Tuesday, December 1, 2009

How to solve a homework problem in NATS 102

Since I have so many students who cannot seem to solve a problem to save their necks I figured writing about ways to help them would be a good starting place for writing. I am not saying any of my students are not capable of solving problems but they certainly don't know how and even with help quickly revert to their "IDK" ways.


Q. In a paragraph, describe what is meant by a "main sequence” star. Be sure to include how such stars are arranged in the H-R Diagram and also describe the process all main sequence stars use to generate energy. 

The first thing I would do is read the entire question and ask myself what is it asking. This may seem incredibly basic but when you actually read all of the words its amazing how clear things can be. This will not solve all problems but 80% of them stem from not reading the entire question.

In the example, I would break the information down into this list of things:
1) I will be writing a paragraph, which means 4-6 sentences to explain my answer
2) Describe what it means to be a main sequence star, this means define it. I may have to lookup in my notes what this is. I can also use my online tutorials to help answer this question.
3) I know the instructor at minimum wants to see the following in my answer, where are main sequence stars on an HR Diagram, how do stars generate energy on the main sequence
4) There are new terms that the instructor told us to use, I would define them. An HR diagram is... Stars generate energy from fusion and on the main sequence it is specifically Hydrogen fusion.
5) I would talk about other things that are important about the main sequence and the HR diagram, How long are stars on the main sequence, how many stars are on the main sequence, what is so important about the main sequence, what relationships do stars on the main sequence have with their properties? I came up with these topics using the lecture notes and the information that is printed on the HR diagram given in the assignment. I see radius, mass, luminosity, temperature, spectral type, magnitude, etc written, so I must assume these are important.

The next step is to take the information you wrote to answer the bullets that you pulled out of the instructors question and mix it together to form a paragraph. Put similar things together. Introduce the whole problem beginning with what is an HR diagram and how are stars situated on it. Then describe where the main sequence is and what is important about it.

The last step is the following:
1) Did you write an answer that satisfies the instructors length requirement?
2) Did you write complete sentences?
3) Did you spell check and grammar check?
4) Did all of your sentences relate to the concepts asked about?
5) Could someone who is not taking this class understand what what you wrote and think its a clear answer?
6) Reread your answer and double check that it makes sense.

If you did all of that then you have a good chance of getting full credit on any assignment. If anything you are beginning to write completely and logically and will receive partial credit. Instructors want to know what you are thinking and you cannot explain what is in your head in a few partial phrases with poor spelling.

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