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Physics

Chat times for 2020-2021
Monday-Wednesday
11:00a-12:30p ET/8:00a-9:30a PT

Dr. Christe Ann McMenomy

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Frequently Asked Questions about this course

Scholars Online Physics Frequently Asked Questions

Prerequisites for this course

1. What should a student know before taking this course?

You should have completed a junior high school level course in physical science that covers definitions of velocity, acceleration, force, heat, electricity and electrical fields, magnetism, light (wave theory), geometric optics, relativity, and atomic and nuclear structure. We cover all of these topics in detail, and students have an easier time if they have been exposed to the basic concepts before starting this intensive Physics course. If you have taken the Scholars Online Natural Science course, the summer Physics Lite course, or a full year Physical Science component of the standard junior high school science curriculum, you should be prepared to handle these physics concepts.

2. What level of mathematics is required?

You should have completed a first year algebra course and a geometry course or their equivalents, a second year algebra course that includes linear graphing and analysis, and be starting pre-calculus with trigonometry. The early part of the course depends on understanding simple trigonometry functions for vector analysis.

Our textbook has appendices which cover the basic ideas required for problem-solving in this course, and when you get your copy, you need to read through this carefully, identify the areas where the material is new (or where you feel your command is weak), and do some serious review. But it is helpful if you can do the following, or are learning how to apply these techniques:

Workload and Student Performance Expectations

3. How much preparation time is necessary?

This is hard to answer without knowing how fast you read technical subject matter and can work through examples in the text. For each chat session, you will need to

My experience is that this will take you 3-4 hours to finish properly. In addition, for each chapter (usually one chapter every two weeks, but with some short chapters, we will do one per week), you will need to finish

Lab work will involve another 1-2 hours per week of your time, depending on what equipment you need to build or collect, in order to complete the twelve labs required for the course. You will need to prepare a lab proposal, then carry out your lab, analyze your data, discuss any issues, repeat your labwork if needed, and write up your report. For more on lab expectatations, see the Labs page.

So each week, you should plan to spend 3 hours in class, 5 hours in preparation, 1 hour in review and testing, and 1 hours in lab execution or reporting, or about 10 hours a week. A normal high school course requires a minimum of 4 hours of class time, 1-2 hours of lab time, and 4 hours of homework.

4. What is a passing score?

My examinations tend to be very thorough, since I am interested in assessing what you have actually learned and understand. The tests are written as though you were a college student (because that is the level of the material we cover), and so are more challenging that a high school chemistry test would be. Because of this, I will "normalize" your grade so that it maps to high-school level course expectations for a science taken by someone at your current grade level. Normalized scores follow standard interpretations: above 90% = A, 80-89% = B, 70-79% = C, 60-69% D (passing). Scores in the past have ranged from just below 50% to above 95%. However, if you aim to take either the SAT II physics exam or the Advanced Placement exam, you should aim to get at least 85% regularly on the online mastery exercises and chapter quizzes and at least 80% on the semester exams. The best preparation for achieving this is disciplined completion of the mastery exercises and chat preparation problems, so that during an examination, you can complete most of the problems in the alloted time.

5. What kind of grade will I get?

I send email evaluations at the end of each semester that describe your performance on quizzes, homework, class participation, and the term examination. A short summary of this report is included in your formal transcript "comments" section.

Your overall grade is generally a composite. The exact percentages vary from year to year depending but in general:

In other words, you could still do well in the course even with low examination scores if your weekly work shows that you are mastering the material at a steady pace. Failing to complete homework or take the quizzes seriously, however, will also knock your grade down a significant amount.

Lab work is graded separately and determines whether you get lab credit for the course.

Because some government agencies, accrediting institutions, and scholarship committees require more standardized grades, I also issue a numerical score for your work, which is normalized so that it fits the grading scale used by most high schools in evaluating passing, above average, and exceptional work at the freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior levels. Your transcript will include instructions on translating a numerical grade to a letter grade. Many Scholars Online students have been accepted to nationally-recognized, competative colleges and universities, and have received scholarships based on these evaluations.

