Core 160 - Natural World Perspective / GC seminar

Energy and Environment

Syllabus, Fall term, 2021(-2022)

Here is the catalog description of our course.

Humankind has built an amazing civilization on planet Earth by exploiting fossil fuels. Now we confront challenges such as climate change, the limits of oil extraction, and our impact on other species. An understanding of physics, particularly of energy, is key to identifying promising solutions. A Goshen Seminar and Natural World course in the Goshen Core. Prerequisities: CORE 110 or equivalent, quantitative literacy.
But a shorter way to put it is...

The goal of this course is to use energy as a way to think together about the relationship of humans to our environment on planet Earth.
  • energy: a central--maybe *the* central--concept of physics. Some related concepts include "work", power, and the various forms of energy (gravitational, kinetic, chemical, and more...) This is a Natural World Perspective course. Many people view science as a collection of *facts*. But we will see that it is more useful to think of science as a *process* for evaluating "guesses" (hypotheses or theories) about how the physical world works.

  • think together: We will use writing as a tool for learning, for thinking, for discovering your own voice, and for advancing conversations about the environment and other important issues. This course is a GC Seminar: The second writing-focussed course in the the GC Core curriculum. A major focus of the class is writing and revising a research paper. See the project page for more.

  • the relationship of humans to the environment: Each GC seminar revolves around a larger cross disciplinary question or theme. This one has theological, biological, commercial, physical, spiritual, and psychological aspects, to name a few.

You have had at least one college-level writing course (CORE 110 or equivalent). This course builds on that to enhance your writing and communication skills.

You have attained at least algebra-level math skills (Quantitative literacy requirement). This course builds on those to enhance your numerical and analytical skills.

Welcome to the course. I hope that through our opening exercise you start to see writing as an important means of learning...even in a physics course!

I've composed this syllabus as an agreement between us and a means of keeping us on task. I may need to change parts of it as need arises, but will strive to be fair. I expect you to hold me to its terms, as I hold you accountable to its terms.

Unlike a math problem with a definite answer, writing is never finished and done. I see myself on the same journey as you towards better writing. We writers must work to strengthen all aspects of the writing process--brainstorming, drafting, rewriting, copy-editing...

I will work hard to have all students meet these goals:

  1. Be able to identify energy transformations and be able to use energy conservation in calculations.
  2. Be able to put numbers in context with units, by making comparisons, identifying common reference amounts.
  3. Identify terms, components and stages of the writing process: freewriting, drafting, re-writing, copy editing
  4. Develop your curiousity and find no shortage of topics to write about.
  5. Connect writing with real world problems, and enable you to take part in discussions and contribute your insights and perspectives to conversations on issues that matter.
  6. Acknowledge the social aspects of writing: the need for giving and receiving feedback.
  7. Increase your independence as a writer, gaining in the ability to organize your own writing project and solicit specific feedback.

I want a certain amount of freedom to respond to everyone's writing and so the schedule is a guideline, not a precise map. By the same token, you should bring up issues as needed whether they're laid out in the schedule or not.

We learn a lot about writing by looking at each other's writing. So, except for writing of a personal nature, I will assume your permission to share your work (without identification) with the rest of the class. I want to respect your privacy. Please mark passages pre-emptively that you would not want shared if you have any hesitation. When I have help from writing assistants to give you feedback, I ask them not to share about what you write except with me and with the other assistants.

Quality writing is not something you can force. But we know for certain that if there is no writing, that no quality writing will happen! So, we will write frequently and regularly, and I will endeavor to organize plenty of feedback. Gary Shafer's philosophy is worth quoting:

Good Writing is "accidental". It makes sense that writers--people who write and count words--produce the most good writing. They work hard at it daily and thus bring about the most "accidents".

Grading vs. Assessing

Just like a baseball team, writers need to train hard, regularly, and receive feedback on their training. But there is no score for training, only for the games.

I am choosing to assess (give feedback and offer reactions) more, and grade less. My hope is that student writers can play with writing in constructive ways more often, and that I can offer more in the way of feedback, if we forget about grading during the "training" period. The grading will also come, but only once, and at the very end. That's what we'll be training for.

