Physics 231:General Physics I

Goals, Policies and Expectations


Course Goals


As the first course for a Physics Major or Minor, this course shares some of those program’s broader goals: developing your skills in Quantitative Problem Solving, Experimentation, Computation, and Communication, while developing your knowledge of Classical and Modern Mechanics.  These skills and knowledge are essential foundations for engineering as well as physics.  I also hope to help you explore the broader field of Physics, so you understand what lies beyond this single, introductory course.   


These goals are commiserate with those of the MS1 Liberal Arts Foundation Requirement: developing the knowledge of the most fundamental concepts and principles of Physics, knowledge of how physics research advances our understanding of the physical world, and the ability conduct scientific experiments.  


Policies and Expectations


Reading: I encourage you to do the assigned reading before class so that during class you’ll readily recognize when we deal with material that wasn’t clear enough in the reading and you’ll know to ask questions if they remain unclear (rather than coming to class, hoping that anything that wasn’t clear there will be clear in the text, and then doing the reading only to discover that some things are still confusing.)  In fact, even before doing the reading, I encourage you to first skim the homework assignment so you’ll know what you’ll be up against and then when you do the reading you’ll recognize when you get to the particularly relevant paragraphs and examples.   Warning:  lectures alone won’t necessarily cover all of the assigned material. 

Assignments: 25% of your grade. There are three types of assignment: Classwork, Reading Exercises, and Homework.

Classwork: (2% of your grade)  You learn best by doing and discussing, so periodically during lecture I’ll ask you to try your hand at doing bite-sized bits of the day’s material and discussing it with your colleagues.  We’ll use “clickers” to help log your answers and help me differentiate between what pretty much everyone understands and what merits further discussion.  These questions are to help you learn rather than me grade.  So you’ll get 1 point for every question you answer (right or wrong) and 1 bonus point for every question you get right.

Reading Exercises: (10% of your grade) As the name suggests, these are intended for you to try while you’re doing the reading before coming to class.  Doing these will help you to get familiar with ideas and tool presented in the reading.  Most of these are online versions of the exercises you’ll encounter as you read the text.  While the versions in the text have answers provided at the end of the chapter, the versions online give you instant feedback and let you try until you get them right.  You’ll find that you are able to correctly answer some of these after having done just the reading, while you may need to see examples of others in class first.  The grading scheme is designed to account for this: you get 15% bonus on all questions correctly answered at least 10 min prior to class, and you can get 85% credit for any questions you correctly answer within the next 24 hours; that means that you’d average out to full credit if you got half the questions right before class and the other half right after class. Here’s how to access the RE assignments.  Log in at Your login has the format firstname_lastname (just like your email), your institution is “redlands”, and your initial password is “Appleton” (case-sensitive, and I’d suggest personalizing it.) You get about two weeks in WebAssign for free, but after that you’ll need to buy a subscription (comparable to the cost of a workbook, in the $20-$30 range.)


Homework:(13% of your grade) Weekly homework assignments consist of two types of problems – analytical and computational. 

The analytical problems are more involved than those in the Reading Exercises.  Unlike the Reading Exercises, your work (not just the final answers) must be turned in and will be graded; thus the work must be legible and easy to follow (if your original work is not, you should copy it over.) Because good problem solving style and communication are crucial to success on more challenging problems, you will be graded not just on the quality of your solution, but also on the quality of your communication.  For one thing, this means explaining your reasoning in words as well as doing the math. Here are some key things that I’ll be looking for:

·         Visual representation of the given and desired information which communicates how they’re related. Explicitly define the “system.”  (1pt)

·         Meaningful and distinct symbols for the given and desired quantities, ex. might be a ball’s position at time 1. (1pt)

·         Mathematical relations phrased in terms of these symbols before numbers are used. (1pt)

·         Clear & Correct algebra (1pt)

·         Units accompanying all numbers. (1pt)

·         Correct Answer submitted in WebAssign (1pt)

You must also include units anywhere you use numbers (not just at the end) and use proper vector notation when appropriate. You may find the problem solving technique / template (found on the website) helpful in organizing your work on these problems. Feel free to consult with each other or with me, but the work turned in must be your own. 

Sample problems are worked out at .

Another resource is answer checking in WebAssign – type in your final answer, and it’ll tell you if you got it right; if you didn’t, then you know to double check your work or check with me or a classmate.  Students have found this resource so valuable that I’ve made it required – the point for having a correct final answer (1 out of 6 points for a problem) comes from your submitting than answer in WebAssign.

The computational problems are submitted directly through WebAssign.  In these, you use programs that you and your lab partners had developed in the preceding lab period (more about that below) to answer follow-up questions.  These exercises should help you deepen your understanding of your programs and so strengthen our computational skills.

Exploring Physics:  (5% of your grade.)  Whether this course is the first in a long series of physics classes or your only science course at Redlands, you deserve a peak deeper into the field than the study of modern mechanics (the primary focus of this course) can afford.  Along with your weekly homework, I ask for a written discussion (300 to 500 words) of a physics article you have read or for you to attend a presentation (some opportunities are listed in the syllabus, others will likely arise.)  The discussion should include a concise summary of the article and your own musings/reactions to it.  Feel free to write as informally as if you were emailing a friend – the point of the assignment isn’t to hone particular writing skills but to explore what physicists do.  While you’re free to find your own articles, I will forward to you the “APS Weekly News Brief” emails which have links to a handful of accessible articles; if you’re more interested in engineering than physics, feel free to use engineering-related articles rather than physics ones.  Use WebAssign to turn in your EP assignments; they are due by 10pm on the dates indicated in the syllabus (though you’re always welcome to turn them in much sooner.)

