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17 June 2015

Official Course Descriptions for all Woodberry's Physics Offerings

I'm often asked about Woodberry Forest's physics curriculum.  We require all students to take a full-year physics course during high school.  Those who enter as 9th graders take physics first.  Those who enter in 10th or 11th grade usually take physics in the junior year.  Below are all of our course descriptions, as published in Woodberry's course catalog.  

Nomenclature note: "3rd form" refers to 9th grade, "6th form" to 12th grade.  "Form" is archaic terminology referencing the benches in which students in olden-days Harry-Potter-Style boarding schools used to arrange themselves by class.  What we call the seventh grade sat in the first benches, and so was referred to as the 1st form.  

Feel free to email with questions and comments.  If you come to a summer institute or to the open lab, I can give you a CD-rom with tests, quizzes, and problem sets for each of the courses listed below.

GCJ

Conceptual Physics
Conceptual Physics, the year-long, third-form science course, emphasizes the principles of physics on a conceptual basis.   The course begins with optics and waves and progresses through electric circuits before covering traditional mechanics topics. Students use the fundamental facts and equations of introductory physics as a vehicle for a thorough introduction to analytical thinking and creative problem-solving skills.

Approximately 50% of class time involves hands-on experimental work.  Nightly problems require students to justify their answers with substantial verbal reasoning.  Tests and exams questions are based on authentic items from New York Regents exams, adapted such that a calculator is not required, and adapted to require students to demonstrate their verbal as well as mathematical skills.  It is expected that a successful conceptual physics student leaves with a solid understanding of qualitative mathematical approaches to problem-solving, including verbal justifications of answers; graphical analysis, both experimental and theoretical; order of magnitude estimation, including describing the physical meaning of numerical answers; and experimental verification and investigation of physical relationships.

Physics
Physics is a year-long course appropriate for upper-form students with a background in algebra and lab sciences. The course approaches the same topics covered in the 3rd form Conceptual Physics course, with more emphasis on working qualitatively with physical concepts. The course begins with a study of mechanics, including kinematics, Newton’s laws, and the conservations of energy and momentum. Later topics include circuits, waves, and optics.

Students spend a significant amount of class time doing hands-on experimentation, developing an understanding of how to use experimentation to make or verify physical predictions. Other time is spent learning and discussing physics principles, and practicing their application in problem solving and justification. Homework consists of readings and problem sets, with an emphasis on logical, verbal reasoning. Tests and exams are based on New York Regents exam questions.

It is expected that a successful student in General Physics leaves with a solid understanding of qualitative and quantitative mathematical approaches to problem-solving, including logical justifications of answers; experimental and theoretical graphical analysis; order of magnitude estimation, including describing the physical meaning of numerical answers; and experimental verification and investigation of physical relationships.


Honors Physics 1
Honors Physics 1 follows the course description for AP Physics 1: Algebra-Based provided by the College Board. This is an algebra-based, college-level survey course, covering important topics in classical physics. Students are expected to develop both a mathematical and conceptual understanding of the subject, with a substantial emphasis on the latter.  The course is taught through the use of quantitative demonstrations and in-class laboratory exercises, paired with nightly assignments involving descriptive problem solving.  In weekly extended laboratory sessions, students design experiments to investigate the principles discussed throughout the course.

Tests and exams are in the style of the AP Physics 1 exam.  Students are encouraged to take the AP Physics 1 exam in May.  Honors Physics 1 is taught to three constituencies of students who may opt in: Any 12th grader who is interested, 11th graders who have completed a high school biology course or who are taking biology concurrently, and a set of 9th graders who are selected by the department during the first marking period.  The separate 9th grade section covers the identical material at the same college level.

Honors Physics 2
Honors Physics 2 follows the course description for AP Physics 2: Algebra-Based as provided by the College Board, along with a few additional topics. This is an algebra-based, college-level survey course, covering topics in fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, atomic and nuclear physics.  Students are expected to develop both a mathematical and conceptual understanding of the subject. The course is taught through the use of quantitative demonstrations, paired with nightly assignments involving descriptive problem solving.  In weekly laboratory sessions, students design experiments to investigate the principles discussed throughout the course. Honors Physics 2 is primarily a senior course.  Honors Physics 1, or a placement test showing mastery of the skills and material covered in Honors Physics 1, is the required prerequisite.


Honors Research Physics and Physics C
From September until February, students research four problems in preparation for the US Invitational Young Physicist Tournament (USIYPT).  Faculty and students together investigate these open-ended, college-level projects.  A solid grasp of theory and intricate, involved experimental work is required.  The trimester exam is a 5-10-minute talk based on the research project.  As the tournament approaches, students are trained to conduct a “physics fight,” a ritualized debate over the merits of a solution.  Four members of the class are selected to be representatives of Woodberry Forest at the USIYPT.


Throughout the year students prepare for the AP Physics C – Mechanics or AP Physics C – Electricity & Magnetism exam, using the course description provided by the College Board.  Calculus-based mechanics or E&M is covered through nightly problem-solving as well as in-class review, demonstration, and discussion. Students are expected to develop both a mathematical and conceptual understanding of the subject so as to perform well on the May AP exam.  The physics faculty will in the spring select approximately eight students, including mostly rising seniors but also some rising juniors, to audition for Research Physics. The invitations are issued based on performance in previous science courses, and based on the skills and background knowledge each student could bring to the competitive physics team at the tournament.  The audition consists of a preliminary investigation into one of the USIYPT problems in the last weeks of May, followed by a presentation to the faculty during exam period.  Students must be invited to and pass the audition in order to take the course.

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