Department Contact Information

Physics Department

Location: 180-204
Phone: (805) 756-2448
Fax: (805) 756-2435
Email: physics@calpoly.edu
Chair: Karl Saunders

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How is physics instruction at Cal Poly conducted?

Learn by Doing is a guiding principle that permeates the physics curriculum. A major emphasis on laboratory investigations, especially at the upper division, complements students' theoretical and computational grounding. At the lower division level, several sections of courses are taught in a studio environment using materials developed on the basis of research on the learning and teaching of physics.

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General Education Courses for Area B (PHYS 104, ASTR 101-102, etc.)

Led by a Faculty Instructor in traditional lecture format in class sizes typically of 48, 70, or 120 students, meeting for one hour three or four times per week. Larger sections may have Learning Assistants who work with the Faculty Instructor to facilitate in-class problem solving, activities, and discussions.

Introductory Physical Science Courses for Liberal Studies (PSC 101-103)

Led by a Faculty Instructor in a studio classroom with maximum enrollment of 36 students. Class meetings are two hours, three times per week, involving in-class lab activities, group, and class problem-solving and discussions. These classes model for prospective elementary teachers the authentic practices of scientists and promote the development of a coherent conceptual understanding.

Introductory Physics Courses for Life Sciences (PHYS 121-123)

Led by a Faculty Instructor in traditional lecture format in class sizes typically of 48 students. Lecture meetings are one hour, three or four times per week, with a laboratory session of three hours once per week. During laboratory meetings, the Faculty Instructor leads 24 students in groups of three through one hours of problem-solving "recitation" followed by two hours of laboratory experiments exploring concepts related to lecture content.

Introductory Physics Courses for Scientists and Engineers (PHYS 141, 132, 133)

Led by a Faculty Instructor in a variety of formats that serve multiple learning styles. The traditional lecture format includes class sizes typically of 48 students meeting for one hour, three or four times per week and a laboratory session of three hours once per week. During laboratory meetings, the Faculty Instructor leads 24 students in groups of three through one hour of problem-solving "recitation" followed by two hours of laboratory experiments exploring concepts related to lecture content. The studio format has a maximum enrollment of 36 students. Class meetings are two hours, three times per week, involving integrated in-class laboratory activities, group problem-solving, and class discussions. All studio sessions currently utilize Learning Assistants who work with the Faculty Instructor to facilitate the learning of students working in small groups on problem-solving, activities, and discussions.

Upper Level Major Courses - Lecture (PHYS 301-303, 322, 405-406, 408-409, etc.)

Led by a Faculty Instructor in traditional lecture format in class sizes of up to 48 students, meeting for one hour three or four times per week.

Upper Level Major Courses - Laboratory (PHYS 206, 340-342, etc.)

Led by a Faculty Instructor in fully outfitted laboratory classrooms of 8 or 16 students, working in pairs on experiments in modern physics. The number of three-hour weekly meetings varies by course.

Senior Project (PHYS 461-462)

The completion of a senior project is a requirement for both the BA and the BS degrees in physics. These courses are individual research projects carried out one-on-one or in small groups with a single Faculty Instructor. Weekly class meetings between students and instructor are arranged individually. 

Independent Studies (PHYS 200, 400, etc.)

These courses are faculty-led, student-driven explorations of individual interest that can be more in-depth investigations of topics explored in traditional courses or research carried out one-on-one or in small groups with a single Faculty Instructor. Weekly class meetings between students and instructor are arranged individually.

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