Physics 115:  Inquiry into Physics

Enrollment in this course is limited to elementary education and early childhood education majors.  There is no recommendation that you've had high school physics, no matter what it says on Testudo.

Course meetings
:  Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, 2:00-3:50, room 3316 Toll Physics Building

David Hammer, 1310 Physics and 2226 Benjamin, 301 405-8188;
Office hours:  By appointment

Graduate teaching assistant
Ellie Lockner, 4331 Physics, 301 405-6065;
Office hours:  By appointment

Undergraduate teaching assistant
Jenn Horvath,

Course description

The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking. Einstein, 1936.

Many students think learning physics means taking in information — facts and formulas and problem solving methods — and committing it all to memory. But, for Einstein and others, learning physics means refining your everyday thinking. And that means, first, becoming aware of your everyday thinking. They may not always think of what they're doing this way, but students who succeed in physics know this instinctively:  Learning physics is as much learning about yourself, about how and what you know and see and think, as it is finding out new things about the physical world.

This is going to be our primary focus, learning how to learn physics, always starting with what you know from everyday experience and refining from there.  Along the way we'll also talk about teaching science in elementary school, what it can and should entail.  By the end of the course, I hope you'll be competent and comfortable with scientific inquiry. 

To that end, you should expect class meetings will be made up mainly of discussions, experiments, and debates—don't expect to be sitting and taking notes on lectures.  And be ready to do lots of writing, some during class but more on the homework.   


You're required to: 
1) Attend the course meetings and participate in discussions and labs.  There's no textbook; the content is what we do during course meeetings.  So you really need to be there. 
2) Write and revise weekly "essay sets," each about five pages long.
In a typical week, you'll be starting a new assignment and revising one you've worked on before.  I'll post the assignments on this web site.
3) Read and comment on essay drafts and revisions by other students. 
In a typical week, you'll be reading each others' essays and writing comments on them.
4) Take two exams (one mid-course and one at the end).  They'll count equally. 
Textbook and materials:  There is no textbook for the course.  There will be some readings as we go, which I'll distribute with photocopies in class or using this website. 

I'll base your course grades equally on essays, participation, and exams. 

As much as possible, I'd like to keep everyone's attention on the substance of what we're doing rather than on grades.  In the end, that leads to the highest quality of work.  For this reason, I don't like to put grades on individual assignments, either as letters or as points.  My experience with that is it distracts from what this is all supposed to be about, learning science, not accumulating points.  So you'll find lots of written comments on your assignments, but no summative letters or points.  

I know this isn't what you're used to, and I'm happy to speak with you about it, including to talk about your grade if you're concerned.  I will score exams in the conventional way, and at midterm I'll hand out my estimate of your grade so far. 

Special Needs
If you have any special needs relevant to this course, please contact me so we can figure out the best way to accomodate them. 

In fact, if you have any thoughts or concerns or suggestions at all, please let me know.  I will be asking for feedback along the way, but you don't have to wait for me to ask.  I may not do exactly what you ask, but I will definitely hear what you have to say and think about it. 
Education research
My research is in physics education — I study how students learn (or don't) and try to figure out better ways to teach.  I'm hoping to use this course to collect data, which means I'll ask your permission to videotape class as well as to make photocopies of your written work.  Whether or not you give me permission will have no effect at all on your grade or what we do in class.  

I should say, though, that I'm not going to be "experimenting" on you with new techniques.  The different approach we take in this course has lots of research and evidence already behind it;  we're doing these things because we already know them to be much more effective than traditional instruction.  On this as on any aspect of the course, please don't hesitate to speak with me. 

Finally, please see the University policy regarding the Honor Pledge.

Copyright © 2005 University of Maryland Department of Physics. Last modified August 29, 2005 by David Hammer