About Exploratorials

What are Exploratorials?

Exploratorials are 2-hours sessions held every second week in your laboratory timeslot. They combine practical activities with tutorial type problem solving. They also involve prework and postwork. These sessions aim to cross the boundaries among lectures, tutorials and labs.

However abstract parts of it may seem, physics is about the world. Sometimes people have difficulty integrating the experimental, theoretical and numerical aspects because of they way they are taught: "A lecture is where you learn the theory. A tutorial is where you learn to manipulate the equations. A lab is where you measure things."

In these sessions, our aim is to integrate observations, experiments, calculations and theory. They aim to offer the insight of a lecture, the student-led analysis of a tutorial and the hands-on measurement of a lab, and will be supported with a range of media.

Exploratorials are designed to:
  • Relate the theory you learn in lectures to the real world as we actually experience it;
  • Help you get a deeper understanding of physical concepts;
  • Learn how to apply the physical concepts you learn in lectures to solve problems;
  • Help you remember the concepts and problem solving skills you learn by using prework and postwork to reinforce learning;
  • Give you practice at solving the sorts of problems you will find in exams.
Usually they will include:
    1. Homework preparation (marked).
    2. Background material on the web.
    3. A *brief* presentation of material by a teacher, using demonstrations and different media.
    4. Class exercises, with a range of difficulty, that combine measurements and 'tutorial type' analysis. (marked)
    5. Extension exercises. These relate this session either to work that will come later in the syllabus or to practical applications.
Are Exploratorials compulsory?

Yes! Exploratorials are compulsory and will be assessed. If you are ill and miss an exploratorial you must present a doctor's certificate as soon as you return to University or you will miss out on the marks for that exploratorial.

How do I do an exploratorial?
  • Check the Exploratorial Schedule so that you know when you are due to do an exploratorial.
  • Look at the documentation for the exploratorial WELL BEFORE it is due to be done - there is prework!
  • The documentation will tell you what you need to do and when.

The exploratorial consists of 3 parts: Prework, Class work and Postwork.

1. Prework
  • Must be done before you come to class.
  • Is mostly web-based, involving activities such as reading, web quizes, and solving tutorial problems.
  • Will include one problem that you must solve and bring to class for marking by your tutor.
  • Provides an introduction to the concepts explored in class work, making sure you get the maximum learning efficiency for the time you spend in class. (You will be particularly appreciative of the value of doing this the night before the exam!)
  • Worth 10 marks towards your exploratorial mark out of 30.
2. Class Work
  • Print out the exploratorial worksheet and bring it to class with you.
  • Turn up on time - marks will be deducted for lateness.
  • Pay close attention to the introduction given by your tutor.
  • Work in groups of 4 to complete the practical activities and solve the problems.
  • Watch out for Mars Bar questions - these can lead to tasty results!
  • Write all answers on your worksheets.
  • Pay close attention to the debriefing at the end of the exploratorial and be prepared to share some of your answers.
  • Get your worksheets marked by your tutor.
  • Class work is worth 10 marks towards your exploratorial mark out of 30.
3. Postwork
  • Web-based.
  • Consists of problems to solve with the concepts and skills you have learned.
  • Includes sample exam questions.
  • Must be done in the same week as the exploratorial.
  • Helps cement the learning you have acquired (see below for more information).
  • Worth 10 marks towards your exploratorial mark out of 30.
Do I have to do the prework and postwork by myself?

Yes, everyone has to submit their own prework and postwork, and it must be your own work.

However, you may discuss the prework and postwork with other students.

The prework and postwork activities are mostly web-based. We are very happy for you to work in groups to discuss these activities because many people learn most effectively when they work in this way. People who are struggling with concepts often find that an explanation from a friend can provide that extra bit of understanding needed to grasp a concept. For those who are mostly "getting it", the best way to really learn something is to teach it to someone else - it forces you to clarify the concept in your mind and leads to much deeper understanding. So, everyone wins.

BUT (and there is always a but)
  • Do not get your friends to do your pre and post work for you. You will not learn anything this way.
  • The exploratorials are what we call "formative" assessment. You get some of your marks for attempting the problems - not just for getting the right answer. We want you to do the work we have set because we know that it will help you to learn the physical concepts (and as a happy side-effect help you pass the exam).
  • You must pass the exam to pass this course. You will not pass the exam if your friends have done the questions for you.
  • See below for why fully participating in the exploratorials will help you to learn physics (i.e. understand the secret workings of the Universe), and allow "us" to know that you have learned physics (i.e. you will pass the exam).

Why exploratorials (or, how do we learn things)?

For those of you who are not into reading about the theory of learning - take my word for it, participating enthusiastically in the exploratorials will help you both learn physics and pass the exam.

For those of you who are interested, read on to find out why.

How do we learn?

We don't know the exact answer to this, and different people learn in different ways, but there are some things that can make learning more effective.

We have all had the experience of sitting in a lecture and feeling that we have understood every word, and yet later finding that we can't remember what was said, or that we can't do the tutorial problems despite our brilliant understanding of what was said in the lecture.

There are two reasons for this, both of which are addressed by the exploratorials.

Firstly, the more times we see a concept the deeper it is etched in our memory. If we only see something once, although we may understand it well when we first come across it, the concept will not become part of our "long-term" memory unless we see it again, and pretty quickly. Our teachers at school understand this, and after they introduce a concept they will get us to do problems in class, and also set us homework questions involving the same concept. At university we have to take the responsibility for transferring lecture material into our long-term memory on ourselves, by revising lecture material and doing problems associated with the material. The exploratorials help you to do this. In doing the prework, the class work and the postwork, you are seeing the same material many times, and are transferring it to your long-term memory.

Secondly, to really learn something and be able to apply your new learing to solving problems you need to place it into the context of what you already know - you need to link the new knowledge to what you already know about how things work. The exploratorials assist you to do this by using practical activities to link the esoteric concepts you learn in the lecture theatre to your knowledge of how the real Universe works - the one you live in every day and experience intimately.

[About Exploratorials] [The Catalogue] [Resources] [Contact Us]
© 2004 School of Physics University of NSW Sydney Australia
Last Updated 14th August 2004