Physical Science 112


”Science is no more facts than a dictionary is literature” Martin H. Fisher


Preamble: I have a high regard for students studying to be educators, a most worthy and rewarding profession. I also have high expectations for these students, both in achievement and ethics. Meet or exceed these expectations and we will do well together.

Introduction: Most, but not all, students feel trepidation when signing up for a science class, especially Physical Science. This fear is unfounded. My job is not to make the physical world more complicated than it is; I am here to give form to the innate understanding most people have about Physics, and to open your eyes and mind to possibilities you’ve probably never considered. Physicists understand the universe at its most fundamental level: how things move, what heat, light and sound really are, and the forces that define and limit our abilities.

From the outset it is best that you understand that Physics is not a bunch of facts to memorize. Physics, indeed most science, is a process, a way to learn, a series of “if this is true, then that must be so” statements. “How do we know this?” is at least an important question as “What’s going on here?”. Science is not a belief system; it will not reveal “the Truth”. It is a way of knowing how the real world operates, a series of laws and mathematical relationships that describe conditions and predict behavior. Some of this understanding will not come easily, and some ideas will be counterintuitive. So be it. “The Universe is not only queerer than we imagine, it is queerer than we can imagine.” So said John Haldane in 1927. Therefore, your best mode of study will not to be to memorize results, it will be to understand processes.

For instance, I might ask, “If you are spinning a small rock at the end of a string, and you let it go, will the rock a) move directly away from you, b) fly off tangent to the circle on which it was traveling, or c) continue to move in a circle? Once you understand the concept of centripetal force, you can deduce the result, not recall it. There are far, far too many circumstances to memorize every outcome, but relative few laws that govern the physical world. This is not to say that everything this semester will be process. You can only memorize the names of the planets, not deduce them from fundamental principles. However, the manner in which they formed and evolved depends on fundamental physical processes. Therefore, we will study Physics first, for about eight weeks, and then the rest of the semester will be left for Astronomy.

A word about a textbook: I understand that textbooks are a major investment for the college student, but you should have some kind of Physical Science textbook for reference. Study your class notes for tests, and refer to your text for additional information about the subjects we study in class. Be aware: there is no magic bullet to salvage a substandard grade late in the semester. You must study diligently from Day One to allow for unforeseen circumstances that might demand your time later.

A word about lectures: I really encourage you to participate in class discussions. I often need to ask your opinion in certain areas, like “In what grade level would you address this concept?” or “How would you present this idea to children?”. I am also most willing and anxious to answer questions, so don’t deny your curiosity!

Also, because of our weird split labs, I might use lab time to catch up on lectures or for demonstrations.

Assessment: Your grade will depend on a combination of tests, lab reports, and presentations. I do not collect a weekly homework assignment, but there will be something due practically every week.

Important! To insure that every student has read this syllabus thoroughly, during the 3rd week of class I will administer a short quiz on this syllabus, worth three points. In addition, during our 14th week consultations, you can earn two more points by showing me a neat, organized table of the grades of all the materials I've returned, separated into tests, labs, and presentations.

In order to discourage the artificial compartmentalization of subject matter, and to discourage rote memorization and encourage true learning, my answer to the perennial question "What will be on the next test?" will be two words: recent topics. It will be up to the student to maintain currency with the material presented in lecture and lab, so that if at any time a surprise quiz is given the student should be up to date.

One more thing: as you will all be teachers with students taking their cues not only from your lessons but also your speech and prose, spelling and grammar do count, and excessive errors will affect your grade.


Syllabus quiz/grade sheet:

3+2 points


45 points

Final Exam:

20 points


20 points


10 points




100 points










During the lab periods of the fourteenth week of class I will meet with each of you individually, briefly, to discuss your grade and the unlikely necessity of dropping the course. We'll go alphabetically, half Tuesday and half Thursday.

As a stick, my policy is to drop a student who does not pass either of the first two tests. If you miss one of these, you’d better pass the other. As a carrot, if a student gets an A on every test, none dropped, (and has turned in all lab assignments and given two excellent presentations, at the discretion of the instructor) she (or he) is exempt from the final exam, receiving an automatic A for the course. Questions concerning tests and grading shall be addressed only during office hours (which see).

By the Wednesday after Final Exam week ends, your course letter grade will be posted by the school. I'm not allowed to post grades, but if you bring a stamped postcard I can mail it.

Attendance: Since we do the vast majority of our work in class—tests are based on lecture notes, lab work is done in class, etc.—any absences will impact your grade. Please do your best to attend regularly. If you must be absent, call me or send me an email letting me know your status.

Academic Honesty: The choice of career that you have made is one steeped in ethical behavior. A teacher cannot expect honesty from her students if she has not achieved her position honestly. Therefore, any form of dishonesty, including but not limited to, cheating on tests, using others’ work without credit (plagiarism), or taking credit for lab work if you did attend the entire lab session, will be dealt with most severely, at the minimum dismissal from the course with a grade of “F”, and perhaps expulsion from the college.

Schedule (very tentative)



The Scientific Method-Kinematics



Newton's Laws, Gravity, Circular/Rotational Motion









Heat and Thermodynamics TEST 1

Conservation Laws 


Electricity and Magnetism



Sound and Light/Optics

Circuits; (discussion) Your Own Lab


Nuclear Science

Ray Tracing


Earth Science TEST 2 



Earth and Moon

Celestial Sphere


Welcome to the Solar System

Early Astronomy Presentations


The Solar System

Early Astronomy Presentations


The Sun TEST 3 

Human Solar System


Stars and Galaxies




FIELD TRIP: Griffith Observatory


“My Own Lab” Presentations



The Universe TEST 4



Final Exam Week

STUDENT LEARNING OUTCOMES: The following are the approved SLOs for this course as approved by the school:

Successful graduates of this class will be able to demonstrate a basic mathematical and conceptual understanding of:

  1. Mechanics
  2. Fluid dynamics
  3. Thermodynamics
  4. Electricity and magnetism
  5. Optics
  6. Nuclear Energy
  7. Astronomy