The objective of this course is to apply thermodynamic principles to understanding water in all of its manifestations in the atmosphere and ocean, and to understand its role in the Earth's climate system. The goal of the course is to provide a broad conceptual framework for understanding the thermodyamics of oceans and atmospheres, so students have the foundation for further learning on the topic and the basis for integrating this topic into other subject areas that they are learning about.
The subject matter of the course matches closely the material in the text Thermodynamics of Atmospheres and Oceans. Students are expected to read the assigned material before class. Less than half of the class time is used for lecturing, and no attempt is made in the lectures to go over all of this material in detail. I use a "pro-active learning" approach to teaching that integrates conceptual and operational, knowledge. This approach emphasizes using class time for quizzes, problem-solving, discussions, and web-based explorations. Students typically work in small groups during these classroom activities.
Because of the technical nature of the class, students need to spend a significant amount of time outside of class working through the equations and physical principles so that they can learn the material. I typically give 9 homework assignments during the semester. The philosophy behind the homework assignments is not to test the ability of students to solve obscure problems, but rather to reinforce the principles taught in class and give some examples of applications of the material. The homeworks are designed so that most of the students in the class should be able to successfully complete a homework assignment in 3-4 hours with a minimum amount of outside help. I encourage students to work in groups on their homeworks; students can learn a lot from each other. Students can get extra credit for doing additional homework problems.
My motivation for giving tests goes beyond evaluating the students. Students need to integrate the material from the course as a whole, not just respond to each lecture or each homework assignment as it comes. Studying for the test largely accomplishes this integration, by looking over and integrating the past material; it also reinforces their long-term memory for the material. For the test itself, I attempt to test the student's ability to integrate the concepts from the course (leave your calculators at home on test day). I never give in-class open-book exams because there is the tendency for the student to adopt the "recipe" approach rather than to understand the material.
A term project is required for the course. Depending on the student's interest, this project may be a library research paper or a small-scale original research project. About 50% of the past students in this class have done a research project. I view this project to be important for a several reasons. First, the students are able to use the background that they have gained from the course to delve deeply into a topic, allowing them to get some depth in a specific area. More importantly, the process of doing the project helps students "learn how to learn" on their own, and gets them immersed in the primary literature. I think that students need to develop experience in formulating their own research problems and questions to address, before they attempt to identify a Ph.D. thesis topic. Students also need as much experience as possible in technical writing.
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