Of course, that doesn't mean the training is easy. But if you work really, really hard on the tasks assigned in this course, I will assure you of a final grade of a B.

This contract for a B has been inspired by Gary Hafer, inspired in turn by ideas of Peter Elbow and Jane Danielewicz who liken this approach to an informal "home studio": An artist offers to those who would learn encouragement, and evaluative feedback, pointing out areas for improvement, but doesn't put a grade on a painting. Copious sketches are a means for arriving at inspiration for the final canvas, but are not graded. But a beautiful canvas is unlikely to emerge without a preceding sketchbook.

The contract for a B

So, to be clear about my expectations of what it means to work hard at the material of this course:

  1. Get ready. Read the assigned readings ahead of time. Go beyond skimming and pass it through your mental digestive tract before class.
  2. Practice. You should count on completing 90% of the writing assignments and lab reports with good faith effort. By good faith effort, I mean that you not only wrote something for an assignment, but that you read the instructions for each assignment and wrote something that was asked for. Though what finally counts for a 'B' will be the sum of (% practice) + (% quizzes & exams), which has to be above 150.

    There are assignments leading up to the final paper which are mandatory to keep the contract (including, for example, drafts). I will designate these with double asterisks (**) in Moodle. You must complete all the mandatory assignments, without exception. Those assignments are:

    • Annotated Bibliography**
    • First draft** of your research paper
    • Conference with Paul over your first draft**
    • Final draft**
  3. Peer feedback. You must be able to speak and write observations of work that is read aloud from others. Take an active role in small group discussions. Take notes on your own work when it's your turn to receive comments. File these in your work folder (which might be an online folder, or a physical folder).

    The same goes for quantitative assignments. You should be able to participate in a discussion, and take ownership in group decisions about improving quantitative work.

  4. Competence evidenced on quizzes and exams. Study the material assigned for quizzes and exams. You should count on averaging 70% or better on quizzes and exams. Though what finally counts for a 'B' will be the sum of (% practice) + (% quizzes & exams), which has to be above 150.
  5. Prolific, unstructured writing. I expect you to be able spew words onto the page any time you're conscious, both in and outside of class. You will typically have several short writing assignments each week. There will also be the longer paper and assignments specifically leading up to that.

    by Teun Hocks

    The idea of unstructured writing is to do a "brain dump". Write as continuously as possible, without pausing. The point is to dump your brain into words.You need not spend time going back to correct or re-write or erase. If you can't think of what else to write, it's OK to write, "I can't think of anything to write" for a while, until you get tired of that.

  6. Structuring what you have written. I expect you to be able to make good faith improvements to your unstructured writing through re-writing, editing, coming up with titles and first lines, and using organization at the paragraph and heading levels, and incorporating feedback.
  7. Rewriting. I expect you to be able to re-write at will. By re-writing I mean incremental improvements: Identifying key sentences for improvement, generating options for consideration, and then choosing the best among the options. [Ponsot and Deen make a distinction between this kind of re-writing and revising, by which they mean a more wholesale re-consideration of a piece of writing. We will frequently work on re-writing, but probably not at all on "revising"--or starting over. Though you may need to do it in your own work at some point.]

    Re-writing and structuring would typically account for 50-80% of the time you put in on a draft.

  8. Polishing. Second draft pieces, and the final draft should be copy-edited and proofread. By copy-editing I mean tidying up the spelling, grammar, capitalization, etc, and checking the facts. By proofreading I mean a final read through for formatting and checklists.

    *Everyone* should visit the writing center or consult with a friend whose writing you respect. But don't expect them to be able to do it as rigorously as you can for yourself.

    First drafts do not need to be polished: The effort would be partly wasted, because you will be re-writing and making other changes based on feedback received.

  9. Deadlines. Often the point of an assignment is to have worked something up to the point where we can productively discuss it in class with each other. Take deadlines seriously. To receive full credit for your work, hand it in on time.

    Take deadlines seriously, however realize that in College, if you communicate special circumstances ahead of time to your professor, deadlines can sometimes be flexible.

