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Syllabus: Thermodynamics, The Physics of Heat and Power, with Mr. Miller

This form must be signed by your parent/guardian and returned to Mr. Miller tomorrow.

Name: ___________________

Heat is an essential and integral element of our world. It is everywhere in our surroundings: in the ground, in the air, in various parts and functions of our body; it makes rocks and icebergs crack; it makes rain possible; it is required for all life.  From ancient ages, people have tried to make purposeful use of heat. To keep warm has always been a necessary for survival, so throughout history in all regions of the world people have come up with ways to achieve warmth. Even in the northern icy regions houses are built of ice to protect against cold!

Soon, people discovered that food is easier to digest and tastier when cooked on fire. This “harnessing” of fire continues to this day, when vehicles of all kind move through the land, in the air and into the space utilizing engines that take advantage of heat for their propulsion.  Human’s use of heat technologies has fundamentally altered not only the way the whole human race lives, but has also changed the face of the entire planet, including its climate.

The goal of this block will be to get familiar with heat itself, to study its properties and then understand the workings of applications that use heat as the driving energy, with a focus on environmental aspects.  This block will also serve as an introduction to physics and the scientific method.  Some of the topics we include: temperature, linear expansion, heat transfer, specific heat, latent heat, calories, phase changes, 1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics, Boyle’s Law, absolute temperature, pressure, expansion of gasses, alternative energies, the refrigerator, and the steam and combustion engines.

The focus of this class will be experiential and experimental.  Emphasis will be placed on detailed observations and exact imaginations of observed phenomena, and their associated concepts.

On Experiments:

Our fundamental mode of study will be through observing and understanding laboratory demonstrations or experiments. Although laboratory experiments set up situations that are seldom found in the real world, they are designed to isolate a specific aspect of the subject of study and therefore make it possible to recognize a certain property standing alone by itself, and therefore reduce confusion. But once that specific property is recognized and understood, it has to be put back in the context of the whole phenomenon in order to make sense!

As a student of science, it is your task to take very clear notes of the experiment or demonstration and create illustrations that further clarify your notes. These notes will be the basis for your writeups.  There is a golden rule about your writeups which states: the experiment must be documented so clearly that anyone who has never seen or heard of that experiment will be able to understand and reproduce it with success. There are seven parts to documenting an experiment:

1) Title
2) Introduction and Purpose
3) Materials
4) Procedure
5) Observations and Data (including charts and graphs)
6) Analysis (including notes from in-class discussion)
7) Conclusions

Each of these parts must be written separately and be clearly distinguished from other parts.  See the “How to Write Up a Lab” handout on for more detailed information.

It is crucial to keep the parts strictly apart. The distinction between them might be one of the main challenges of this block. The main lesson book will be evaluated for this distinction.

The sequence of the day:
The lesson begins with a recall of the last day’s experiment(s) and demo(s). This will lead into an interactive discussion of the experiment where we will arrive at conclusions. In the second part of the lesson, a new experiment(s) or demonstration(s) is introduced, which will be discussed the following day.  You are expected to take notes throughout the lesson.  These will become the basis for your studying as well as for most of your main lesson book.

Homework and the Main Lesson Book:

You are required to check the class website ( every day for homework instructions, which will also be given in class.  Therefore it is critical that you have consistent web-access, as the website will be your main resource for the block, with readings, lab instructions, and all other relevant material, including links to other sites with required or suggested information.  If you do not have web access at home you will need to check the website before you leave from school for the day, and if any readings are assigned on the website you will either need to read them online or print them out to take home.

Homework this block will consist of: formal lab write-ups for selected in-class experiments, worksheets, readings (either handouts or on the website), occasional other activities as assigned, and your alternative energy research project and presentation. You are expected to spend about an hour to an hour and a half every night working on homework specifically for this class.

Your main lesson book will mostly contain assigned lab write-ups (2-5 per week, depending upon their complexity), but should also contain all your worksheets in a separate appendix, your quizzes in another appendix, and your in-class notes in a final appendix.  I request that labs be typed (although if this is a problem for you talk to me) – this allows you to give me drafts that can be easily and quickly edited, even emailed to me.  Every lab will need at least one, and usually multiple drawings – well labeled – showing important parts of the experiment.  These must be hand-drawn; no computer graphics are allowed.  Other artistic enhancements are encouraged if they help to clarify your presentation, but emphasis is on the clarity of your understanding and ability to faithfully represent the important aspects of each experiment.

Research Project:
A portion of your daily homework time will be spent on a group scientific research project dealing with alternative energy.  In groups of three, you will be research the scientific details behind one of the following: Solar power, Tidal power, Wind power, Nuclear power, Geothermal power, Biomass energy, or Hydroelectric power.  Your task as a group will be to write a research paper attempting to convince the citizens and government of Oregon to adopt your energy source for a hypothetical new green energy initiative to provide power to the state.  Then, using visual aids and other methods to communicate your proposal, you will present your case to the class, who will act as informed, concerned citizens, asking critical questions about your proposal.  A vote will be taken at the end to determine the most viable new energy option.

If You Need Help:
Everyone at some point will need help or clarification during this block.  When your turn comes, either raise your hand during class and ask your question when called upon, or seek me directly after class.  I will always be available during break if you ask me to stay. You can also ask other students if you feel they are reliable.  It is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to seek help when you need it, either during class or outside of it.  You can request an appointment to meet privately with me before school for additional help if needed; if I am available (I usually am), I will gladly help you!  Additionally, feel free to email me at with your questions, and make sure you utilize the resources available to you on the website for just this purpose.

Quizzes and Exams:
There will be about one quiz per week, and a Final Exam near the end of the block.  Questions will be taken from worksheets, handouts, individual experiments, and from any of the sections of a hypothetically complete formal lab write-up (questions about: the purpose of the lab, the materials used, the setup or procedure carried out, observations you made, and conclusions made in class discussions).  In this block, emphasis will be placed upon the observations and conclusions sections.  Study and prepare accordingly!

Late Work:
It is your responsibility to pay attention to the due dates for assignments, including main lesson book entries/checks, worksheets, etc.  These are always listed on the website.  If you turn in an assignment after the due date, you will be graded down 5% for every day that it is late.

10% - MLB Checks and Worksheets
15% - Class Participation (including labs), Attendance
15% - Final Exam
20% - Quizzes
20% - Main Lesson Book (lab write-ups)
20% - Research paper and presentation

I have read and understand the expectations for this block:

Parent/Guardian Signature: ____________________________

Printed Name:  ______________________________________