Elementary Physics I

Oberlin College Physics 103

Syllabus for Fall 2023

Learning goals: Through your work in this course, you will

Aldo Leopold wrote "We speak glibly of . . . education, but what do we mean by it? If we mean indoctrination, then let us be reminded that it is just as easy to indoctrinate with fallacies as with facts. If we mean to teach the capacity for independent judgment, then I am appalled by the magnitude of the task." The ultimate goal of this course (and, I hope, of all your other courses) is to develop your capacity for thoughtful, informed, independent judgment.

Classroom Teacher: Dan Styer, Wright 215, 440-775-8183, Dan.Styer@oberlin.edu
home telephone 440-281-1348 (9:00 am to 8:00 pm only). Instructions for meeting with me are given under "Schedule" here.

Pronouns, nouns, adjectives, and the character of science: I don't care what pronouns you use when referring to me. Similarly, you may call me "Dan", or "Mr. Styer", or "Dr. Styer", or "Prof. Styer", whichever you find most comfortable. My personal preference, however, is that you call me "Dan". In this course I will present upsetting conclusions violently opposed to our common sense and common experience. (For example: That a push or pull does not cause motion -- instead it causes a change in motion. That light added to light can sum to darkness. I make no apologies for presenting upsetting conclusions: An education that avoids difficult or disturbing issues is no education at all.) I hope you'll accept those conclusions because they are based on experimental evidence and on cogent, clear, fact-based reasoning -- experiments and reasoning that you or I or anyone else could execute. If you accept those conclusions instead because I have earned the right to put a fancy shingle in front of my name, my teaching will have been an abject failure.

Laboratory Teacher: Melinda Keller, Wright 206, 440-775-8339, mkeller@oberlin.edu

Meeting times: Class: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00 am at Wright Laboratory room 201. Conference: Tuesday at noon to 1:30 pm at Wright Laboratory room 201. Laboratory: Friday, Monday, or Tuesday at 1:30 pm at Wright Laboratory room 113. (The first lab will be Friday, 8 September, or Monday, 11 September, or Tuesday, 12 September.)

Free peer tutors are available for this course. To access this resource click here.

Course web site: http://www.oberlin.edu/physics/dstyer/P103.
I will post handouts, lecture notes, assignments, and model solutions here.


Obtainable from OpenStax. The electronic version is free, but a print version is also available for a relatively modest cost.

Problem assignments: Posted on the course web site every Wednesday (unless there is an exam), due at the start of class the following Wednesday. My model solutions will be posted at the end of this class, so late assignments cannot usually be accepted (I may make an exception in the case of a health or family emergency). In writing your solutions, do not just write down the final answer. Show your reasoning and your intermediate steps. Describe (in words) the thought that went into your work as well as describing (in equations) the mathematical manipulations involved. For numerical results, give units and apply significant figures.

Why do you have to "show your reasoning and your intermediate steps"? Suppose someone claimed "I won reelection in November 2020. I won by a landslide." but could not provide evidence supporting his assertion. Would you belive him? I hope not. Similarly with any scientific (or non-scientific) problem. If you merely present the answer without showing supporting data or reasoning, you have not solved the problem.

The very name "reasoned discourse" means that you present not only your conclusion, but also the reasoning behind that conclusion. If you present only your result, you are not engaged in reasoned discourse.

You are welcome to consult the library, the Internet, AI resources such as ChatGPT, your friends, or your enemies in working the assigned problems, but the final write-up must be entirely your own: you may not copy word for word or equation for equation. When you do obtain outside help you must acknowledge it. (E.g. "Following the suggestion on page 57 of Elby, The Portable TA to use momentum conservation, I find that. . ." or "Employing the definition u = sin(x) (suggested by Carol Hall). . ." or even "In working these problems I benefited from discussions with Mike Fisher and Jim Newton.") Such an acknowledgement will never lower your grade; it is required as a simple matter of intellectual fairness. Each assignment will be graded by a student grader working under my close supervision.

Exams: There will be two in-semester exams and a final. To each exam you may bring an 8.5 by 11 inch page of notes (use both sides). I recommend you keep these notes and use them to study for future exams (e.g. Physics 104, MCAT). The in-semster exams will be 50 minute exams held at class time on Wednesday 27 September and on Wednesday 8 November; the final exam will be at 2:00 to 4:00 pm on Tuesday 19 December (the time set by the registrar). No collaboration is permitted in working the exams. Calculators are permitted. Before each exam I will distribute a sample exam. I will drop the lowest hour's worth of exam score (that is, either of the two in-semester exams or half the final, whichever is smaller).

Grading: Your final numerical grade will be compounded of 20% lab, 40% problem assignment, and 40% exam. On a 40-point scale, those with 40--32 points earn the grade "A", 31--26 points earn the grade "B", 25--20 points earn the grade "C", 19 or fewer points do not pass. In addition, you must pass the lab in order to pass the course.

Reserve Books

Two books are on reserve in the Science Center Library. (They are located on shelves along the south wall, not far to your right when you enter, near some comfy chairs to encourage browsing.)

James S. Walker, Physics, 5th edition (Pearson, 2017) [Science QC23.2.W35 2017].
Another textbook at the level of this course. It has a number of good solved problems, but suffers from the misconception that the answer to a problem can never be an equation, or a sentence, or a concept, but must be a number.

Andrew Elby, The Portable TA: A Physics Problem Solving Guide, volume 1 (Prentice Hall, 1998) [Science Oversize QC32.E56 1998].
To hone your problem solving skills.