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Special Topics: How do Things Work?


Most courses are designed to transmit knowledge to the student on a particular subject with continuity from start to finish, using a text where the student can highlight “important” things with their yellow highlighter.  Of course there has to be memorization for the tests.  This course is none of the above.

The real world does not work like a course.  “Knowledge” and information are free on the Internet so knowing something from a course doesn’t get you anywhere (or get you a job).  Life does not go from A to B in a straight line, nor does it stay on the same subject.   What does work in life is to think and figure things out¾no matter what the subject¾to come up with new ideas.

The “idea” of this course is to talk about a wide range of everyday subjects and have the students think about how things work or don’t work.  The subjects being discussed are not relevant, but thinking about them is.  Can one succeed in getting students to practice thinking and not just memorization?  We will try.

Subjects covered will include heat, energy, refrigeration (including how to get refrigeration from a flame), engines, motors, generators, GPS, relativity, optics, education, business, and of course the playground swing.  Some things will be easy to figure out, but others will be hard.  Some student “volunteers” will get the chance to tell us how some things work.  And we will tear some real things apart to get a feel for how they work.




Upper-division standing. Students must have a cumulative 3.0 for the proceeding 3 quarter(s).