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About the Course


BHS -> Mr. Stanbrough -> Physics -> Physics Intro Index -> this page

"Most people who haven't been trained in physics probably think of what physicists do as a question of incredibly complicated calculations, but that's not really the essence of it. The essence of it is that physics is about concepts, wanting to understand the concepts, the principles by which the world works." - Edward Witten (1951 - )

Physics 1 at BHS - An Overview

I see Physics students for four - 4.5 week cycles of 85 minute periods. I try, with limited success, to divide the course as follows:


General Topics

Text Chapters


(Cycles 1 & 2)

Science & Scientific Method


Thermodynamics & Properties of Matter





(Cycles 3 & 4)

Wave Motion, Sound & Light

Electricity & Magnetism

Atomic & Nuclear Physics




I try to stress Scientific Method and how science works (and sometimes doesn't work) in this course. Not many physics students will become professional scientists, let alone physicists, but it is vitally important that, as citizens, they have a reasonably sophisticated idea of how science works.

Mechanics is the soul of physics. We begin with kinematics in one- and two-dimensions (projectiles), proceed through Newton's Laws of motion, momentum, energy, circular and rotational motion, gravitation, and end with special relativity.

We do not stress thermodynamics and properties of matter (chapters 17-24 in the text) in this course, although it is fascinating science. Most students learn a great deal of thermodynamics in their chemistry courses.

Understanding wave motion, including reflection, refraction, diffraction, and interference is vital to understanding the nature of sound and light. Students also investigate ray optics and the basic operation of plane and curved mirrors, and concave and convex lenses.

A basic understanding of electricity & magnetism is vitally important in a technological society. We first study electrostatics, electric fields, and the idea of potential. We move on to study current electricity and basic electric circuits. We finish up with a study of magnetism and electromagnetic induction.

In modern (atomic and nuclear) physics, we study the basic quantum nature of the atom, the nature of radioactivity, and nuclear fission and fusion.

Text and Philosophy

We use the text:

Hewitt, Paul G., Conceptual Physics, The High School Physics Program, copyright 2006 Pearson Prentice Hall. I find this to be an excellent, readable text for a first course in Physics - possibly the best introductory physics textbook ever written.

Other supplementary materials we use include:

Hewitt, Paul G., Conceptual Physics Teaching Guide, Third Edition, Pearson Prentice Hall. I find this guide a valuable resource for teaching ideas and pointers. The "Terms and Objectives" handouts that I distribute to students are expanded versions of the Objectives and Possible Misconceptions to Correct sections in this book. (The terms are an expanded version of the Terms section at the end of the text chapter.)

Robinson, Paul, Conceptual Physics Laboratory Manual, Teacher's Edition, Pearson Prentice Hall. I find this Laboratory Manual to be a valuable resource, although I no longer use it directly in class. I like the concept of many of the labs, but I just don't like the "fill in the blanks" format. I have expanded and revised many of the labs for my classes.

Hewitt, Paul G. and Helen Yan, Conceptual Physics Next-Time Questions, Third Edition, Pearson Prentice Hall. I make transparencies and use these questions frequently to stimulate problem-solving and group discussions.

The adoption of the Indiana Academic Standards 2000 for Physics I by the state of Indiana is forcing our course to move away from an in-depth conceptual approach to physics toward a more-traditional equation-based survey course. We will be supplementing the text with many numerical exercises and problems this year in order to align our course with the state standards.

Physics Grades at BHS

At BHS, each student receives 3 grades for each course - an achievement/academic grade, an effort grade, and a conduct grade. Here is how these grades are earned in Physics:

Achievement/Academic Grade

The academic grade is the numerical (95-100 = A, 88-94 = B, etc.) grade.

In Physics, a student's achievement grade represents a snapshot of that student's performance relative to the course standards at a particular point in time. In other words, the academic grade summarizes the summative assessments in the course.

The student's grade reflects their academic achievement at a particular time in the course. It does not reflect how hard (or how little) they try - that is the task of the effort grade. It does not reflect the fact that they are a wonderful (or horrid) person - that is the task of the conduct grade.

