Contact Information

Textbooks and materials

  • University Physics Volume 1 (W. Moebs, S. Ling, J. Sanny, et al.), published by OpenStax. This is an open-access textbook available to anyone under the terms of the CC-BY 4.0 license.You may access the textbook online or download it for free here. You are free to print this textbook on your own; OpenStax will sell you a printed copy if you like.

  • You will need a computer to connect to remote aspects of the course. It will be helpful to have a tablet or convertible laptop with a stylus. It will also be quite helpful to have earbuds or a headset with a microphone.

If you need access to technology to participate fully in this course, please ask us! In particular:

  • if you don’t have stable internet, we can make low-bandwidth versions of things available to you for download
  • if you are near campus, SU has computers people can check out

Online platforms

We will be using many different online platforms this semester to facilitate the online course. The things you will need are:

  • The course website: I will post a lot of materials here, at, since it is more convenient to access than Blackboard.

  • Lecture: You may connect to either the Twitch stream at or connect using Zoom at Either one will work! If you want to connect to Twitch, please make a Twitch account so you can use chat.

  • Recitation: Recitations will be held on Blackboard Collaborate in the “Course Room”. You can find that on Blackboard: go the the course Blackboard page, then click “Blackboard Collaborate Ultra” under “Course Tools”. Click on the “Course Room” and then click “Join Course Room”. If you are unable to join this way, you can join as a guest at

Optionally, you can also talk to the teaching staff and each other on the course Discord server, with an invite link at

Course philosophy

0. Physics is simple!

This is the simplest class you will take in your university career. It is rather accurate to say that the content of this class consists of Newton’s law of motion $\vec F=m\vec a$, along with a little math (algebra, simple trigonometry, extremely simple calculus). That’s it.

This class won’t be easy, of course; the difficult aspect of this course will be learning to use these simple tools – the elementary principles governing forces and motion – to understand situations that vary from how to drive safely on ice, how to measure the speed of a bullet, how to throw a basketball so that it goes into the hoop, how a bicycle works, and so on.

Physics is a science of simplicity. It is the most reductionist of the sciences; the aim of physics is to reduce the world around us to its simplest parts, understand how they work, and then put them back together to understand the things they make up. Physics is difficult because understanding how these simple pieces combine to determine the behavior of larger systems requires cleverness, ingenuity, and problem-solving skills. The most difficult aspect of this course is learning to solve problems with simple tools. It’s like building things out of Legos: you’re supposed to build a rocketship, or a statue of Yoda, and all you have are these little bricks!

This is very different than the life sciences, where the difficulty lies in complexity: nature has built very complicated machines called “lizard” and “tree” and “physicist”, and it is up to biology to try to make sense of the complexity behind her creations. Biology is hard because you have to understand all of the different pieces that make up lizards and trees and physicists. But physics isn’t like that: in this class we have only objects and forces that act on them, and from that foundation you have to build up the solution to many different situations. That’s the power of physics: simple laws in combination drive everything around us.

So, if you’re stuck on a problem, think simple; that’s how physics works.

1. Reasoning and synthesis, not memorization

This course is emphatically not a class where you will come to lecture, sit there and listen to a presentation of some facts, and then repeat them back to us on exams. The laws of mechanics are very simple, and you could memorize them in an hour if you wanted. The challenging aspect of this class is the application of those principles to understand the motion of physical systems – to take the principles of nature and, using mathematics as a tool, synthesize them into an understanding of how a particular system behaves. You are not going to be learning a list of currently-accepted facts; you are going to be practicing skills and learning to see the universe as scientists see it.

2. Ask for help, early and often

Since the difficult part of the course is the problem-solving aspect, it’s only natural that we are going to give you lots of help in solving problems, especially at first. Learning physics is most similar to learning to play a sport or learning a musical instrument: it requires practice and the guidance of a coach. We do not expect that you can do all of the homework problems on your own; it is crucial that you ask for help in doing your homework. If you’re stuck on a homework problem, you can:

  • Come to our office hours and ask, or make an appointment, or drop by my office (room 215)
  • Go to the Virtual Physics Clinic; you will find a TA, other students, and/or Walter there to help you.
  • Ask a question in the lecture: if you’re stuck on something your peers probably are too, and will welcome your question. We always have time in lecture to answer questions; don’t be intimidated by the size of the class.
  • Ask your TA or coaches during recitation
  • Ask your peers for help (and insist that they help you understand how to think about the problem, not just give you the answer)
  • Write me, your coaches, or your TA an email.

