Astronomy 110
Fall 2005   Section 006

Information | Outline | Guidelines | Notices

Midterms    (40% of final grade)

There will be two midterm exams in class. (Find the dates here.) The midterms are designed to test your understanding as the course progresses, and will test a bit more deeply than the final exam. More details of the format, and exactly what parts of the course will be tested, will be given in class. (You can also check the class notices for information on exams.)

If you're going to be absent from class on a midterm day and you want to take a makeup, you must talk to me in advance. Valid reasons for requiring a makeup would be absence from town for some family emergency, or a sports-related trip. If you're sick on a midterm day, bring me a doctor's note.

The two midterms will count for 40% of your final grade.


Homework   (30% of final grade)

Homework is an integral part of this course. It is designed to allow you to work with the concepts you will hear about in class, and will hopefully help to make the concepts more understandable. It can come in many forms -- simple calculation, graph plotting, making and recording observations, or short essay-type questions. You will need a metric ruler, a calculator that calculates square and cube roots, and a protractor. There will be some form of homework almost every week. It will be distributed on Thursdays and will use concepts from that week's lectures, giving you a chance to practice them while they are still fresh in your mind. The homework will be due the following Thursday and will be graded and returned to you with a solution. No late homework will be accepted once the solution has been distributed, but you can get partial credit before then.

There are two essential requirements for homework: it must show how you got the answer, and it must be in your own words.

Homework is meant to give you practice at the sort of reasoning that is done is astronomy. Understanding the reasoning is the important thing and that is what is being tested in the homework. If the homework is to be gradable, we need to know if your reasoning is correct, not just that the numerical answer is correct. In fact, quite often the reasoning can be faultless and yet the answer might be wrong because of an arithmetic slip. Rest assured that you will get most of the grade in such a case -- anyone can make arithmetic mistakes (though you should develop the habit of asking yourself if the answer you just got is reasonable; if not, check back to see if you've messed up the arithmetic). The bottom line is: if you don't present your reasoning, we can't grade it and so your grade will suffer.

It is also absolutely essential that the homework you turn in is in your own words. There's nothing wrong with getting together in study groups to work on the homework, but it's not OK to then simply copy out the same solution for everyone in the group. If I see duplicate homeworks, then everyone affected will get a grade of zero for that homework. The point of this is that it's very important for you to take the trouble to try to express the answer in your own words. That way, you know that you really do understand the answer and are not just remembering the right words. The same goes for finding information in the textbook, on a Web page, or in some other source. Just copying out the "answer" won't do: again, taking the trouble to find your own words means that there's a much better chance that you understand what you've just read. Again, if I detect that you've just copied an answer from the textbook or just downloaded an answer from somewhere (and it's actually pretty easy to spot) then you'll get zero for that homework.

Your worst few homework grades (TBD) will be dropped, and homework will make up 30% of your final grade.


Final Exam   (30% of final grade)

The Final Exam will be given in class (Wat 112) on Tuesday, Dec 13 from 12:00 to 2:00 pm. You must take the Final to get a grade in the course. The final will be cumulative --- it will cover all the coursework --- and it will be a multiple-choice exam. There will be no complicated calculations and the exam will be designed to test the main ideas of the course.

Bring a pen, a number 2 pencil (at least one), a ruler, a protractor, and your I.D.

To repeat, you must take the final to receive a grade in the course. The final exam will make up 30% of your overall grade.


Reading & Other Preparation

  • Reading   This course is organised by topics, which you can find in the outline. The outline also gives reading assignments in the textbook for each topic, and I may hand out special reading material from time to time. It is a very good idea to do the reading in the textbook before you come to class ... and afterwards as well, of course, as often as you need to ... but having a rough idea of what's going on before you come to class means that you can interact in real time, ask and answer questions, and generally deepen your understanding. The outline will also give links to interesting sites on the Web that should complement what you hear in class, or may be interactive sites where you can practice what you've just learned.

  • Math & Physics Background    Astronomy 110 is a science course and for many of you it might be one of the few science courses you will take in College and so one of the few places where you'll be exposed to a scientific way of thinking. There isn't any formal math or physics prerequisite for taking Astronomy 110, but you will need some basic high school math concepts to get the most out of the course. We'll use things like powers of ten notation, square and cube roots, logarithms, simple trig functions, and basic algebra as far as manipulating simple equations. You'll also need to understand simple geometrical concepts, and basic graph plotting. The point is that science is done with mathematics. An equation expresses some underlying formal simplicity about the Universe, some rule that the Universe obeys: plug the numbers in, and you can predict what will happen. Power! Or it might be that some geometrical diagram expresses the truth about the arrangement of bodies in space. Our ancestors might have puzzled for centuries about the layout of the planets, for instance, but we can transmit this cultural understanding to you in a diagram. If you miss this, you'll miss the most important thing you can take away from this course. That's not to say that every class will be loaded with formal mathematics --- that's definitely not the case. But you will see ideas expressed mathematically, always with the idea that this is the most succinct way of expressing them. Of course, I'll try to explain things in words as well, but I'd like you to make the effort to understand the math, to work at it, and to ask me if you're having trouble. Your textbook can also help: it contains many worked-out calculations. There won't be anything in class more complicated than those examples.

    What about physics? Again, there is no formal physics requirement for this course, and many of you may never have had a physics course. However, physical ideas will come into every class. Astronomy isn't just describing what's in the Universe, it's trying to understand the way the Universe is put together on a physical level. The basis for this understanding is physics, so there's no getting round it. I'll do my best to explain simple physical ideas from scratch --- concepts like energy, momentum, heat, electric charge and so on --- and much of the work of the course will be seeing how the Universe makes sense in terms of these "simpler" concepts. Of course, many of you may not think of them as "simpler" but again I ask that you make an effort, and ask if something is unclear. Much of your textbook is taken up with explaining the physics concepts we will use so it is useful to do the reading for the classes.

  • Motivation    Finally, there is one very important preparation for the course, namely your own enthusiasm. What motivates you to be in this room is your affair: it could be that you want to try out a science course or two to see what they're like; it could be that this is your required science course and you have to get a good enough grade in it so you can do what you really want to do; or it may be that you're burning to learn about astronomy. All of these are honorable motivations, but remember that it's up to you to achieve your own goals. I can do my best to explain things and to make the course interesting, but only you can motivate yourself.