The Bare Essentials

  About the Course
    Computer Use
    About Physics
    Common Mistakes
    Active Learning
    Learning Advice

Physics 211

General Physics: Electricity and Magnetism

Spring, 2005
MW 8:30-9:45 AM
F 8:00-9:50 AM (Section 1)
or F 2:00-3:50 PM (Section 2)
Final Exam: Mon., May 2, 8:00-9:50 AM

The Bare Essentials

Note: All items in this syllabus are subject to change during the semester, if necessary.

About Me

Steve Carabello
Office: TL 126
Phone: 948-6622
Office Hours: TBD


3 in-class exams 100 points (12.5%) each
Comprehensive final 200 points (25%)
Homework 75 points (9.4%)
Quizzes 75 points (9.4%)
Labs 150 points (18.8%)
Total: 800 points (100%)

On all graded items, you must show all of your work, and use units in all steps. Otherwise, your score will be reduced.

Required Materials:

Attendance Policy:

Although the attendance in itself is not a component of your grade, you are required to turn in the homework assignments for each class period, and be available for quizzes. Make-up quizzes and exams are typically allowed only in the event of illness (confirmed by a physician), death in the immediate family, or by prior permission. Please contact me about other unusual circumstances.

Weather Cancellation Policy:

Over the course of the semester, the university may close due to the weather. If this happens, any assignments due on a day the university is closed will instead be due at the beginning of the next class session. Assignments due the next class session will be pushed back by one class period, unless otherwise stated during classes before the missed class period.

Academic Integrity Statement:

All Penn State Policies regarding ethics and honorable behavior apply to this course; see for details. Anyone found cheating during a quiz or exam will receive a zero on that item; repeated instances of cheating will result in an F for the course.

While you are encouraged to discuss homework assignments, labs, and the subject material with your classmates, direct copying is not permitted. Collaboration is a good thing: in encourages you to take a much more active role in your learning. However, if it becomes a crutch to avoid actual learning, it becomes destructive. I will look for examples of direct copying; such cheating will lead to a zero for that assignment.

Plagiarism is also not permitted. If you use information in any assignment from any source (your textbook, a Web site, etc.), you must put that information in quotes and note the source.

Note to Students with Disabilities:

Note to students with disabilities: It is Penn State’s policy not to discriminate against qualified students with documented disabilities in its educational programs. If you have a disability related need for modifications in this course, contact your instructor and the Disability Service Coordinator in the Student Assistance Center (W117, Olmsted, ext. 6025). Instructors should be notified during the first week of classes.

Details: Grading


3 in-class exams 100 points (12.5%) each
Comprehensive final 200 points (25%)
Homework 75 points (9.4%)
Quizzes 75 points (9.4%)
Labs 150 points (18.8%)
Total: 800 points (100%)

Grades will be determined approximately by the standard cutoffs: 90% for an A, 80% for a B, etc. Plus and minus grades will be assigned as refinements of this scale; the exact cutoffs will be determined at the end of the semester.

On all graded items, you must show all of your work, and use units in all steps. Otherwise, your score will be reduced. Note that, although attendance in itself is not a component of your grade, you are required to turn in the homework assignments for each class period, and be available for quizzes. Make-up quizzes and exams are typically allowed only in the event of illness (confirmed by a physician), death in the immediate family, or by prior permission. Please contact me about other unusual circumstances.


Each of the 3 midterm exams will be administered in class, on the days listed in the Tentative Course Schedule on ANGEL. Failure to take an exam will result in a grade of zero for that exam (except in case of emergency or with prior approval).

All exams will be given closed book. However, an equation sheet will be provided to you with each exam, listing the equations and constants necessary for completing the exam. A copy of this sheet will be available before the exams. You may find it helpful to use this sheet in doing homework problems, to become familiar with the equations as they will appear with the exams. Alternatively, you may choose to create your own sheet of equations and constants. It must be hand-written on one side of one 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper. If you use your own equation sheet, you will not be permitted to use mine as well. There are no restrictions on the content you may include on the equation sheet, so long as these conditions are met.


Homework will be due roughly once per week; all assignments will be posted on the ANGEL page for this course.

Homework is due at the beginning of class for the day assigned. Assignments turned in late will be penalized 20%, with an additional 20% penalty per additional week late.

Each assignment will typically be graded on the following basis: 4 points for general completeness, and 6 points for those few problems that best represent the subject material. Each student's lowest homework score for the semester will be dropped.

Students are encouraged to work ahead, so that questions may be asked in class before the assignments are due.

Important! "Recommended" problems are still considered part of the homework, even though they are not turned in. It is not necessary to clean up scratch work for turning in; or, to save time, you may read through each problem to ensure that you know how to solve it. Still, you are expected to understand the material included in them. Because the answers to most recommended problems are available in the back of the book, these problems are useful as preparation for working the collected problems, and as review for the exams.


Roughly once a week, you will take a quiz; typically, they are not announced ahead of time.

Each quiz will be graded on a scale of 1-10, with occasional extra credit problems. Each student's lowest quiz score for the semester will be dropped.


Understanding the importance of experiments is an essential part of this course. As a result, any student electing to flagrantly miss labs will automatically receive a failing grade for the course.

