Lecture Instructor: Andrea N Lommen ( KINSC Link 108 )
Lab Instructors: Suzanne Amador-Kane and Paul Thorman
MWF 11-12:30 OR 1-2:30 (On Mondays class is in Stokes 16, on Wednesdays it's in Stokes Auditorium)
All via Zoom. I post new SLOTs on my calendar's appointment page every couple of days. If you don't see any that work for you please Slack me.
Promises of the Course
You will learn to make profitable wrong-turns.
Am I going to teach you to do physics flawlessly? Absolutely not! The world needs your creativity and therefore it needs your mistakes. By the end of this class I want you to have a new perspective on mistakes. Einstein and Churchill will now give you a brief introduction:
- Einstein: Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.
- Winston Churchill: Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.
You will build problem solving skills that you will use for the rest of your life, not just as a professional scientist, but in any career.
As you advance in any career, there will be fewer and fewer basic skills, credentials, and training to acquire, and more and more innovations, new ideas, and frontiers to go beyond, for which no one can give you a recipe or road map. At that point you have to gather the relevant evidence, make a plan, position yourself for success as best you can using calculation, estimation, your peer network, and your intuition, and forge ahead. This course will allow you explore this liminal space, i.e. you'll start to be able to do problems you've never seen before, and hopefully allow you to start to feel some sense of home there - on the edge where no one really has the answers yet.
You will get good at:
- Finding modes in which the motion is simple.
- Superposing these simple modes (also called normal modes) to create new solutions. (This works in any linear equation.)
- Predicting what the solution will look like, and using that to find solutions.
- Noticing that problems are isomorphic to other problems, and using solutions you already know and applying them to new problems.
You will develop your ability to tackle complex problems by breaking them down, wisely, into parts.
That's true in all physics classes. In this class in particular you'll learn how to identify particular "modes" of a solution, and how you can use those specific modes to tackle any general version of the problem.
You will develop your ability to deal wisely with the different pieces of information provided to you.
What do you do with problems that are presented to you in a misleading way? This happens unintentionally all the time. One of your collaborators comes to you with a problem and something they think will fix it. Or perhaps you're a medical doctor and a patient comes in with a set of symptoms. They are sure they have strep throat and are prepared to convince you of this. You need to be the person who has enough perspective to consider that "Do you have strep throat?" is the wrong question. What's the right question? (You can already see how this way of thinking is enormously useful to consulting companies.)
You will develop your ability to detect a wrong answer.
The ability to notice that something is wrong is enormously important. When you notice that something has gone wrong please congratulate yourself that you know something has gone wrong instead of beating yourself up that you did something wrong. Honestly being able to smell a wrong answer is 75% of the way toward getting the right answer.
How can I fulfill on the promises of the course?
- Prepare for class by watching and engaging with the designated screen-casts (links to them are above, and the "what you should be working on" document tells you what to prepare for each day.) There are some distinct advantages to having recorded screen-casts instead of me lecturing. Please take advantage of these:
- You can pause the lecture and/or rewind whenever you need to think about something or hear something again.
- You can engage with them at a time of day when you know your brain can handle physics lectures. (If you don't already know what these times are, start to figure them out. Some people think best in the morning, some in the evening.)
- Each screen-cast corresponds to one section of the book, so experiment with what combination of book and screencast works best for you.
- The slides that are created in each screen-cast are also saved (linked above) so that you may refer back to them.
- We can use our classtime together to build our learning community and to play around with concepts.
- Engage in class. Be willing to say your half formulated ideas. Be willing to say, "Uh....I don't even know how to ask a question." or "Huh?" (Can we just agree right now that "Huh?" is a completely acceptable question? Please? It would help me so much as your instructor.)
- Come to office hours with me and/or the TAs Talk to people as much as you can. Talking with people about the material is the best way to build the scaffolding you need in your brain.
- Talk to your peers. This is more difficult with COVID. Please be careful. It's really important to find people in the class who you can work with outside of class. Please look for those people. If you need help let me know. (It never came easily to me, so I sympathize. Plus if everyone who needs people to work with comes to me, I can start to help you create little communities.) It can actually be disconcerting in a truly wonderful way to hear how classmates think about these problems.
- Do the homework.
We will use classtime for a variety of activities (none of which is lecture):
- Working problems (this will be more than half the time.)
