The Art of doing Physics Homework

A disposition by Sylke Boyd, applicable in all of her courses

 

The homework in a physics class will be one of your most important learning tools. Problem solving is a vital skill for any scientist. Homework develops and practices this skill in a non-pressured environment. It exposes you to a variety of questions, analytical methods, thought processes and the occasional enlightenment.  Doing homework gives your mind the chance to form the pathways that will help you follow other parts of the class better. It is where most of your learning takes place.

I am looking for you to

a.       Take advantage of the week’s worth of time to consider the problems.

b.      To seek solutions or methods, maybe by thinking, analyzing, drawing, discussing it with peers.

c.       To be confused, but never discouraged.

d.      To be prepared that you might have to try several different ways before one of them works for you.

e.      To ask questions to a tutor, your professor or somebody you think might help you reflect upon the problem.

f.         And to present your solution in a comprehensible manner.

This is an art and requires skill. Skills are developed by challenge and practice, such as provided in homework.  Science resides in the process and context – a final answer alone does not suffice.  I always will value your problem analysis highly, and be more lenient if a math error prevents you from finalizing everything. I always will value your recognition if something appears wrong with your solution, or if you went in circles for a while. I will also highly value if your presentation of the problem is clear, logical and consistent, possibly including some verbal explanation if needed.

Scoring table: with examples linked into the table. Very similar criteria are used to score student problems in tests.

Score

Attributes

5

The Expert

·      There is a sketch, drawing or some other form of initial analysis.

·      Variables are identified and labeled.

·      The target is identified.

·      The physics (laws, formulas, strategies) relevant for the solution is represented.

·      The mathematical problem is identified and written down.

·      The mathematical solution is presented in a logical and clear manner. Intermediate steps are shown. No mystery math occurs.

·      Units of measurement are used in a consistent manner.

·      The problem solution is reached and consistent with the correct solution.

·      The solution is underlined or boxed.

·      There is a check on whether this answer makes sense.

·      A generous amount of page space is used.

4

The Professional

·      There is a sketch, drawing or some other form of initial analysis.

·      Variables are identified and labeled.

·      The target is identified.

·      The physics (laws, formulas, strategies) relevant for the solution is represented.

·      The mathematical problem is identified and written down.

·      The mathematical solution is presented in a logical and clear manner. Intermediate steps are shown. No mystery math occurs.

·      The solution is underlined or boxed.

·      A  minor error occurred with units or during the algebra, but the basic approach to the problem was correct.

·      There is a check on whether this answer makes sense.  There is a recognition if the answer appears wrong.

·      A generous amount of page space is used.

·      One or two of the following occurred:

-          a unit mistake

-          a math mistake, but principally the correct physics was identified

3

The Apprentice

·      There is a sketch, drawing or some other form of initial analysis.

·      Variables are identified and labeled. The target is identified.

·      The physics (laws, formulas, strategies) relevant for the solution is represented.

·      The mathematical problem is identified and written down.

·      The solution is underlined or boxed.

·      One or two of the following occurred:

-          The mathematical solution was not presented clearly.

-          An error in the analysis, maybe in the geometry of the problem, occurred.

-           The wrong target was identified.

-          Units were not or incorrectly used.

-          A math error was made.

-          The problem has not been finished.

2

The Amateur

·      There is a sketch, drawing or some other form of initial analysis.

·      There is evidence that variables are identified

·      There is evidence that some of the physics relevant to the problem has been identified.

·      Two or three of the following occurred:

-          The physical laws were not applied in a consistent manner.

-          The thought process walks in circles on the page.

-          The solution was not presented clearly.

-          Steps were omitted.

-          An error in the analysis, maybe in the geometry of the problem, occurred.

-          Units were not or incorrectly used.

-          A math error was made.

-          The problem has not been finished.

1

The Perplexed

·      There is a sketch, drawing or some other form of initial analysis.

·      Three or four of the following occurred:

-          The physical laws were not applied in a consistent manner.

-          The relevant physics was not identified.

-          The thought process walks in circles on the page.

-          The solution was not presented clearly.

-          Steps were omitted.

-          An error in the analysis, maybe in the geometry of the problem, occurred.

-          Units were not or incorrectly used.

-          A math error was made.

-          The problem has not been finished.

0

The Heedless

One or more of the following occurred:

-          Only an answer was written down – no other evidence of work.

-          Two or more students return identical solutions (same words, same sequence, same arrangement on the page)

-          Student answer identical to another source, such as a student manual or a web site

-          Nothing was written.

 

The academic honor code requires you to turn in your own solutions. Although I encourage you to discuss the problems with each other, and use various pathways to find solutions, there are a few infractions so detrimental to the purpose of homework that they will not receive any credit, and may even look like cheating to me. Those forbidden things include:

a.       Identical copies of work turned in by at least two students.

b.      A solution that is from a source other than yourself or a discussion with peers or other faculty, such as copied from a solution manual or the internet.

In either of those cases, zero score and a warning will be given in the first instance; the second instance brings an F in the course and a report will be filed with the Dean’s office.  Red flags include: unusual phrasing, identical arrangement of written text, unusual use of symbols, a smooth solution with no confusion, an unexpectedly shiny solution. Red flags are not evidence, but certainly make me look harder!

 

 

Page maintained by Sylke Boyd

Last modified 8/9/2011 3:59 PM

 

The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author. The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by the University of Minnesota.