Sunday, August 15, 2010

Homework template

This is the format I'd like you to use for homework problems. You don't have to print out the template exactly, you can just fill out a sheet of paper in the same fashion. The main point is that I'd like to ensure that you're solving problems in a logical, organized way, with clarity and precision. The idea is that at first this will help reinforce a general, systematic approach to problem solving that will serve you well when the material gets harder.

Your homework be graded on the appearance (if applicable) and quality of these items:
  • Find/Given - what are you supposed to find, and what have you been given?
  • Sketch - try to visualize the problem.
  • Relevant equations - identify what basic equations might be of some help.
  • Symbolic solution - without using numbers, algebraically find the desired quantity in terms of given quantities.
  • Numeric solution - if given, plug in any numbers given. 
  • Double check - using dimensional analysis, order-of-magnitude estimation, for example, see if your answer makes sense. In some cases, you might just solve the problem by a completely different technique.
I'll describe this in some detail in class, and will try to follow the template when I'm solving problems in class. The format isn't as restrictive as it might seem at first, a lot of students find that it actually helps them organize their thoughts and get started on a problem that seemed incomprehensible at first.

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