talk about it together. Past students have told me that it takes up to three times as long to fully make up the understanding you would have gained during a missed class.** That is, you should plan to spend up to 2 hours catching up on a 40 minute class or up to 4 hours catching up on a missed lab period (obviously, I wouldn’t expect you to spend that time all at once!). *Please do come to class, even unprepared, if you are reasonably able to do so. Please do not come to class if doing so would impair your health or recovery or if you are ill with something contagious. **While it is definitely a pain when it occasionally happens, it should make you feel good about what you are accomplishing in class on a daily basis.


The grading policy for this class involves “no points, no averages.” To that end, homework “doesn’t count” in the traditional sense. It is only a part of your grade in the sense that it will significantly affect your understanding of physics (and that is the only thing being graded here). Even the assigned homework itself will become less traditional after the first few weeks of school. Most homework will be completely individualized. If you think about it, each student will likely have slightly different skills that they need to practice on any given day. It wouldn’t be efficient for every student to practice the exact same problems every night. So instead, I will help you learn to design your own practice routines. Most of your homework will be directed toward correcting mistakes you’ve made and preparing for assessments. Here is the challenge: being honest with yourself and spending the time even when what you do won’t be collected. The time you spend from day to day will vary. We all have times when we have too much work to do, and I understand when you occasionally have to say “no” to your Physics work. Choosing to go to sleep rather than stay up to work is always the right choice when it comes to this class. Overall, keep in mind that progress happens in small steps; students who experience the most success in this class put in at least a bit of time almost every day, even if it can only be ten or twenty minutes on a given day.


If you are having difficulty with anything in this course, please see me as soon as you feel that you have a problem. Talk to me in person or send me an email so that we can find a time to meet. I eat breakfast in the dining hall every morning, and that time works out well for quick check-ins, to show me the practice (or corrections) that you’ve been doing so that we can look at it together, or to ask questions. Don’t worry, you aren’t interrupting my meal! I hope that you will also be willing to discuss physics appropriately (see: Honor Code) with other students in your class, other physics students, and other physics teachers.


The key to demonstrating your understanding of physics will be the demonstration of mastery on the learning objectives. Assessment falls roughly into two categories: teacher-initiated in-class assessments and student-initiated out-of-class assessments. On any test, your teacher will rate your mastery on each of the learning objectives. Note that you will not receive a traditional grade on your test (such as an 83 or 78), rather you will receive a temporary score (0, 1, or 2) for each learning objective. As physics is a cumulative learning experience (there are no units that are independent and don’t affect future units), there will be many opportunities for you to demonstrate mastery on earlier objectives. This sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Many opportunities to show you have mastered physics will be available. On the other hand, this means that there will also be plenty of opportunities for you to demonstrate that you have forgotten earlier learning objectives. If this regrettable situation occurs, your score on that particular objective will fall. Thus, you cannot expect to cram for a particular assessment, forget what you have learned, and not have it come back to haunt you.

StudentInitiated Assessments

There will be an opportunity each week for you to apply for an extra test to show off the skills of your choosing. To qualify for one of these extra tests, you will need to do the following: ✓ Make corrections to your work on old assessments. ✓ Do extra practice on the relevant skills (in ADDITION to the corrections). ✓ Apply for the extra test by filling out the form on our class website. You must fill out the application by the start of study hall on Friday night. Extra tests will be given on Saturdays and Sundays at specific and regular times (if and only if you have an unusual circumstance on a particular weekend, you may arrange a different time/day). Students who are most successful on these extra tests usually check their practice with me a day or two before the test. Remember that on any test, including one that you ask to take, your standing can go up or down, even on objectives that you weren’t specifically targeting.

Sustained Effort

The use of individual assessments to demonstrate mastery on learning objectives means that you will need to keep track of your progress and sustain your effort to learn physics. There are no shortcuts to mastery. Mastery of physics (or any serious endeavor) comes from consistent and sustained work. Simply put, you cannot expect to master any subject or skill by refusing to practice for days on end. The bright side to this need for sustained effort is that sustained effort always works! You will make progress if you stick to the work. The use of learning objectives, and the scoring only of your mastery of these objectives, is designed to make immediately clear the skills and knowledge that need your focus. How your progress translates into a final grade might be unclear to you right now, but we will make sure everyone understands how the mastery of objectives will result in a final grade. The key is for you to focus on understanding physics, not on the single grade. If you do this, you will be happy with the outcome, and you will feel fantastic for having achieved a level of understanding of physics that few in our world attain.

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