Physics FAQs


Can you really learn something like physics in a block of only three and a half weeks? Doesn't my brain need more time to absorb those difficult concepts?

I've heard many theoretical arguments for and against learning math and physics under OCAAT. True, you don't get as many nights to "sleep" on the material, but your brain is only concentrating on one subject during those three and a half weeks of physics-filled dreams. Being an experimentalist, I prefer to look at data rather than unsubstantiated theories. Whenever I get the chance, I ask our students who have gone on to study under the semester system (at grad schools, engineering schools, etc.) what they think of OCAAT. I can honestly state that I have never heard any big gripes about our unusual calendar and have heard many favorable comments. So if you really want the scoop on whether or not OCAAT can work, ask some of our graduates, such as Pam Johnson, Mike Farmer, Jon Drieling, or Andy Clements. -- (Lyle Lichty)

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What are the advantages of learning physics under OCAAT?

  • Under OCAAT students cannot postpone studying for most of the semester and then cram before a few exams. Assignments are often due the next day rather than the next week or month, so students must keep up to date.
  • Students can and do use the classroom to work together on homework.
  • We can use longer labs not confined to two or three hours.
  • It's easier for students to take calculus before physics.
  • OCAAT encourages instructors to use active-learning techniques beyond mere lecturing.
  • We can show feature films! (Non-majors can take the Science Through Film and Fiction course, and even majors often discover the physics in the film 2001.)

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What are the disadvantages of learning physics under OCAAT?

OK, not all your problems will disappear under OCAAT. You do need to stay on top of your work. If you must miss class for several days of sickness, you have to work very hard to catch up. Students often take classes outside the department for a couple months, so we start to miss them. (We do have physics lunches to keep in touch.) You can get tired of any course by about the third week of the block.

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How is physics taught under OCAAT?

Each faculty member has his or her own favorite methods, but you will find a number of common differences between an OCAAT physics course and a course on the semester plan. Students almost always have time every day to work on problems in the classroom with the instructor present or down the hall in an office. Some students might finish all their homework during class; others will work on it at home and then use that time to clear up problems. Classtime is also used more for hands-on exercises (like building a circuit or looking through some lenses). We devote one entire block to the introductory labs after students have been through two blocks of physics. This is a good review, allows us to concentrate on lab technique, and uses labs that involve several areas of physics. In our advanced lab, students choose a project to work on for the month. They use the entire block to research the project, build an apparatus, gather and analyze data, and create a presentation -- much like work in grad school or research.

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How can students be involved in research projects under the OCAAT calendar?

Take a look at our student projects page. Students can:

  • carry out a project during the advanced lab course.
  • use a block or two for independent research with a professor.
  • carry out research over the summer with a professor.
  • use the Extended Research in Physics course, during which they devote several hours per week to a research project.
  • present their research during the college-wide Student Symposium.

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