However, the best way to establish your competence in physics for college admission or placement is to take the SAT II Physics exam, the ACT science exam.

6. How have other students done on the SATs or ACT exams?

Most students in my fairly small Scholars Online physics course have been juniors or seniors, and the seniors do not tend to take AP or SATs at the end of their year. Since homeschooled students receive their scores directly from the testing agency, I do not know all the results for all of my students, or even which students have taken the examinations. Students in the last two Physics offerings have reported SAT scores from 650-800.

7. Do I have to attend all both discussion sessions each week?

Yes. Because of the material we need to cover, the class must meet twice a week. All students must attend all discussions or make alternate arrangements to submit homework assigned.

If you have a conflict with the scheduled sessions, you will need to review your priorities and decide whether or not you can commit to the class. If your outside conflict is short term, I will work with you through the period, but you must plan to attend most of the year's sessions.

Student Support

8. Will you be able to write me a letter of recommendation for my college (or secondary school) application?

Yes, I do write letters of recommendation for students. However, I cannot write such a letter on the basis of a few months' work. I require that you finish a complete year of instruction with me first, so that I have a basis for making an evaluation that reflects your true strengths and weaknesses. If this is your first Scholars Online class with me, I will not be able to write a letter during the fall semester. For more details, see my Letters of Recommendation FAQ.

AP Preparation

Why don't you offer the AP option any more?

The College Board owns the "Advanced Placement" name and designation. Beginning in 2012, it required that anyone teaching a course designated for AP credit submit a syllabus for review by university faculty to ensure students were being prepared adequately for second year college work. Over the last eight years, the College Board has revised their syllabus requirements several times, remaining fairly flexible about how the course was offered and giving teachers latitude to emphasize areas or approaches as they saw fit. However, the most recent revision in 2019 is far more specific in dictating course content and performance expectations. Teachers have fewer options to organize materials according to their own priorities. In particular, the syllabus for divides the original survey into a two-year course for students who are taking an algebra-based approach, and since most students do not take the second year of the AP program during high school, they are not exposed to critical concepts in electricity and magnetism, relativity, quantum mechanics, and cosmology they will need to succeed in college engineering and physics programs.

The College Board now requires that students register by early September for the AP test given the following May. This shifts the emphasis of the entire course from learning the subject to "teaching to the test". As several of my Scholars Online blog articles make clear, our courses are intended to provide our students with an education, and I prefer my students to focus on exploring concepts at the risk of making mistakes. It is difficult to play with ideas and experiment with possibilities when you are concerned chiefly with getting a high score on an exam.

The new AP program also heavily encourages the use of the College Board's own website materials for unit testing throughout the year. It has been my practice to contain all student performance data on the Scholars Online servers, rather than allow others to gather detailed information about my students' ideas, and I refuse to change that practice when I do not know how personally-identifiable student data will be used in the future.

I am very uncomfortable with the expanded level of content control by a major testing organization, many of whose directors are textbook publishers, and I'm not the only one. A number of prestigious private schools have also dropped their AP courses to allow their teachers to teach creatively, rather than surrendering control of their courses to the College Board.

For these reasons, I will no longer be offering certified AP courses in biology, chemistry, or physics. However, I do review the AP test content requirements, and I believe that the courses I am offering will prepare students to perform well on the AP exam if they chose to take it, and provide an equivalent lab experience. Students taking the non-AP versions of these courses have routinely achieved scores of 3 and 4 on the chemistry and physics AP exams, and 4 or 5 on the biology exams, so I do not believe this decision will put my students at a disadvantage, but that a unique approach to content and experiments will help them stand out instead.

If you do plan to take the AP exam, let me know when you enroll in the course or during our first chat session, so that I can help you register and include some exercises to help you prepare for the exam.