Again: it is intended that you will get stuck, just like no pianist plays a difficult piece perfectly the first time. The problem-solving skills in this course are things you have to practice, and we expect you to have to practice in order to make progress; come ask us for help, and we’ll guide you as you practice.

3. Learn from your work

As you look at problems – whether you’re solving them the first time or reviewing for an exam – remember: it’s not enough to know the answer. You likely won’t see the same problems again.

It’s also not enough to know how to get the answer. Knowing how to get the answer – looking through the solution and understanding how each step follows logically from the last – is also not enough.

Instead, you should make sure you know how you know what to do to solve the problem. After you complete a problem, take just a few minutes to look back over it and ask yourself: what about this problem led me to the solution? Make sure you’re aware of what aspects of the problem make it solvable in a particular way. This will help you build a flexible toolkit of problem-solving skills, tools that will serve you well on the exams and in life.

We’ve chosen to give you only six to ten homework problems per week. We could give you more, and in fact if you want more practice problems there are more available in your textbook. This is because we intend for you to spend more time thinking about what each problem entails, and learning from them; our experience has shown that students who have to slog through 25 homework problems per week are less likely to actually think about the skills they’ve applied in each one, since homework becomes a grueling endurance challenge rather than an opportunity to learn physics. We’d much rather have you do the latter.

4. This is not a math class

In this class, you will use mathematics, but it is only a tool. Do not let yourself become a thrall to mathematics; this class is no more about mathematics than a class on Shakespeare is a class about words.

The laws of physics are written in the language of mathematics, but they describe things beyond math: the physical interactions between objects.

If you are stuck, resist the temptation to go leafing through your textbook looking for “the right equation to use”. Physics isn’t about equations; it’s about ideas and the ability to solve problems. Instead, put your pencil down and think: what is going on here? What principles are at work in this problem? How do I expect the system to move (or not move)? What things do I know, and what other things can I figure out from them? What does my intuition tell me should happen? What forces act on the objects? If you still can’t figure out how to proceed after thinking for a while and consulting your notes on problem-solving approaches, it’s a good time to ask for help.

The mathematics you will need for this class are:

  • Algebra:
    • You will need the ability to solve a system of $N$ equations for $N$ unknowns, using substitution
    • You will need to know how to use the quadratic formula to find the roots of a quadratic equation
    • There is guaranteed to be one problem on the first exam where you will need to use the quadratic formula
  • Trigonometry:
    • You will need to know how to compute the legs of a right triangle given knowledge of its hypotenuse and one of its angles
    • You will need to know how to compute the angles of a right triangle and the length of its hypotenuse given the lengths of the legs
  • Calculus:
    • You need to know the concepts of “derivative” (rate of change) and “integral” (cumulative effect / area under curve). If you are just now in Calculus I, don’t worry; it is no accident that Newton developed both mechanics and calculus, and we will teach you what you need to know. You won’t have to do any difficult derivatives or integrals.

That’s it.

5. This is your class, too

As part of this philosophy of inquiry and questioning, we welcome your input. If there is some aspect of physics that inspires or fascinates you, please ask; if you have feedback for us that will help you enjoy the class more, then please let us know.