  10. Absences.
    [Come to class,] seriously, unless you are half-dead!.

    Don't miss more than three hours of class. You don't need to give me any excuse for missing up to three hours. (Though a brief e-mail ahead of time if you know you'll be gone would be nice). Beyond three, I will start to wonder whether you are having health / psychological / relationship problems and will initiate a discussion with you to see what the problem is. You will need a note from someone else (doctor, coach, therapist,...) justifying your absence to avoid breaking the contract. You are still responsible for any learnings from the days you missed.

  11. Self-accountability. Keep track of whether you're staying up with this contract. This includes completing any self evaluations as we go along.


This is likely a different structure than most classes you have taken. But some advantages...

  • A goal of this contract is to make a B available to any student, irregardless of your "skill" at writing coming into this class, or what your past experiences of writing have been.
  • The emphasis of this contract is on your effort. No attempt is made to judge the quality of your work. Your work should show evidence of a mind at work, trying out changes, making deliberate choices in re-writing.

A, A-, B, B+

A "B" grade is obtained by completing tasks and preparing for quizzes and exams. Higher grades depend on going beyond this, and producing excellent work.

For a B, you do not have to worry about my judgements or standards of quality. But we will have sessions in which we try to jointly identify excellent writing and approach it.

Actually, as you become a more self-conscious writer--choosing your own style, and paying attention to your own voice--you should find yourself increasingly pursuing an internal sense of excellence that may or may not parallel my standards. Every voice can light up, and is valuable. There is no single correct way of writing. Still, all writers benefit from hearing reactions from others. A self conscious writer will not simply accept all suggestions, but, as in re-writing, will choose what seem the best options for her among the choices generated.

The quality of the final draft of the final paper will play the biggest role in deciding on excellent grades, that is, grades above a "B".

Bloom's hierarchyPhysics courses have a reputation for being 'hard'. Perhaps two factors that go into this are...

  • Physics uses everyday words (for example 'work') to talk about concepts that have a much more precise meaning than their everyday use would suggest.
  • 'Remembering' is at the bottom of Bloom's cognitive domain scheme (right). But the phenomena of physics (like balls falling, whether you can push around your older brother who weighs twice as much as you do...) are all around us and we don't need to spend much effort remembering them. What we call 'Physics' starts perhaps at the level above. The upper levels of Bloom's domain are sometimes referred to as 'critical thinking' skills, which do turn out to be terribly useful in just about any endeavour.


Professor Paul Meyer Reimer
Sci 011   ·   +1.574.535.7318 (ofc)   ·   +1.574.312.3395 (cell)

I will not have fixed office hours. You are welcome to stop by my office (SC 011) anytime! If you are off campus and want to make sure to come to campusYou may e-mail or text me to make a time to get together--either in my office or by Zoom at these days. And you are welcome to stop by my office (SC 011) anytime.

Do not worry that you're "bothering me" when you stop by! Every time a student stops by it makes a good impression on me, and I think "Oh, they are taking charge of their own learning, and are taking the class seriously!".

Contributions to class material (particular laboratory) come from Prof. Carl Helrich and past laboratory assistants.


You can find the syllabus, class notes, and other materials related to this course on the web at:  (Open in Safari, then "Add to Homescreen" or "Add Bookmark")

Grades and other items will be available on moodle.

I use your "" e-mail address for many class communications. Read your e-mail daily for class resources and announcements.

Course materials

All of these are required unless otherwise noted.

  • Writing supplies: Keep a "daybook" or journal for class notes. Note in there questions that arise for you. Also bring paper to class every day. You can accomplish all these goals with a cheap but standard-size paper notebook. At right: 1 subject notebook, 70 pages, \$1 from Dollar General, and the spiral binding doubles as a pen holder!!.

    You'll also use write using digital tools. For writing that you hand in via Moodle, I suggest composing in Google Docs or MS-Word, and then pasting text in to Moodle. This will make it easiest for us to comment and give feedback in-line. I may occasionally ask you to submit in other formats.

    Do keep copies of what you've submitted online. You will re-write some of these pieces after they are first written.

