How to survive and flourish in an online science course
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.
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.
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|
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
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.
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:
}F_g = (GMm)/r^2
will appear as
Using MathML directly is much more complicated, although you can use programs like MathMagicLite or Formulator to prepare the MathML for you.
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.
All observations of stars and planets, most observations of plants and animals in their native habitats, and many observations of geological specimens and meteorological events, are "field" observations. The situations must be allowed to occur without human direction, either because such direction is impossible (we can't control when a star will go nova), or because human intervention would interfer with the observation (we don't want to feed animals if we are researching their eating habits in the wild). The best we can do is make many observations of phenomena that are as similar as possible.
Laboratory-based observations are much more tightly controlled. Specific techniques and equipment are used for particular kinds of data collection. The experimenter can often vary only one factor at a time to see how it affects other dependencies. This allows many experimentalists to compare their results easily.
Frequently, research in one area reveals a tendency for a particular phenomena\on to behave a certain way. Rather than simply starting to observe the phenomena anew, one may choose to go back through past observations, looking for the same patterns or evidence of how nature behaved in similar circumstances. Surveys of historical data are common in weather studies, where such records exist for periods of 100 to 150 years, and in astronomical observations.
Surveys and re-examination of physical data are rather uncommon, since most researchers prefer to redo an experiment with questionable results.
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.
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:
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