Learning Objectives

After taking this class, you will be able to:

  • Unit 1 (Kinematics) (Quiz 1):
    • Incorporate physical units (meters, seconds, and so on) into algebraic and arithmetic statements
    • Translate between verbal, graphical, algebraic, and numerical descriptions of an object’s motion
    • Given a description of an object’s acceleration, create a description of how its position and velocity change, or vice versa
    • Use vectors to describe motion in two and three dimensions, and use trigonometry to manipulate them
  • Unit 2 (Forces) (Quizzes 2 and 3):
    • Identify the forces that act on the objects present in a variety of physical situations
    • Describe the basic properties of the forces of tension, friction, gravity, and normal forces
    • Using Newton’s second law, construct mathematical relations between those forces and the objects’ motion
    • Identify constraints on those forces and on objects’ motion based on Newton’s third law and the geometry of the situations at hand
    • Describe the forces required to cause an object to move in uniform circular motion
    • Use the previous skills to predict how an object will move in any given situation, and the forces involved in its motion
  • Unit 3 (Conservation laws) (Quizzes 4 and 5)
    • Use conservation of momentum to solve problems that involve collisions and explosions
    • Use the work-energy theorem and conservation of energy to determine properties of the motion of systems to which they apply, and recognize which systems those are
    • Construct analogies between momentum and angular momentum, and rotational and translational kinetic energy
    • Use conservation of energy to solve problems in which objects rotate as well as translate
    • Use conservation of angular momentum to solve problems involving collisions with rotating objects, or objects that change shape while rotating
  • Unit 4 (Rotational Dynamics and/or Resonance in Strings) (Unit 6, on the final exam)
    • Describe the relationship between the forces that act on an object and the torque they apply about any given axis
    • Describe the relationship between the torque applied to an object and its angular acceleration
    • Use both $\vec F=m\vec a$ and $\tau = I \alpha$ in tandem to predict the motion of objects that both translate and rotate
    • Define and relate the wavelength, wave speed, and frequency of traveling waves
    • Quantitatively analyze the normal modes (“harmonics”) of e.g. a guitar string or organ pipe
    • Qualitatively relate these ideas to analysis of the normal modes of a 2D or 3D cavity
  • Throughout (Process of Science)
    • Describe the basics of scientific integrity and the properties of both honest scientific arguments and dishonest pseudoscientific claims
    • Critique (pseudo)scientific claims that are made in bad faith, and describe the problems with them
    • Critically examine sound and unsound scientific claims that seek to overturn preexisting consensus. In particular:
      • Describe the primacy of empirical measurements in evaluating scientific claims
      • Critique flawed arguments that fail to address empirical data
      • Critique flawed arguments that fail to address the broader framework of physical laws of nature
      • Critique flawed arguments that focus on the identities of the people involved, rather than their data and logic

Course Activities


Twice a week, you will have discussion sections led by your TA’s, assisted by a coaches from previous years of Physics 211. These discussion sections are the most crucial part of this class, since it’s there that you will do the hard and crucial work of practicing the skills you learn. Physics takes practice. It’s not something you only learn from a lecture; it’s something you practice with a coach. In recitations, you’ll practice your skills in groups–learning from your peers, teaching them, and asking questions of the numerous guides that are there to help you.

We will also do many of the class assessments in recitation. These will take a variety of forms, but you will need to be present in recitation for all of them. All of them will be time-sensitive and will happen during recitation.

We might, for instance:

  • ask you to answer a few questions on Blackboard asking details about the recitation questions that you did that day
  • ask you to answer a few questions about homework that you submitted that day
  • ask you to have a short discussion about the day’s recitation activity with an instructor, and evaluate you based on the knowledge and skill you demonstrate

Most of you will attend recitations virtually using Blackboard Collaborate. Some of you will attend in person. If you want to attend in person, we will ask you this on a survey; you can also contact your lab TA or coach and ask them to record this preference. We will give instructions to people who will be doing recitations in person.

Recitation attendance and participation are graded. We will be conducting a variety of assessments in recitation that will take different forms.

Before each in-class exam, you’ll take a group practice exam in recitation with your group. These practice exams are graded as well.


We will post assigned readings on the calendar before each class. (These may change during the semester based on our progress, but we will let you know at least a week ahead of time.)


In the auditorium, we will alternate between presentation and practice. We will first introduce you to the new ideas we are studying, asking questions and discussing your thoughts using the chat features in Zoom and Twitch. If you have done the reading ahead of class, these presentations will serve as review and enrichment. Questions during the presentation are encouraged and welcome! We will also demonstrate for you the analytic processes involved in solving problems.

