Friday, 3 November 2006

S103: The second mailing arrives

The second mailing arrives - which is always an exciting time! A big cardboard box with a load more books, the experimental kit and some notes and stuff.

As mentioned in the previous article, I'd had to wait for this mailing before I could continue as the rock kit is required for one of the exercises in block 3.

One nice thing in this block is how thin some of the books are. Book 5 for instance is so thin it doesn't even have the title printed on the spine. There is a certain amount of relief with this discovery. However after experience with the blocks, you find that sometimes the shortest blocks have the longest experiments or DVD exercises.

This mailing takes us all the way up to block 8, and with it arrives the question for TMA-4, 5 and 6. Its best not to look at these to early as they often look impossible before you start the blocks.

Anyway, no excuse now, onwards

S103: Block 3 - The Earth and its place in the Universe, TMA-3

Block 3 is a bit of a strange block in this course. Its called "The Earth and its place in the Universe" The overall theme of the whole course is "Taking the world apart and then putting it back together". I'm not too sure how much the theme helps, and how much it constrains some of the topics.

Anyway, block 3 starts with some astronomy, and where we are in the universe. Then it moves onto newtons laws of motion, which are I suppose vaguely related. It then goes into volcanoes, plate tectonics and the rock cycle. You kind of get the feeling a number of bases had to be covered and two or three books have been condensed and glued together. The text is fine and very readable, and no jumps so its not a cut and paste job, but the swift change of subjects does feel a little odd for one book.

Book 3 also introduces the practical kit which arrives at about this time, although I had to wait a while as I was a couple of weeks ahead of schedule at this point. It has a collection of rock samples, a set of fossils and some other bits and pieces to be used in experiments later. One of the exercises is to identify the rocks with help of the notes. This is very similar to one of the lab sessions in SXR103.

The TMA for this one is not too bad.
The first question involves working out orbital periods, and involves drawing another graph. Its basically getting you derive Keplers laws. There were a few who stumbled on this one based on some of the forum comments. Its one thing to draw a graph, its another skill to use a graph to work out a value, or even to realise you can use a graph in this way.

The next question is about earthquakes, and you have to draw a cross section of the crust and fill in lots of details. Its not too bad but took be about 5 goes to get an appropriate scale to fill the page. I also resorted to colour to show the different structures.

Finally the 3rd question looks at magnetic survey data and gets you to work out the plate drift rate.

Wednesday, 1 November 2006

S103: Block 2 - A termperate Earth?, TMA-2

Its on to block 2 - which is mostly about temperatures and climates and some of the science behind it. It looks a lot at global warming and the evidence, but doesn't go into too much detail - they are still breaking you in at this point, teaching you about notation, how to do powers of 10 and so on.

TMA-2 is all about temperatures. In question one you have to calculate some 7-year mean averages, add some extra points to a printed graph and do some explaining.

Question 2 requires plotting a histogram of some data given about temperatures. Then from this data you have to work out what sort of rainfall would be expected in a given month, and then convert the answer into SI units.

Question 3 and its a small essay on the effects of global warming on flooding in 300 words (max of 350) - it gives you quite a lot of help specifying what should and shouldn't be included, and a diagram is required. You have to draw such diagrams by hand, which I've argued with the powers that be at the university a couple of times. I don't like doing them - partly cos I'm a rubbish drawer, but mostly because it means my report is scattered around. Most of it is word processed, and then I have to leave a gap and fill it in later. I usually return to the TMA-s a few times before posting them, and tweak them or correct a spelling - which then means redrawing the diagram again. BAH! Well rules are rules...

Question 4 is about greenhouse gases, you have to explain why greenhouses gases work, and you have to draw a molecule.

Finally - you are asked to explain how you prepared the report and if you think your technique will work for bigger reports. I posted two versions of this - see if you can work out which is the real one!

Answer A

I constructed the answer to question 3 by first writing down the information I remembered from the text in brief sentences. I then added the diagram, and went back to the text to fill out the explanation in more detail. After that I re-read the explanation and reformatted and changed some sentences around so the piece read more logically and in a better order.

I need to read the questions more carefully, but I think this approach works for me and will scale up to larger works.

Answer B

I wrote up a description of the water cycle and how it affects flooding together with some speculation about the effects, the likely impacts and the long-term outlook. I then re-edited it a bit with some additional text, and found I was up against the word limit.

I did some editing and collapsed a few sentences, got quite a succinct answer but there was a lot of detail to get in, and I was still quite close to the maximum 350 words (like within 5).

I then discovered, completely by accident that there was a part b) to this question, and that my answer to part a) had answered most of part b) too. This, by deduction helped me work out what should and shouldn't be in part a) a little more clearly. So I reread part a) more carefully, and then ended up deleting about 2/3 of the original answer as it was now no longer relevant.

I was now well under the word limit, so thought I ought to expand on the answer a bit, and filled it out a bit. It read much better now. Another re-read of the question and I found I'd missed out at least one of the asked for descriptions still, so I went and added that in at the relevant point.

The answer was now approaching the 350 words again by now, so I went back and trimmed the fat, collapsed a few sentences, deleted some bits that seemed extraneous. I went and re-read the question one more time, and this time I thought I'd got it all down pretty much. I was just over the 300 words but under the 350 max. I think I had all the bits that I wanted in, but I felt it was lacking a concluding sentence. So I added one of those in and then looked around to remove some text to make up for that. I decided one of my points could actually be part of the conclusion so moved that around and chopped it around.

Then I decided the first sentence was a bit pants, so rewrote that 3 or 4 times, and then decided it probably wasn't adding much to the whole thing, and deleted it, and squeeze a minor point it made in else where.

Another count and I was around the 310 level, surely there must be 10 words I could delete somewhere. I found a few spurious adjectives that could go, but then some of the sentences sounded a little bit funny, so I rewrote them slightly. I moved a couple of them around, and changed the punctuation a bit. I wasn't convinced it read that much better... but at least now I was at, lets see... 310 words! What the...? By now I'd spent well over an hour on a measly 300 words of description, and I wasn't even in the running for a booker prize!

Frustrated it had taken so long, I decided it was time for bed, and saved the document. Stumped off to the stairs, and then thought better and went back and saved the document to my pen drive, thinking I would be more than a little peeved if I lost the document at this stage.

Later, I got my wife to read it, she made some good comments, and I changed a few of the sentences around, and ended up with almost exactly 300 words.