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Forces of Nature

Chat times for 2024
Summer 2024 To Be Arranged

Dr. Christe Ann McMenomy

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How to survive and flourish in an online science course

Forces of Nature Student Survival Guide

Why Study Science?

At the heart of all science is something called the scientific method. The simple version of the scientific method is based on the idea that the objective reality of the universe can be determined by carefully observing phenomena, recording appropriate measurements, then studying the data from these observations for patterns that can be used to describe the general behavior of classes of natural objects. When we can control the circumstances of the observations, we are performing experiments, but often we cannot control all the factors before we make observations. There are scientists who believe that the only valid scientific data is that which comes from controlled experiments; in their view, most of astronomy, meteorology, geology, and many parts of biology are not rigorously scientific. Since this is a physics course, in most cases we will be working inside the experimental tradition.

Taking Science Online

Science classes are frightening for many students. They anticipate difficulties with the concepts, with the details, and especially with the math. But science is just one way of thinking about the natural world around us, and anyone can learn to think like a scientist. Don't waste energy worrying about your ability to learn the material; use your energy to learn it! Once you get the hang of it, you'll be able to discover, understand, and appreciate the complexity of God's creation better. You will also be better prepared to take your place as a steward of that creation.

Science courses like this one also have lab work for you to do. This is the hands-on part where you get to manipulate things in the real world. Textbooks and weblectures and even discussions are abstractions; your real work for this course is in the lab. Doing your experiments should be your highest priority, not your lowest! You may still need to do some preparation and reading to get ready for your experiment time, of course.

Managing Your Time

Make the commitment, now, to spend adequate time on coursework. This experimental course may challenge you a bit mathemtically as well as conceptually when you sit down to grapple with your experimental data, and sometimes ideas need time to sink in. You cannot do the work for this course in one short session right before chat! The table below is a rough guide and a suggested pace for this summer course. The amount of time you spend on each part of the assigned work will vary greatly depending on the complexity of the experiments you chose to do and on your other commitments each week. Work out a reasonable work load and stick to it!

Completed? Task Approximate Time Scheduled for...
1 _____ Check Website for instructions 1/4 hour Tuesday during chat
2 _____ Read Web Lecture for NEXT chat 1/2 hour Tuesday after chat
3 _____ Read Faraday's Lecture 1-2 hours Wednesday
4 _____ Read Understanding Physics; do Problems 1-2 hours Thursday
5 _____ Perform Experiment 1 hour Friday
6 _____ Analyze Data from Experiment and Write Lab Report 1 hour Weekend
7 _____ Post Lab Report and Answers to Problems 1/2 hour Thursday-Monday
9 _____ Review Lab Reports of others; comment 1/2 minutes Before Chat Tuesday

Web Lectures

Rather than take our precious chat time by lecturing to you, all unit lectures are posted to the site. You need to read these as well as the text. The Homework and Weblecture pages between them have

Getting to Know your Text

Download the Forces of Nature lectures as a PDF, then look through it and become familiar with any helps it has (table of contents, illustrations, glossary or index). A particular challenge with this text is that it was written 150 years ago, before the discovery of radiation, atomic structure, relativity, photosynthesis, cell structure, and many of the other concepts we take almost for granted. But it was also written in a time when people did much more for themselves and lived in a much less abstract environment. Many of the terms for material substances and physical processes may be unfamiliar, so spend the time to look them up in a dictionary or on Wikipedia, and bring your questions to chat!

Look through your copy of Understanding Physics: Teach Yourself and identify which sections have questions. You will need to work through the questions and post answers to the Moodle Website, along with comments about how you solved the problem.

Getting the Most from Chat

Chat sessions are 90 minutes. Plan accordingly, and take a break just before class starts. Do some stretching, go to the bathroom, eat or get your drinks before you enter the virtual classroom. Be sure to try to connect to your ISP and check mail 10 minutes before class if possible, in case any late notices have been sent by the teacher. Give yourself the extra time.

If you have not already done so, complete your peer reviews.

Bring your text, notes, lab notebook, calculator, and paper and pencil to class. If you are comfortable using a desktop calculator and taking notes in a text utility like Notepad (available as different applications on both Windows and Macintosh), you can use those. You may also find a dictation program like Dragon helps reduce typing, either into chat or taking notes. Take notes during class. Since Scholars Online logs the chat sessions, you do not need to document things the teacher or other students say, but it is useful to note your own questions and observations as they occur, so that you can study them later.

Take part in the discussion. Ask questions as they occur to you (or note them and ask them at the end of class).

Chat sessions in physics often involve discussion of physical forces and mathematical calculations. One convention we use is underscore (_) for subscript and up-arrow (^) for superscript. The term x_1 ^2 means "take the value x-sub-1 and square it". You may be more used to seeing this written as x12, and we can actually do that in the Scholars Online chat, but it requires a bit of typing. If you prefer to use HTML tags, then here's a quick guide:

Doing Labs

One of the basic methods of science is to secure documented observations of periodic or common events in order to make some general summary about the behavior of natural objects. We can do this in several ways.

Special concerns for Physics Labs

Physics experiments are less likely to cause injury than chemistry experiments, but they may still involve use of sharp knives to trim materials and equipment, as well as electricity, so developing good lab techniques means paying attention your surroundings and minimizing hazards as you work. The safety guide on the Science website provides a general guide, and there will be specific instructions with some labs to help you avoid injury.

Writing Lab Reports

Your lab report is the evidence of your observations of a particular phenomena. Your observations should be presented in such a way that the data is easy to understand and supports your conclusions, but also with enough detail on how you obtained them that any peer with similar equipment could repeat your experience and confirm your results (or challenge them, as the case may be).

Organization: A good science lab report has at least seven sections:

  1. The abstract: a short paragraph explaining the goal of the lab, the overall purpose or hypothesis, the type of data gathered, and the conclusions.
  2. Materials and equipment: a description of the consumable materials and the observing equipment and instruments used to collect data. For standard equipment, references to the make and model are generally sufficient, along with verification that the equipment was tested for proper calibration. If the equipment was modified, or specially configured, describe the new settings. If the equipment was specially built, either summarize the intent and purpose of the equipment and methods of calibration, or refer to other documents which provide this information. If you have the ability to do so, make drawings or take photographs of your equipment.
  3. Procedure: a list of steps taken to secure the data. This should be detailed enough to allow peers in the field to repeat the measurements you made under simillar circumstances. Any choices you made that might affect results should be stated, along with the reasons you made them.
  4. Raw Data: the numbers you copied from instruments, descriptions of what you saw with your own eyes, notes to yourself about odd things that happened, and rough sketches made during the observation. They might also include photographs, data collected by computer, and so forth. In many cases, the amount of data collected this way exceeds the space available in a formal report, so you do not need to include all of it. You should select representative samples of this data, and retain your notebooks with the actual raw data for reference if anyone questions your results.
  5. Sample Calculations: at least one each of any calculations you did to determine reliability (statistical analyses) or to figure out derived data (e.g., density from volume and mass measurements). This allows a reviewer (such as your teacher) to determine whether you used the proper technique of data reduction in this situation.
  6. Processed Data: all the processed data on which you base your results in the most useful forms. Frequently this involves creating a table, and may additionally involve preparing graphs to show trends.
  7. Conclusions: your assessment of whether your originaly hypothesis or assumptions are supported by actual phenomena. If your results did not bear out your assumptions, but you still feel the assumption is correct, you should explain the source of the problem (errors in measurement, calculations, equipment), and outline a plan for redoing the observations. When your experiment bears out your hypothesis, your conclusion should place these results in the context of the large field, and could include suggestions for further research.