At any time during class, we encourage you to ask questions and make comments. If you do not understand something, ask. During class I will have both Twitch and Zoom chat in front of me on a giant monitor; if you type something I will see it right away.

I encourage everyone to be silly and have fun in chat, in Twitch-meme tradition. However, when we’re talking about physics, please keep the chat clear for students who want to talk about the course.

I expect that we will have lively conversation during class! To encourage this, we will be developing a way to look back over Twitch and Zoom chat logs and award extra credit to people who are active participants.

We will have a period at the beginning of each class for announcements and questions about administrative stuff (when is XYZ due, what about grades, etc.). Please ask questions about administrative things then, rather than once we start discussing physics.


Homework in this class is designed as a tool to help you develop the problem-solving skills needed to understand physical situations on your own.

You will have an assignment due each week (more or less). You will submit your homework to Blackboard. The best way for you to do your homework is the old-fashioned way: write things out on sheets of paper and scan them with an app like CamScanner.

We do not intend for you to work on these problems by yourself without help. The Virtual Physics Clinic is a great place to come to do your homework; you will likely find many of your peers there as well.

You are also welcome to come to our office hours (virtually) and work while logged into Zoom, asking questions as they arise. Doing the homework thoughtfully and with an eye toward understanding “So how did I know what to do here?”, and asking for help is the single best thing you can do in this class.

When writing your homework solutions, you must describe what you are doing in words, even if these descriptions are brief; your solutions should not consist only of equations. Show us what you are thinking and why you are doing what you’re doing; this will both help you learn and help us give you more partial credit if you understand what you’re doing but mess up the math. If you do not describe what you are doing and why, you may not get full credit for a solution, even if it is correct.

You must submit each problem on a separate side of a page; this is to help us grade your work more easily, and will give the TA’s more time to help you learn physics – which is what we’d all prefer! Please submit your work as a single PDF, rather than sending us a separate image of each page. There are freely available smartphone apps that will do this.

Two problems from each set will be graded fully (out of ten points); the rest will be quickly graded for completeness out of two. Your lowest homework set grade will be dropped.


You are enrolled in a lab. It is a separate course, with separate grades and TA’s. You may also ask your lab TA or Sam Sampere ( (You may, of course, ask any of us questions about the physics of things you do in lab.)

Help Sessions

These help sessions are opportunities for you to interact with us and the rest of the teaching team in small groups or individually. (Some folks call them “office hours”.) If you have questions or suggestions, need help with your homework or with studying, or just want to chat, this is a great opportunity. They will be held virtually to start, in the same Zoom link as class.

For now, help sessions will be held Tuesdays from 1:30-4:30 PM and Fridays from 9:30 AM-noon. These times will likely change based on scheduling availability, but I will be sure to let you know.

Grading and Exams

Item Date Points
Homework Due throughout 25
Quiz 1 25 February 10
Quiz 2 14 March 10
Quiz 3 30 March 10
Quiz 4 10 April 10
Quiz 5 29 April 10
Final Exam 19 May, 3PM-5PM 20
Recitation evaluations Throughout the semester 25
Group practice quizzes Prior to each quiz 20
Paper on the nature of science TBD 10

The lowest of your exam grades, the lowest homework set grade, and your four lowest recitation evaluation grades will be dropped. If your final exam grade is lower than any of your five midterm exam grades, then the final exam will instead only count for 10 points. Note however that students with an unusually low recitation participation grade for any given unit will not be eligible to drop the corresponding exam without prior permission, at our discretion.

This will result in a total of 140 possible points. This value will then be converted to a percentage (by dividing by 1.4), and grades will be assigned as follows:

  • A : >88
  • A-: 80-88
  • B+: 75-80
  • B : 70-75
  • B-: 65-70
  • C+: 62-64
  • C : 58-62
  • C-: 55-58
  • D : 50-55
  • F : less than 50


There will be five exams and a final on the dates shown on the course schedule. These will be held during the last half of the lecture period of the course.