Laboratory Experiences: (20% of your grade.) Thanks to rapidly increasing computational power, computer simulations have become an invaluable counterpart to hands-on research.  Accordingly, you’ll have two types of Laboratory Experiences (often in the same day):  performing experiments and writing simulations.  In the experiments, you observe and analyze the behavior of physical systems; in the computer simulations, you employ the theory to model physical systems. 

The modeling will be done in Python, which is freely available.  No previous programming experience is necessary; you will learn what you need along the way (you can get some additional guidance and practice at  Since you’ll sometimes be asked to work on code outside of lab, you’ll want to install the program on your own computer; follow the instructions at to make sure you install the necessary add-ins and the version of Python that’s compatible with them.  Cumulatively, the simulations share the goals that you understand

  1. the nature of modeling.
  2. how to use simulations to solve problems: to (a) test theory and make predictions and (b) model experiments and thereby test assumptions.
  3. the basic practical skills of simulation development: how to (a) modify previous simulations to build new ones, (b) determine appropriate initial conditions, (c) define constants, (d) determine reasonable time step or piece-size, (d) translate logical procedures and mathematical statements into code.
  4.  that, in mechanics, applying  and  can help explore a wide range of phenomena.
  5. why incrementally approximating and as constant over small time intervals, dt, is both useful and imperfect, why the approximations can be used, and how they can be improved.

Completed simulations will be turned in through WebAssign during the lab period.  WebAssign will also be used to help you double check equations you derive and even some results you obtain during lab; the intent is to catch silly mistakes quickly.  In lab, WebAssign will allow you to retry lab questions only up to 5 times, so be careful and ask for help if you can’t find a mistake.  The WebAssign scores will factor into your lab grades.


Quizzes: (10% of your grade.)  There will be a short quiz over each chapter’s reading and lecture material.  To help you to learn from returned homework, there will always be something taken directly from it. 


Exams: (40% of your grade.) There will be two mid-term exams (12% each) and a final (16%). All exams will be closed book, closed notes.  Some equations will be provided; the most fundamental principles must be committed to memory.  Sample exams will be available in class and on the website. 



Assorted Other Notes

Reschedules:  Tragedies do sometimes happen, and you may not be able to take an exam at its regularly scheduled time.  If you let me know well in advance, we can reschedule your exam.  If you do not notify my until the day before the exam, you must provide documentation of your conflict (doctor’s note, plane ticket stub, etc.) before your make up exam score will be recorded.


Accommodations With the support of Student Services, I am happy to make accommodations for learning differences of which we are aware; of course, it’s difficult to make accommodations after the fact, so I encourage anyone with a documented learning difference to talk to Student Services.


Resources – me, classmates, tutors If you’re doing all your physics work all by yourself, you’re probably making things harder than they need to be.  Of course, whatever work you submit should represent your understanding, but rather than banging your head against a problem for hours, if you hit a snag, check with a classmate, me, or a tutor; we can help you to develop your understanding much less painfully.  The “study cubby’s” really are here for you to work together, you can drop by my office whenever I’m in (see schedule outside my door), and joint math+physics tutoring sessions are held in Appleton 216 Sun, Tues, and Thurs nights (just math tutors Mon and Wed nights) 7:30-9:30pm.


Cheating:  While I strongly encourage you to work together to figure out how to tackle tough problems, what you turn in must be your work represent your understanding.  Dishonesty seriously undermines academic pursuit; therefore, it is my philosophy that the punishment for cheating should not simply erase its 'beneficial' effects, but be enough of a deterrent that the 'benefit' of cheating not be worth the risk.  For example, if I identify cheating on an exam, the offender is more likely to be failed from the course than invited to take a make‑up test.


Grade: If at anytime you are interested in reviewing your standing in the course feel free to give me a call, send me an e-mail, or drop by my office.

Classwork                                  2%

Reading Exercises                       10%

Homework                                 13%

Exploring Physics                        5%
Laboratory Experiences              20%

Quizzes                                      10%
Exams                                        40% (12%, 12%, 16%)

Final Grade Assignments:  Final grades will be assigned according to the following: 

                     93        ≤   A   (4.0)     ≤  100%                                  

90            ≤   A- (3.7)     <  93 ⅓                       

86 ⅔        ≤   B+ (3.3)     <  90                           

83         ≤   B   (3.0)     <  86 ⅔                       

80            ≤   B- (2.7)     <  83 ⅓                       

76 ⅔       ≤   C+ (2.3)     <  80                           

73        ≤   C   (2.0)     <  76 ⅔                       

70            ≤   C- (1.7)     <  73 ⅓                       

66        ≤   D+ (1.3)     <  70                          

63        ≤   D   (1.0)     <  66 ⅔                       

60            ≤   D- (0.7)     <  63 ⅓                       

0              ≤   F    (0.0)     <  60                           

Note: to participate in the Engineering 3+2 program, you must earn at least a 3.0 in this class (and all other “pre-engineering” classes, such as Calc.)