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PHYS 401 A: Pedagogy of Physics: Mechanics

M 1:30pm - 2:20pm / PAB B108
W 1:30pm - 2:20pm / PAT C231
F 1:30pm - 2:20pm / PAT C211
Joint Sections: 
PHYS 501 A
Peter S. Shaffer

Syllabus Description:

Welcome to PHYS 401-402-403.  The instructors of these courses are:

In this class everyone is welcome, regardless of other identities you hold in addition to that of physics student.  We expect everyone in this class to treat each other with respect.

Note on mode of operation:

This class is conducted in-person.  Students are expected to participate in class to fully benefit from course activities and meet the course’s learning objectives.  Students should only register for this class if they are able to attend in-person.  To protect their fellow students, faculty, and staff, students who feel ill or exhibit possible COVID symptoms should not come to class. When absent, it is the responsibility of the student to inform the instructor in advance (or as close to the class period as possible in the case of an unexpected absence).


Phys 401-402-403 prepares you to teach the material related to the labs and tutorials in the introductory physics courses.

  • PHYS 401 discusses the lab and tutorial material in Phys 121.
  • PHYS 402 discusses the lab and tutorial material in Phys 122.
  • PHYS 403 discusses the lab and tutorial material in Phys 123.

The courses also give students a chance to strengthen their understanding of introductory physics concepts and the connections between the physics formalism, the underlying models, and real-world phenomena.

Each quarter we will also introduce different aspects of education research and classroom management.  This quarter, the planned topics include:

  • Socratic method
  • Rubric and grading 
  • Group dynamics
  • Think-pair-share
  • Observations of an active classroom
  • Learning objectives

PHYS 401-402-403 counts towards the physics capstone requirement.  Successful completion of PHYS 401-402-403 also makes you eligible to be hired as a paid undergraduate teaching assistant in the labs and tutorials of the corresponding introductory course in the physics department should there be an open position.  You can take these courses in any order, and you do not need to do them in consecutive quarters.  

Learning objectives

By the end of this course, students will demonstrate the ability to:

  • Understand introductory physics concepts and the connections between the physics formalism, the underlying models, and real-world phenomena well enough to teach those topics.
  • Teach students in PHYS 121/122/123 tutorial and lab sections with an awareness of best pedagogical practices.
  • Prepare and present a short lesson on a physics topic that addresses common misconceptions among elementary, middle, or high school students, guided by physics education research.

Contact information

You can contact us by sending an email to

Course Material

No material is required for purchase.  We will provide copies of any material required for this course.


On Mondays from 1:30 PM to 2:20 PM, we will prepare you for that week's lab.  The meeting locations are as follows:

  • PHYS 401 in PAB B108
  • PHYS 402 in PAB B176
  • PHYS 403 in PAB B123

On Wednesdays, we will discuss aspects of education research and classroom management (except two days where we prepare for tutorials this quarter due to Monday holidays).  PHYS 501, 502 and 503 will meet together from 1:30 PM to 2:20 PM in PAT C211.

On Fridays from 1:30 PM to 2:20 PM, we will prepare you for the following week's tutorial (except two days where we prepare for labs this quarter due to Monday holidays).  The meeting locations are as follows:

  • PHYS 401 in PAT C211
  • PHYS 402 in PAB B156
  • PHYS 403 in PAT C231

The tentative schedule of topics is shown below.

  • Week Date Monday Wednesday Friday
    1 1/2 No class Introduction Tut 1 prep
    2 1/9 Lab 1 prep Tut 2 prep Lab 2 prep
    3 1/16 No class Socratic method Tut 3 prep
    4 1/23 Lab 3 prep Rubric and grading Tut 4 prep
    5 1/30 Lab 4 prep Group dynamics Tut 5 prep
    6 2/6 Lab 5 prep Think-pair-share Tut 6 prep
    7 2/13 Lab 6 prep Tut 7 prep Lab 7 prep
    8 2/20 No class Observations of an active classroom Tut 8 prep
    9 2/27 Lab 8 prep Learning objectives Tut 9 prep
    10 3/6 Presentation Presentation Presentation



Presentation project (50% of grade)

  • Toward the end of the quarter you will present a 5-10 minute physics presentation to your fellow students and instructors which is aimed at students in elementary, middle, or introductory high school (not college or AP physics level).
  • You will submit the following parts throughout the quarter:
    • Topic selection
    • Presentation plan
    • Presentation draft
    • Final presentation

Interactions with students in PHYS 12X (15% of grade)

  • You will interact with students in PHYS 12X throughout the quarter in one tutorial section and one lab section.
  • At least once during the quarter you will be observed by an instructor in one of your lab/tutorial sections and will meet afterward to discuss your teaching.  The primary goal of this observation is to provide feedback and guidance in your teaching and to give you an opportunity to reflect on the teaching component of your assignment.
  • Towards the end of the quarter you will write a reflection paper based on your experiences in tutorial and/or lab sections.

Tutorial class preparation (5% of grade)

  • To prepare for the tutorial preparation classes, you will work through the upcoming tutorial on your own and post a discussion on what you think the common student difficulties or misconceptions that this tutorial is designed to address. These discussions will be graded based on a thoughtful response.

Pedagogy class preparation (15% of grade)

  • To prepare for the Wednesday classes, you will have a weekly reading assignment or other activity.
  • After you have completed the assigned activity for the week you will post a short discussion about the assignment that will be graded based on a thoughtful response.

In class participation (15% of grade)

  • You are required to attend the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday class meetings and to participate in discussions.
  • Each meeting will be graded based on the following rubric:
    • Adequate (2 points): Actively engaged in discussion.
    • Needs improvement (1 point): Did not significantly contribute to discussion.
    • Missing (0 points): Did not participate.

    If you cannot participate in a class meeting, let the appropriate instructor know as soon as possible so that we can make arrangements for you to make up the missed meeting.

    If you get a score of 1 point for a meeting, we will meet so that we can discuss expectations.


Your grades are assigned based on your weighted score with the following thresholds:

  • 90%: 4.0
  • 85%: 3.5
  • 80%: 3.0
  • 75%: 2.5
  • 70%: 2.0

Access and accommodation

Your experience in this class is important to us, so if you have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but are not limited to: mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical), please contact DRS to arrange accommodations.

If you would like to share any accommodation needs that you may have, please contact us

Safe campus

We are committed to ensuring a safe environment on campus.  We encourage you to check out the resources available here.

Religious Accommodations

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities.  The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy (  Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (


Catalog Description: 
Preparation for teaching introductory physics. Use and critical analysis of instructional materials in a collaborative learning environment. Uses instructional materials related to introductory undergraduate physics courses. Prerequisite: PHYS 123 or PHYS 143. Offered: AWSp.
Section Type: 
Last updated: 
October 19, 2022 - 5:27am