For all of the exams, you may refer to

  • the OpenStax textbook for our class
  • any notes you have yourself prepared
  • any materials belonging to our class, such as class notes, review guides, or solution videos

and you may use a calculator. (You may use the calculator function on smartphones or Google Calculator to do calculations, but may not use tools like Wolfram Alpha to do algebra.)

Makeup exams will generally not be given; this is why we allow you to drop your lowest exam grade. In emergency situations we may arrange for a makeup exam as part of a broader accommodation; see the section below for details.


A grade of “incomplete” may be given to any student who is unable to complete the course material by to the end of the semester due to unavoidable problems outside his or her control. This is a “grade pending” status that allows you to finish up the course in the future and then receive a grade. In general, any student who is unable to meaningfully participate in class for a period of two weeks or more due to

  • serious illness or injury, physical or mental;
  • caregiving for the serious illness of a family member;
  • legal involvement or proceedings;
  • or international issues

is eligible to take an incomplete in the course. If you think that you may need to take an incomplete, please contact us as soon as possible.

In general, students may only take an incomplete if they have finished a substantial portion of the course (three units) with a grade of C+ or better.

Academic integrity

While you are encouraged to discuss your homework with your peers and collaborate with them on solving our problems, all work you submit must reflect your own understanding and be a product of your own work. Submitting any work that you do not understand and cannot explain, or that is a result of wholesale copying, will be considered academic dishonesty. Please don’t let this discourage you from working on your homework with your peers. That is exactly what you should do! But copying someone’s work is different than working together with them.

Additionally, you are not allowed to post solutions to the homework on the Internet. In particular posting solutions to or copying solutions from Chegg, CourseHero, or any other websites that charge students a fee or otherwise monetize access to that material is an extremely serious breach of the Academic Integrity Policy and may result in your suspension or expulsion from SU.

In general:

  • for homework assignments, you may consult any general references and people you like, but you may not copy someone else’s solution wholesale. Your solution must be your own work, and you must understand everything you submit.
  • for recitation evaluations, the parameters will vary from recitation to recitation. Unless specified otherwise, these will be short evaluations that you may complete with your group and in consultation with teaching staff.
  • for group quizzes, you should work with the other members in your group and may consult any materials belonging to the course (e.g. class notes, textbook), but may not consult people outside your group or outside references on the internet.
  • for exams, you may consult any materials belonging to the course (e.g. class notes, textbook), but may not consult people outside your group or outside references on the internet

For the paper, we expect you to do research and consult other people for their ideas, but you must write the paper yourself. (You should, of course, solicit feedback on your writing and ideas from your peers and from people like the Writing Center!) We will provide more detail about the expectations for the paper when we assign it. <!– In your paper, you must show clearly which text is original to you, which reflects ideas which you found elsewhere but have digested and expressed in your own words, and which text is a direct quote from someone else’s words. You must cite any references that you use. (You do not need to cite anything from the course textbook, notes, or lectures.) If you consult a source for information, you should indicate the source of that information using an in-text citation or footnote. We don’t care what citation style you use.

Direct quotes must be indicated. This is done by either blockquoting the other writer’s text or by putting it in quotation marks, with a citation immediately following. In general, however, you should use direct quotes only sparingly in your writing.

A note on “paraphrasing”: Near-direct paraphrases, in which you take the organization and narrative of someone else’s writing and merely replace words with synonyms, reorder words, omit sentences or phrases, and the like, are never a good idea. The point of writing is to have original thoughts and communicate them clearly; if you are merely taking someone else’s thoughts and repainting them, you are not learning anything about either science or writing. The name for this sort of thing is substitution plagiarism; as the name implies, it’s a type of plagiarism. We want you to tell your own story. –>

We reserve the right to seek a sanction of course failure for any instance of academic dishonesty.

(The following is boilerplate from the University)

Syracuse University’s Academic Integrity Policy reflects the high value that we, as a university community, place on honesty in academic work. The policy defines our expectations for academic honesty and holds students accountable for the integrity of all work they submit. Students should understand that it is their responsibility to learn about course-specific expectations, as well as about university-wide academic integrity expectations. The policy governs appropriate citation and use of sources, the integrity of work submitted in exams and assignments, and the veracity of signatures on attendance sheets and other verification of participation in class activities. The policy also prohibits students from submitting the same work in more than one class without receiving written authorization in advance from both instructors. Under the policy, students found in violation are subject to grade sanctions determined by the course instructor and non-grade sanctions determined by the School or College where the course is offered as described in the Violation and Sanction Classification Rubric. SU students are required to read an online summary of the University’s academic integrity expectations and provide an electronic signature agreeing to abide by them twice a year during pre-term check-in on MySlice.

Students with disabilities and other access challenges

Syracuse University values diversity and inclusion; we are committed to a climate of mutual respect and full participation. If there are aspects of the instruction or design of this course that result in barriers to your inclusion and full participation in this course, please contact us to discuss accommodations we can make to ensure that the class is accessible to you, or collaborate with the Center for Disability Resources (CDR) in this process. If I need to add to or modify the technology used for online class to ensure everyone can participate fully, I will happily do so if I am able.

If you would like to discuss disability-related accommodations with CDR, please visit their website at, visit them in person in Room 309 of 8047 University Avenue, or call (315) 443-4498, TDD: (315) 443-1371 for an appointment to discuss your needs and the process for requesting accommodations. CDR is responsible for coordinating disability-related accommodations. Since accommodations may require early planning and generally are not provided retroactively, please contact CDR as soon as possible.

CDR is one of the most helpful offices on campus. They coordinate academic accommodations to students who have short-term illnesses (physical or mental). If you are injured or ill and need academic accommodations beyond short-term due date extensions for PHY211, we will likely design those accommodations for you in collaboration with CDR.

If there are other things presenting access challenges to you in our class – family situations, health challenges, access to technology, internet connectivity, etc. – please talk to me as soon as possible. We will do whatever we must to ensure that you have every opportunity to gain skills in physics and be assessed on those skills fairly.

Absences, makeup work, and academic accommodations

We anticipate that students will occasionally miss class or submission deadlines for a variety of reasons. We recognize that you have many things in your life that may supercede our class: events occurring on inflexible dates that are of singular importance to your education, your family, stewardship of your health and the health of others, your career, your religious faith or life stance, or your participation in the democratic process or civic discourse.

If you miss an isolated lecture class, you should watch the recording after the fact (Twitch saves recordings for 14 days, and they will likely be on YouTube as well). You don’t need to do anything else.

If you miss recitation, you have a few options, ranked roughly in order of “best” to “worst”:

  1. You may attend a different recitation on the same day. (You may do this up to four times during the semester.) Let the teaching staff of the other recitation section know. You will work with that section on the day’s exercise and complete that section’s evaluation.

  2. You may work through the day’s recitation activities on your own or during a TA’s office hours or Walter’s. You should then come to office hours (a TA’s or Walter’s); they may ask you some questions to replace the recitation evaluation that you missed and give you a grade. You have until the end of the next Tuesday to do this. (This is to make sure you don’t fall behind.) You may only use this option if you had a good reason to miss recitation (we will ask about that).

  3. You may drop that recitation evaluation as one of your four lowest recitation evaluation grades. (You should still do the activity as you are able, of course, to learn the physics!)

If you are late turning in a homework assignment, you should describe the reason it is late to your TA and get their permission to turn it in late. We will not accept homework more than three days late without a very good reason.

If you miss a group quiz, we will replace its grade with the grade you get on the corresponding exam held the next week. (You may do this once.)

If you miss an exam, we will drop it as your lowest exam grade. (You may do this once.)

If you are falling significantly behind – if you have missed a week of recitation and are unable to make it up by the next Tuesday, if you are seriously ill, if you have personal problems that prevent you from doing work for an extended period, etc. – we will need to make arrangements during office hours and design an accommodation specifically for your situation. To be eligible for this sort of thing, you must come talk to us promptly once you fall behind so we can help you get back on track; do not tell me in May why you were unable to do your homework in March.