The academic grade has three components:

  1. Assignments and Lab Reports: There will be frequent (daily) written assignments in AP Physics which will be collected and scored on an acceptable (2 points) or unacceptable (1 or 0 points) basis. Lab reports will also be collected and evaluated.
  2. Quizzes: There will be frequent (approximately three per week) quizzes, counting generally between 5 and 20 points. Quizzes are not generally announced in advance - students should expect a quiz every day. Quizzes differ from tests in that they are partly formative - students have the option to retake a quiz IF AND ONLY IF THEIR ASSIGNMENTS ARE UP TO DATE. The second quiz score replaces the original score.
  3. Test Grades: There will be tests at appropriate intervals (end of chapters or groups of chapters) throughout the cycle. Tests are cumulative - they cover all of the course material up to that point. In other words, the test after chapter 2 will cover material from chapter 1 and chapter 2, and the test after chapter 16 will cover the material from chapter 1 through chapter 16. Tests typically count from 40 to 100 points. Test dates are announced several days in advance. Tests cannot be retaken.

Final Exam and Final Grade:

There will be a final exam which will count 10% of the final grade. Each cycle grade will count as 45% of the final grade.

Grading Scale:

Many of the questions that will appear on quizzes and tests will be designed to be very challenging for a knowledgeable and talented student, as opposed to "normal" test questions which are generally designed so that a capable student will answer almost all questions successfully. Therefore, Physics test and quiz scores will not adhere to the 95% = A, 88% = B official BHS grading scale. Physics test and quiz scores will be "curved" and converted to the BHS scale for posting to the grade book and report card. Up-to-date grade information will be posted in the classroom (by student number) so that students can gauge their progress.

Effort Grade:

If a student's academic performance is good, then the effort that they expend must be considered at least adequate. If a student's academic performance is below standards, then his/her effort in the course needs to be examined - it may or may not be a contributing factor in their lack of academic success.

Near the end of each cycle, the student will have the opportunity to complete a simple self-assessment of his/her effort in the course. If the instructor concurs with the student's assessment, the student's evaluation becomes the effort grade.

If the student and instructor differ in their evaluation, a short conference will be held in order to reach a consensus. If the student and teacher cannot agree on an effort grade, the opinion of an objective third party will be sought.

Conduct Grade:

A conduct grade will be assigned by the instructor based on the student's behavior in class.


Make Up Work:

Students are responsible to make up all work missed due to field trips, illness, etc. within a reasonable time. Please consult your BHS Student handbook.

Extra Credit:

Physics grades will be awarded based on the student's demonstrated achievement in physics. Students who want to do well in Physics need to keep up with the work, ask questions, and take advantage of the help available. Students are encouraged to work on a project of interest to them, either in addition to or instead of the regular class work. On the other hand (Sorry, I just can't find a nice way to say this.), students who sit in class like big dead lumps for four weeks and then suddenly become concerned about their grade the day before the end of the cycle will not be able to turn in meaningless "extra credit" whose only purpose is to artificially "pump up" the grade they have earned.

Machine-Scored Answer Sheets:

Rationale: The multiple-choice section of the SAT test is scored by machine - no human ever looks at it. So are AP tests, and many other important tests that you have taken and will take in the future. On these tests, any mismarked answers, incomplete erasures, stray marks, etc. are counted wrong - just as wrong as an incorrect answer. Therefore, it would be a good idea to learn to mark machine-scored answer sheets carefully.

Policy: If the ScantronTM machine says an answer is wrong - it's wrong. The only exception is if the machine is clearly out of order (which seldom happens).

Unlike the AP Test or SAT, however, if you "mess up" your answer sheet, you can have another one - just ask.

Classroom Computers:

The classroom computers are to be used for school-related curricular work only. They are not to be used for web surfing, email, or games during classroom hours. At no time are they to be used to visit chat rooms or pornographic sites. Violation of this policy will result in disciplinary action.


Physics is challenging - even for the most talented students. Students - even very capable students - who will not ask questions or seek help with difficulties should not expect to do well in Physics.

The good news is that help is always available. I am available before, during, and after class, and before and after school. (There will often be a Physics/Calculus help session before school, but not always - ask!) Additionally, help is available during "flex" period. Also, I do not mind phone calls at home - before 9:00 P.M.


Please read the Classroom Discipline Policy and Laboratory Safety Rules.


BHS -> Mr. Stanbrough -> Physics -> Physics Intro Index -> this page
last update November 23, 2007 by JL Stanbrough