Lab reports are due at the beginning of class one week after the completion of the experiment. Labs turned in late will receive an escalating late penalty, except in case of emergency or prior permission.

Further details about the lab reports are provided in a separate handout.

Details: About the Course

Course Topics:

Topics to be covered in this course include (time permitting): measurement, dimensional analysis, motion in one-dimension, vectors, motion in 2 and 3 dimensions, relative and circular motion, force and dynamics, Newton's Laws, friction, kinetic energy, work, potential energy, energy conservation, systems of particles, center of mass and momentum, elastic and inelastic collisions, rotation (moments of inertia), rolling motion, torque, angular momentum, static equilibrium, gravitational force and Kepler's laws, gravitational potential energy, oscillations, and waves.

The Blue Book catalog description for this course is available at:


Through teaching this course, we at Penn State Harrisburg seek to prepare you with the knowledge and practical skills required to achieve success in an industrial career, continuing education, graduate studies, and the pursuit of advanced credentials. Through this course, you should be able to:


Prerequisite or concurrent: MATH 140.

In teaching this course, I will assume that all prerequisites have been met. If not, then you should contact me as soon as possible to discuss the situation. In the past, most students who had not taken these courses before have struggled with this course.

Computer Use:

Email and the Web have proven to be very effective tools for this course. Therefore, I will assume a general comfort with the use of the Internet. If for whatever reason you prefer not to use it, please let me know so that we may arrange other methods for sharing information. For example, I have occasionally sent an e-mail to all students in the class (e.g. rescheduling after closing campus due to weather). If you do not regularly check email, please consider doing so, or else contact me stating your preference to be called instead.

I encourage everyone to thoroughly explore the ANGEL page ( for this course: it contains information that will be quite useful to you throughout the course. For example, the page will include: all homework assignments, handouts for labs, a course schedule (listing chapters, labs, and exams), a list of links to other useful Web sites, contact information for your classmates; etc. Also, if you have not already done so, I encourage you to fill out your ANGEL profile, so that I and other students may have a bit more information about you.

As with all computer and lab equipment throughout campus, you should treat the equipment for this course with respect. Dropped and rolled objects, strong magnets, and other such items may cause damage to the computers and lab equipment. We plan to use much of this equipment for many years; make sure you leave it in a condition as good as you found it.

Details: General

About Physics:

One of the primary goals of physics is to build mental models of why things work the way they do. This allows us to make reasonable predictions about what should happen in unfamiliar situations (rather than simply testing every possibility), and gives us some confidence that we know what's really going on behind the scenes. Of course, the first step in this process usually involves understanding what actually happens in certain situations. To do this, we perform experiments. Once we have some results, we can make educated guesses about why things went the way they did. With this guess, we can make some predictions, which leads to more experiments, which may lead to changes in theory. Mathematical models can be elegant and interesting, but if they do not correspond to what we observe in the real world, we need to be clear on that point.

There are many people who had a profound impact on how the study of physics evolved. In our physics courses, we will usually do little beyond mentioning their names. If you are interested in learning more, please let me know: I'd be happy to point out some very good resources.

Because physics deals with the way things work, the lessons learned can be applied to almost any field that involves the physical world. So, if you want to understand why things break when stressed in certain ways, a knowledge of forces and torques is useful. If you want to understand why atoms bond together they way they do, a knowledge of quantum mechanics is useful. If you want to understand how an MRI machine works, a knowledge of electromagnetism and nuclear physics is useful.

In my own professional career, my background in physics has proven useful even when working in unrelated fields. The study of physics engenders an attention to detail (by careful recording of relevant facts) that is helpful in such things as technical writing, software debugging, technical support, and managing a business.

Of course, it is one thing to understand what's going on. However, that knowledge is not useful unless you can communicate it in a way that others can understand. Fortunately, the language of mathematics is universal, and can be understood by anyone with a similar mathematical background. That is one reason why physics courses involve so much problem solving: with these methods, you can demonstrate what you know. But often, there are situations where the method you used to measure the numbers is as important as how you analyze them. Therefore, writing clear lab reports is essential: it must be clear exactly what you did, in what order, and why.

Entire books have been written about the subject of physics, and so I could go on much longer. Hopefully, this is sufficient to give you an idea of what you should expect from me, and what I expect of you.


Common Mistakes:

Enough students have made the following mistakes that it seemed useful to warn against them here:


Active Learning:

As a university student, you are expected to take charge of your learning. Without your initiative, most things learned in a semester are quickly forgotten. It is not merely a case of sitting passively while receiving information from the instructor: if you are confused about something, ask. If you have an interesting comment, make it. If you are curious about a related topic, feel free to ask about it. Some of the most interesting and memorable teaching moments come through such digressions.

My job is to teach: to offer information and motivation in such a way as to make learning as efficient as possible for as much of the class as possible. Your job is to learn: to understand the important concepts, to learn how to learn, and to grasp problem-solving techniques. I am constantly refining my teaching process; if you have comments or suggestions, I want to hear them.

If you ever feel you are not learning something effectively, I encourage you to consult with other students, or visit me during my office hours. Without such contact, it is often hard to get back on the right track.


Learning Advice:

Some general tips for studying from this course: