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Physics Will Offer an Expanded 8.01

By Brian Rosenberg
Editor in Chief

Next fall, the physics department will offer a new version of Physics I (8.01) that extends through the Independent Activities Period. Called 8.01L, with the "L" indicating "longer," the course is "intended for freshmen whose high school physics included little or no calculus," according to the course description written for the Freshman Handbook.

The course will be offered on a trial basis, and enrollment will be limited to 100 students, according to Saul A. Rappaport, a professor of physics and one of two academic officers for the course.

Though no detailed planning has been done, 8.01L will focus on physical examples, said Alan J. Lazarus, a senior research scientist who will teach the course. Students often make "a separation between classroom exercises and real life, which is something we'd like to eliminate," he said. "We want to give students a physical feel for the material."

George S. F. Stephans, a principal research scientist, will teach the course with Lazarus.

The course will begin with "a lot of mechanics ... real-life objects that rotate and translate," said Lazarus. "We'll definitely throw a ball in the air and graph it and see that the acceleration is constant." Pre-calculus mathematical concepts such as trigonometric functions and logarithms will be reviewed through demonstrations like these.

Lazarus said the course would borrow some ideas from 8.01X, a version of 8.01 that focuses on take-home experiments.

The format of the IAP portion of 8.01L is "not clearly formulated," though it will be different than the portion of the class held during the term, Lazarus said. The course will meet for "roughly one hour a day, because we're trying to leave time for other things" in IAP, he added.

Questionnaires about 8.01L have been distributed to students in both 8.01 and Physics II (8.02). The questionnaires described the course and asked if students would have taken it if it had been available in the fall, and why or why not. It also asked for comments and suggestions.

"On the whole, current 8.01 students like the idea of being given the chance to develop problem solving skills," said Margaret S. Enders, an associate dean in the Undergraduate Academic Affairs Office who helped organize the course.

`Not 8.01-slow'

Administrators and faculty involved with 8.01L emphasized that it is equivalent to the other forms of 8.01, and that students who have taken it will be as prepared for further work as other members of their class.

"We view the course as fully equivalent -- it's not easier or more difficult, it just has a different ramp-up period," said Rappaport, who will teach a recitation section of 8.01L.

The course covers the same material as 8.01, and is offered to assure that "students really absorb and grapple with the material," said Lazarus.

"It's not 8.01-slow, just 8.01-different," Enders said.

Idea came from many places

The idea for 8.01L came "to some extent ... from the Institute colloquium" on teaching within a research university, Rappaport said. Several meetings with academic officers in other departments also contributed to the course's development, he said.

Results of the math diagnostic test administered to freshmen each fall also spurred the creation of 8.01L. Rappaport said examinations of these results indicated that students who did not do well on the test also did not do well in physics.

"More students are coming in less well-prepared, and as a result, more are failing, especially with the change from D-level passing to C-level passing. No one is happy about that," Enders said.

"Last year's combined D and F fail rate [in 8.01] was 18 percent, and it has been steadily heavier than in math or chemistry," said Travis R. Merritt, an associate dean in the UAAO.

Next year, students who perform poorly on the test may be advised to take 8.01L. "It will be done on a strictly voluntary basis through each advisor, who will review the entire situation and make a recommendation," Rappaport said.

"Some high school courses try to cram everything into them, and sometimes the information is too compressed for anyone to understand, so we're trying to take a fresh look" at the material, Lazarus said.

`First semester's back porch'

The course is not likely to threaten the current structure of IAP, Merritt said. Extending the 8.01L idea to other parts of the core curriculum "could have serious ramifications in keeping students on campus for IAP. I would definitely think twice before extending this to the rest of the core and turning IAP into the first semester's back porch," he said. "I don't think it's in the cards."