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PHYS 408 A: Physics by Inquiry II

Meeting Time: 
MWF 11:30am - 1:20pm
PAT C231
Donna Messina Picture 2023
Donna Messina

Syllabus Description:

Screenshot 2023-12-06 at 5.41.47 AM.pngWelcome to Physics 408! The instructor for Physics 408 is Dr. Donna Messina (, a faculty member with the Physics Education Group. Please send all emails via your UW email account.

Dr. Donna Messina     C-238         

Class hours: Class meets MWF 11:30 am –1:20 pm in PAT-C231. Since this is a laboratory-based course, much of the work takes place in the classroom. Therefore, attendance at all sessions is required. Repeated absences will affect your final grade in the course. If you must be absent at any time, it is essential that you contact Dr. Messina before class. When possible, unavoidable absences not related to an illness should be discussed in advance. Cell phones should not be used in class.

Curriculum:  The text for the class is based on Physics by Inquiry (PbI) by Lillian C. McDermott and the Physics Education Group at the University of Washington (Wiley, 1996). The topics this quarter will Kinematics, Dynamics. Relevant sections will be distributed in class.

Materials you will need: You are expected to keep a record of your experimental findings and/or data in a binder. The binder should be organized for future reference and as a journal of your ideas and how they evolve. You will also be able to use your binder during your midterm and final exams.  

Exams:  There will be two exams. The midterm exam will be administered during class on February 2, 2024. The second exam will be on March 8, 2024. Exceptions for emergencies will be handled on an individual basis. Exams will be “open-book” (you may use the notes you recorded in your binder). Failure to take either of the exams will result in a grade of 0.0 for the course. A good way to prepare for the exams is to review homework assignments and the work you have recorded in your binder, as well as questions presented in discussions with other students and the instructors.

Homework: Homework will be assigned weekly. It should be prepared as a word document and submitted on CANVAS.  Diagrams may be hand drawn. Homework assignments will be posted on CANVAS. Each assignment will be submitted at 11:59 PM on the due date. 

Keep in mind that this is a writing class. You should use complete sentences, appropriate grammar, and correct spelling in all assignments. Maximum credit will be given for correct, concise, and well-written answers. The work you submit should reflect your best effort and demonstrate your developing understanding of the topic. In explaining your reasoning, you should do so carefully and clearly, including all the logical steps that are required to arrive at your answer. You will be asked to redo and resubmit homework that is incorrect or is lacking the reasoning that is required.  Resubmitted homework will also have a due date that will be stated on the original submission. Late assignments may be submitted 2 calendar days past the due date. For example, if the due date is Monday at 11:59 PM, it may be submitted by Wednesday at 11:59 PM, but will receive a reduced grade, the highest of which can be 6/10 points. Late assignments may not be resubmitted.

Paper: Physics 408 is a writing course. Emphasis is placed on your ability to provide a written discussion of the concepts you are studying, as well as the reasoning you use to arrive at your conclusions. One paper will be assigned. It will be based on your work in class and should not require outside research. The paper topic will be focused on average and instantaneous velocities . Detailed instructions will be given later in the quarter and will be posted on CANVAS. The tentative due date for the paper is 11:59 PM on Tuesday, February 13. The grade on the paper will be reduced one letter grade for each calendar day that it is past due, with a maximum of 3 days. Failure to submit the paper will result in a grade of 0.0 for the course. Exceptions will be handled on an individual basis.

Checkouts: You will be working in a group with two other students. Upon completing key experiments and exercises, your group will sign up for a checkout.  During a checkout you and your partners will have a dialogue with the instructor during which your understanding will be assessed (but not graded). In general, you should not proceed to the next experiment or exercise until after you have discussed the work completed.

Course Grade: The final grade for the course will be based on your performance on exams (40%), the paper (25%), homework (15%), and group work/participation (10%).

Partners: The work that you do in class will be done with two or three partners. New partners may be assigned during the quarter. It is important that partners and groups engage in discussion of their work and avoid working as isolated individuals. Homework, papers, and exams will be evaluated individually.

Research Study Information: This course is part of a research project examining student reasoning ability and attitudes about physics with the goal of improving physics teaching.  By enrolling in this course, you are automatically included in the study. Early in the quarter, students will have an opportunity to learn about the study and to remove themselves from the study if they wish. Your instructor will not know whether or not you participate. Please click on this link to review the details of the study, contact a member of the research team, or remove yourself from the study.

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 see details here:

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

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.

Academic integrity and student conduct: The University takes academic integrity and student conduct very seriously. Behaving with integrity and respect is part of our responsibility to our shared learning community. Acts of academic misconduct may include, but are not limited to, cheating by sharing answers on exams.

 Please note that screenshots or recordings of instructors, other students, and course materials during active video (Zoom) participation sessions are strictly forbidden. Streaming or posting inappropriate materials on any course platform is also not allowed.

The University of Washington Student Conduct Code (WAC 478-121) defines prohibited academic and behavioral conduct and describes how the University holds students accountable as they pursue their academic goals. Allegations of misconduct by students may be referred to the appropriate campus office for investigation and resolution. More information can be found online at

If you’re uncertain about if something is academic and behavioral misconduct, ask us. I am willing to discuss questions you might have.

Catalog Description: 
Selected topics in physics, with emphasis on the design and use of experiments and experimental evidence to construct physical models. Focus on promoting a deep understanding of the reasoning and representational skills essential to science. Provides background for teaching physics K-20+ through a process of inquiry and to promote scientific literacy. Development of writing skills. Offered: W.
GE Requirements: 
Natural Sciences (NSc)
Section Type: 
Last updated: 
November 18, 2023 - 1:55am