Freshman Course Sequence

Compass’s freshman course sequence is an extension of the summer program into a student’s first year, although the summer program is not a pre-requisite. These are a great set of classes to bring students considering a major in the physical sciences into a strong community of peers and give them a sense of what it’s like to do research in physics, astronomy, or earth and planetary science. These courses are also a good complement to traditional introductory physics courses, which focus more on content than on how to think like a practicing scientist.

The fall course, Introduction to Modeling, focuses on the skill of model-building: taking a complicated physical system and creating a simple, predictive description of that system that can be used to answer questions about it.  The spring course, Introduction to Measurement, focuses on how to make good scientific measurements, how to concretely quantify measurement errors, and how to understand those errors and the system being measured to improve future experiments. Both of these courses are taught the Compass way, with group work, self-discovery, lots of peer interaction and collaboration, and no lectures. Both classes also include final projects designed to give students the opportunity to work with an interesting physical system of their own choosing in a research-like environment, and to practice important scientific communication skills, like writing papers, giving talks, and presenting posters.

In addition to cool science, both courses also include discussions of study skills, models of learning, interpretation of grades, and self-evaluation, all of which are designed to help students be better students.  Questions addressed include:

  • How do different people learn, and what can I do to improve my learning environment?
  • What do grades measure, and what other effects contribute to those measurements?
  • Are there better ways to measure my own learning besides looking at my grades?
  • What skills do I need in order to succeed in college, and how can I develop them?

Both the fall and spring courses are two-credit, pass/not pass courses. As for the time commitment, students can expect two hours of class each week (usually on Tuesday evenings) and no more than three hours of homework each week (we will keep homework at a reasonable level). Instructors provide feedback on final projects and other aspects of classroom activities as the semester progresses.