  • A ruler: Minimum of 6" or 30 cm long. At least one side should be marked in centimeters and subdivided into millimeters. (It doesn't have to have inches.)
  • Textbook: Art Hobson, Physics: Concepts and Connections, 4th edition (2005). The physics department has purchased used copies of this worthy textbook for our class. I will collect a deposit of \$8 each when distributing copies at the beginning of the term and return \$5 at the end of the term if you turn it in. The difference covers buying more used copies, and copying/copyright costs.
  • Writing handbook (1 choice of several required): Diana Hacker, A Pocket Style Manual 5th edition (2009) or newer.
  • NYTimes subscription - Instructions from the Good Library
  • Lab supplies: You will be taking lab notes on your iPads, and eventually handing in lab reports in the form of pdfs. Nevertheless, you should bring paper and pencils to "lab" classes. It may be more convenient to sketch things out on paper and then take a snapshot, rather than doing *everything* directly on the iPad.
  • iPad: You should bring your iPads to every class. But I expect them routinely to be closed unless called for.

    These apps are optional, but potentially useful:

    • Google Drive
    • Wolfram Alpha (GC App Store)
    • Notability (GC App Store) - REQUIRED
    • QR code reader
    Paid apps are available to GC-registered iPads if you go to the GC App Catalog | Purchased section. You should also make sure that you have some sort of "scientific" calculator (graphing calculator not required)--a real one or an iPad app.


    Class procedures and process

    Class: Most of the time we'll meet in the classroom listed in the Registrar's course list. Sometimes we will go down to SC 001 or SC 008 for experiments / lab activities.

    Participation: Bring your notebook and writing instruments and iPad to every class. Many classes will involve an individual or group written response or calculations or quick internet research. Some of these you will hand in. Work that was done in class cannot be made up if you miss class.


    A portion of each exam will be drawn directly from the concept checks, as well as the suggested conceptual exercises in Hobson, both those handed in as well as those not handed in.

    This is a 3 credit hour course. In order to receive an average grade, you should expect to spend 2-3 hours outside of class for every hour in class.

    Labs: We will do some lab activities. I'll announce ahead of time when we need to meet outside our regular classroom for these. Sometimes we'll be in SC 001 and sometimes SC 008. Just like homework, some of the lab activities will need to be worked on outside of regular class periods. Some lab tips:

    • Write things down in pencil and bring an eraser!

    • Check your results and graphs with your lab assistant before dis-assembling your equipment.

    Exams: Exam dates will be published on the class schedule. Make up exams are not possible unless prior arrangements are made, or you have, for example, a medical problem come up that is documented by a healthcare provider treating you.


    In Fall 2009 I asked the students who improved by more than 10% between the first and second exam what they did the second time. Some of their responses:

    Study with a friend

    "I studied with a friend."

    "A friend and I split up the studying. I wrote out the conceptual exercises, another wrote out notes from each chapter."

    Time spent studying

    "I spent more time studying for this class."

    "The play was over and I had so much more time."

    "I studied about 3 hours more this time..."

    Working problems

    "I went through all of the odd questions [these have answers in the back of the book] in the chapters that the test covered. This helped me work on problem solving rather than just memorizing facts."

    "I made sure I had a grasp on every sample problem."

    "The most helpful thing was doing the concept review questions."

    It seems like the traditional way that people think they ought to study is by re-reading material. But there is research that indicates that pulling out a piece of paper and writing something down--whether it's a concept map of related concepts, the solution to a problem, or bulleted lists of topics within a theme--is *far* more effective than simply reading and re-reading study materials.

    Schedule & Topics

    30 August - 3 September

    Monday 30
    2:00 pm @ SC 107 first day of our class

    6 September - 10 September

    Monday 6
    Labor Day (no classes)

    13 September - 17 September
    • Writing: General vs specific
    • Paragraphs (W)
    20 September - 24 September

    Wednesday 22
    Community Engagement Day (OC) - no class

    27 September - 1 October
    4 October - 8 October

    Friday 8
    OC - Sustainability Cookout

    • Project Drawdown - solutions
    11 October - 15 October
    18 October - 22 October

    Monday 18
    Midterm break through Wed Oct 20

    Friday 22
    Quiz 1 - Chapt 2 / units / our atmosphere

    25 October - 29 October

    Monday 25
    Midterm test

    Wednesday 27
    Fritz Hartman <Course Guide>

    1 November - 5 November

    Friday 5
    Meet at Half-moon by 2:10
    OC - Water rockets on KMY lawn

    8 November - 12 November

    Wednesday 10
    OC - "Wind Power"
    Writing Jam, 7-10 PM, ASC@GoodLibrary

    15 November - 19 November

    Saturday 20
    OC - Goshen Community Orchard fall maintenance

    22 November - 26 November

    Monday 22
    NO CLASS (but, conference.)

