Main Handout: Mechanics

Physics 131, Fall 2011

Prof. E. F. Redish

This class is an active learning experience! Think "aerobics class" rather than "watching a good science program on TV"! In all parts of the class you will be engaged in thinking about, talking about, figuring out, and learning physics.


There are readings in this class, but we have chosen not to use a standard text. In part this is because there is no standard introductory physics text that is really written for biology students -- starting with what they know and teaching them what is relevant for them. We are in the process of writing such a book as an online wiki-book. Before each class there will be a few (fairly short) web pages for you to read and comment on (using Mastering Physics). Here are your pre-lecture tasks

In some cases where we have not written web pages specifically for this course, you may be asked to read and comment on a section of my text Understanding Physics which will be provided on BlackBoard.


The "lectures" will typically begin with a brief recap of the content of the previous night's reading and a discussion based on the questions you and your classmates have entered. The rest of the class will be group problem solving, demonstrations and discussions, and other activities.


The recitation sections will be group problem solving. Typically, you will work through an extended multi-part problem with either a biological or everyday context. In your homework, you will do a similar problem but with the other context.


In addition to the reading commentaries there will be three weekly homework assignments. Weekly homeworks are due on WEDNESDAY at the beginning of lecture.

You will get limited feedback on the last two. Solutions to these problems will be posted on BlackBoard. You will need to go over those solutions carefully and compare to what you have done to be sure you understand.

Homework and in-class problem solving is where most of the learning in this class gets done! Do a careful and complete job on your homework. If you are not earning full credit and looking at the solutions doesn't help you for next time, check with an instructor and go over what more you need to do.


We will have (graded) 10-minute quizzes at the beginning of class on each MONDAY when we are not going over an exam. Quizzes will focus on important -- and sometimes subtle fundamental issues (often from the previous week's material). Each quiz will be worth 10 points. The point of these quizzes is to help you see where you might still be confused. There will be about 10 of them and the lowest quiz grade will be dropped.


We will have two hour exams and a final. Each exam will test how well you have learned to use and make sense of the material. As a result, you will be expected to think on exams. Each exam will include (points approximate): one representation translation problem (25 pts -- multiple choice), two multi-part problems (25 pts each -- problem solving), one estimation problem (15 pts), and an essay question (10 pts). Although exams are important, they total only ~40% of your grade -- and there are ways to improve your result after the fact.


The laboratories in this class are different from the traditional "protocol" labs where you are told exactly what to do and expect to get a result that agrees with some theoretical prediction. These are design labs -- labs in which your job is to design a lab to answer a question. In these you will get the opportunity to explore how the design of the equipment effects what you measure and to consider how certain you are of your answer. An important part of the lab is the discussion at the end where you present and discuss your results to the other members of your class.



If you have a valid excuse for missing an exam, quiz, or homework, send me an email to arrange what to do about it, beforehand if at all possible. Specify the date and day you will be (or were) absent and the reasons. Ex post facto (after the fact) excuses will require validation and may not be acceptable. (Wanting to leave early before a holiday is NOT a valid excuse, even if it's for a friend's wedding.) You must contact me. Your TA does not have the authority to excuse you from any required class activity.

E. F. Redish


University of Maryland Physics Department Physics 131 Home

This page prepared by

Edward F. Redish
Department of Physics
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742
Phone: (301) 405-6120

Last revision 11 August, 2011.