Physics for Poets (I)

Elementary Physics for Non-Technical Students (I)

Welcome to the Elementary Physics (I) course, PHY 309 K. This syllabus describes the section taught by Professor Vadim Kaplunovsky in Fall of 2005 (unique #60340). Other sections have their own syllabi.

Elementary Physics is a non-technical course intended for liberal-arts and other non-science majors, hence the nickname «Physics for Poets»; it's more about Physics than Physics itself. Nevertheless, the language of Physics is Mathematics, and I will use formulae. You do not need calculus or higher math to follow this class, but basic algebra is essential.

General Information

«Physics Matters: An Introduction to Conceptual Physics» by James Trefil and Robert M Hazen.


Homework for this course will be assigned weekly, although sometimes I will give you an extra classday to catch up. Altogether, there will be ten to twelve homework assignments.

Most homework problems will be taken from the textbook, but I will also add a few of my own. Each assignment will be posted on the web page The solutions will be posted to the same page after the due date.

Each homework set is due a week from the day it was assigned. I shall collect finished homeworks in class; please do not bring them to my office or mailbox.

You may do homework individually or in small teams of two, three, or four students; larger teams are not allowed. A team should submit a single solution signed by all the students in the team. If you work in a team, make sure you understand the whole solution — otherwise you will flunk the exams.


There will be three mid-terms tests during the semester and one final exam.

All exams are open-book. You may bring any books or notes you like, provided you can manage them at your seat without disturbing other students. But you must do your exam by yourself: Getting help from another person during the exam is not allowed. For this reason, using cellphones or internet during the exam is not allowed.

The mid-term tests take 50 minutes (1 class hour) each. They will be held in the regular classtime, in the usual classroom.

The first mid-term test is scheduled for September 30 (Friday). It covers chapters 1 through 5 of the textbook.

The second mid-term test is scheduled for October 26 (Wednesday). It covers chapters 5 through 8.

The third mid-term test is scheduled for November 30 (Wednesday). It covers chapters 8 through 11.

Only two best mid-term tests will count towards your grade. This allows for one missed or botched test (because of illness or emergency) without damage to your grade. But if you miss two or all three tests, your grade will suffer. There will be no make-up tests for any reason whatsoever.

The final exam is scheduled for December 16 (Friday) from 9 AM to 12 N (3 hours) in W. R. Woolrich building, room WRW 102. This exam is comprehensive and covers the whole course.


The grades are based on homeworks, mid-term tests, and the final exam with the following weights:

The net score will be adjusted upward according to lecture attendance. The adjustment is non-linear: It is very small for high scores but becomes important when the score is low but the attendance is high.

The brackets for the ABCDF letter grades in terms of the adjusted net scores will be set after the final exam.

Scores and Formulae

Here are the exact formulae I used for calculating your scores. Starting from raw scores — hw1 through hw11 (normalized to 100 points), mt1 through mt3 (normalized to 75 points), final (normalized to 200 points), and attendance (normalized to 24 counts), — I calculated:

The letter grades are based on the adjusted score:

Altogether, there were 32 A grades, 46 B grades, 5 C grades, 1 D grade (changed to X because the student had missed the final), 2 F grades (for students who've done no work at all), and one Q.

Final Grades

On December 19, I emailed final grades to students. I used addresses in the class roster; that's the e-mail addresses you gave at registration times. If your address have changed since — or if you haven't received my email for any other reason — you can find your grade at the registrar's web page.


On January 23, 2006, I changed grades of students with scores between 90 and 92.5 points from B to A−. This change affected 8 students.

Last Update May 4, 2006.
Vadim Kaplunovsky