Many students look at assignments as products they need to produce and grades as a measure of the quality of that product. A teacher, on the other hand, sees assignments as a tool students may use in order to learn concepts or skills. For a teacher, grades are a reflection of the teacher’s judgement about how well a student has learned something. Focus on learning and good grades will come as a consequence of your ability to demonstrate your new knowledge. It’s not about what you do, it’s about what you learned. Do complete your assignments but also take a step back from them and make an effort to figure out what the assignment is trying to teach you.
A tip about reading textbooks and course materials: they are not novels. In a novel you typically read a passage once with full comprehension. The action carries you forward through the text. The materials in this course build sequentially and you will at times need to read a section several times before you can move on to the next section. Be self-aware and check in with yourself: Did I understand that passage? Could I solve problems based on it? What questions do I have about it?
When you take notes during class you should make sure to write down at least what I write on the board. Also write down things I say that help you to understand. Keep your notes on loose-leaf paper that you can store with your other materials in your binder.
If I go too fast or you don’t understand something raise your hand and ask! Chances are very good that you are not the only one who is confused. If no one asks then I can’t know that you missed something. And trust me, I try to stick only to the things you have to know to pass the quiz!
The point of working the examples and the problems and answering questions is to help you learn new things. They do not test you on things you already know. If you do not know the answers, that is the point. By working on the question until you figure it out you learn something. This process is uncomfortable but is the only way to learn complicated material.
In science we build models that describe how the world works. Usually, these models are mathematical because mathematical models produce quantitative results that it is possible to test by experiment. The math is meant to help us understand concepts. And the concepts are a check on whether the math we have done is correct.
There is a difference between information and knowledge. Finding an answer to a question by doing an internet search and then writing down the answer without understanding it is information, not knowledge. Looking through your notes or the text for the lesson and copying something down is information, not knowledge. Information consists of facts or figures, data and statistics. But knowledge consists in understanding those things. What is the context? How does it fit into the bigger picture? What value does this information have? How could I use this information to make a decision or answer a question? Knowledge is not the same thing as memorization. Memorization will serve to find correct answers to many questions but if a question asks you to put things together in a new way then only knowledge will allow you to handle it.
In this course our motto is FIO (an acronym that I leave to the reader: you will figure it out if you think about it for a bit).
It is important that you evaluate yourself frequently as you work to find out what you have learned. Try repeating to yourself the contents of class discussions. Even better, go over the concepts and problem-solving techniques with a study group: communicating something you have learned forces you to organize your thoughts about it. When you do so, you learn it better yourself. This is true also about writing in the course. Your lab reports and the answers to lab questions are learning opportunities. When you explain what you have learned in writing you often find that you have not learned it as well as you thought you did. Go back and learn it properly and your writing will improve.
Remember that lessons are not a disconnected set of random facts. The lesson is a cohesive whole. There are often many confusing facts and difficult skills within that whole but keep the overall goal of the lesson in mind.