- Demonstrate new concepts with fun toys.
- Learn to rely on your peers to supplement the work you're doing on your own with the screencasts.
- Answer your questions about the screencasts.
- Answer your questions about the homework.
- Place the work you are doing in several larger contexts:
- Where does it fit with the goals of the whole course?
- Where does it fit with the whole field of physics?
- How does this work connect to what you're learning in other disciplines?
- Notice how much you are learning (sometimes you 'Fordian and BMCers work so hard that you don't notice how far you've come. I'll make sure you don't lose sight of that.)
- Listen to music, hum, sing....because your body is connected to your brain so you should pay attention to your body, too. Also, learning new stuff is hard, and sometimes you need to get the frustration to move through your body a little bit so it doesn't get stuck.
The goal of having a variety of activities is to get you to think about the material in as many different ways as possible so as to deliver on the promises of the course. Ultimately to learn new things you have to build scaffolding in your own brain. Each member of our team will do this differently and we need to respect all of them.
Working Together, Plagiarism, and the Honor Code. Working together means getting together to discuss problems, asking for help from other students on a step you are stuck on, or comparing solutions. I really encourage you to work together, and I know you will want to be mindful not crossing the line into plagiarism. Plagiarism is passing off someone else's work as your own. Let’s talk about this on the first day of class, and be sure to keep talking with me if you become concerned as you work with other students. We may come up with other solutions, but to start I’d like to start with the following suggestion: for the first couple of assignments I suggest you include very brief descriptions of where your ideas came from, e.g. “I got the idea to start the problem this way from Meryl.”
How will my progress in accomplishing the promises of the course be adjudicated?
This is an interesting question. It's important to get feedback throughout the semester regarding what adjustments you need to make in order to fulfill on the promises. So how can I adjudicate whether or not you are making good progress toward what I promised you? I think of it like project management rather than grading. If I were Haverford's President and wanted the new library done by June 2019, I wouldn't just say "Hey everybody, let's build this building by June 1 2019," and then check in with my team again a year later on June 1, 2019 and make sure it's done. I would have a lot of checkpoints along the way... we should have bids by October, we should have a contract by November, the foundation should be dug by December, etc. You get the idea. Back to you. Getting feedback on your progress toward the promises is a multi-faceted task, just like your participation in the course in multi-faceted. In other words, I am looking at the whole constellation of your participation in this course, not just your performance on a few things.
Toward this goal we have 10 problem sets (30% of your grade), and 2 time-limited (but I'll give you a lot of time) take-home exams (10% and 14%) and a self-scheduled final (22%). The remaining 24% of your grade is from your labs.
- Problem sets: These are my best and earliest indicator of your progress, so they come often (see dates below).
- PS1: due Wed Sept 16 before class.
- PS2: due Wed Sept 23 before class.
- (Exam 1 is Sept 23-27, take-home, you'll have 4 hours)
- PS3: due Sun Oct 4 by midnight.
- PS4: due Wed Oct 14 before class.
- FALL BREAK Wednesday October 21
- PS5: due Wed Oct 28 before class
- PS6: due Sun Nov 8 by midnight.
- (Exam 2 is Nov 11-15, take-home, you'll have 4 hours)
- PS7: due Thur Nov 19 at midnight.
- PS8: due Sun Dec 6 before class.
- PS9: due Friday Dec 11 at mignight.
- The exams will each be done on your own time, and turned online.
We have deadlines, because that keeps us working together as a team, and it streamlines many logistics (e.g. grading). That being said, part of being on a team is being in communication about deadlines. Most things can be worked out if you plan ahead and talk to me ahead of time. It’s an incredibly important life skill to manage your deadlines and communicate with the people who have imposed them upon you when you can’t make them. So I’m asking you to do a combination of (a) planning ahead to meet your deadlines as best you can and (b) negotiating with me for changes when the planning doesn’t work. It’s also a really important skill to be able to do something “well enough” without doing it perfectly. Sometimes it would be better to hand in what you have for a problem set, even if it’s not finished. Then you can start on the next one promptly with the rest of the class. Meanwhile, when that happens, make an appointment with me so we can figure out how to prevent it from happening again. (See my note earlier in the syllabus about learning from your mistakes.)