    Wednesday 24
    Thanksgiving break through Fri Nov 26

    29 November - 3 December

    Friday 3
    Last day of classes

    • Draft 1 response
    6 December - 10 December

    Monday 6
    Reading day

    Please complete a course evaluation.

    Tuesday 7
    Final exams through Thu Dec 9

    Thursday 9
    8:30, Final Exam in SC 107

    13 December - 17 December

    Writing project

    It's a widely held assumption among post-secondary U.S. teachers that if you are able to explain something in your own words that this is evidence of your understanding of concepts.

    Avoid lingo. For most of the assignments in this class, you should write as if you were explaining things to an interested friend, someone who is generally as well educated as you are (!), but who is not necessarily a specialist in the field you're writing about. You should avoid using lingo that non-specialists would not understand, unless you explain it. There are, however, a number of words that have specialized or narrower definitions in physics than how they are used in common speech--for example 'energy' and 'power'. You should use those words in such a way that would make sense to someone who *does* happen to know physics.

    Quote other people's words. You should protect yourself from the appearance of plagiarism--presenting the words of someone else as if you had written them--by enclosing anything that someone else wrote between quotation marks and acknowledging who *did* write it.

    If you're referring to several different sources, this acknowledgement will get complicated, ranging from a short "(Joe Klein, writing on" to full-blown numbered footnotes and a bibliography. If you're reviewing one article, it's still necessary to quote anything the author wrote, but you don't need to say each time who you're quoting because it's obvious from context.

    But even if you rigorously quote everything that someone else wrote, it is still almost always bad style to use long quotations:

    • The article you're writing about was not written for the particular audience you are writing for. You can usually summarize the key ideas of a passage in fewer, and more appropriate words than the original.
    • It's much easier to just copy and paste someone else's words rather than going to the trouble of understanding them enough to be able to re-state the ideas in your own words. Extended quotations give your audience (including your professor!) the impression that you might not quite understand the passage yourself.

    * Dean's Office statement on plagiarism

    Assignments you submit in this course will be checked (for example, with "Turn-It-In" in Moodle) for plagiarized material copied from the web, other papers, online databases, and other sources. Cases of academic dishonesty are reported to the Associate Dean. Penalties for plagiarism are listed in the college catalog and range from redoing the assignment to dismissal from the college. Plagiarism entails the use of the ideas and/or words of a source without citation. Any borrowing of language (sentences, clauses, or distinct phrases) without the use of quotation marks is also plagiarism.

    I expect to see notes in any work that you hand in about resources you used--other than the textbook or asking me--in figuring out how to solve a problem: A nod to a classmate, a URL for a website you found useful, *even* (especially) if you found a solution to the exact problem or a similar problem online or in some other form.

    Academic Success Center

    The Academic Success Center (ASC) offers tutoring and writing assistance to all students. For individual/group tutoring by appointment, go to For further information please see

    Disability Services for Students

    Goshen College is committed to providing all students equal access to programs and facilities. Students who need accommodations based on disability should contact the Director of the ASC. Students must register with ASC before faculty are required to provide reasonable accommodations. For more information or to register, please contact the Director of the ASC, Judy Weaver, Good Library 112, or 574-535-7560. To ensure that learning needs are met, contact the director of the ASC the first week of classes.


    Writing: I am inspired by, and basing the writing structure of this course on Gary Hafer and Maryellen Weimer's approach laid out in "Embracing Writing".

    Banner images:

    Vía Méndez Anegada, by Huitzil [flash flood in Mexico], Barefoot solar engineer in Tinginapu, India by Abbie Trayler-Smith