What changes did Richard Muller make to his physics class to gain “Best Class on the Berkeley Campus” status?

What changes did Richard Muller make to his physics class to gain "Best Class on the Berkeley Cam… by Richard Muller

Answer by Richard Muller:

Filippenko had a great reputation as a superb lecturer, and as a professor who truly cared about his students. He was also characterized as “entertaining.” But lots of professors are entertaining; that’s not what gets the votes.

I visited him and talked and looked hard at his syllabus. I was astonished. His class was hard. It was full of substance! He covered an enormity of interesting material.

That was the great eye-opener for me. His class was, in fact, far far more interesting than what was previously taught in our qualitative physics course, “Physics 10”. His course was loved because not only was he a great teacher, and someone who cared about his students, but because he actually covered lots of material.

Physics 10, the class I was about to teach, had been informally called “Physics for Poets.” Less attractive were its other names: Physics for Dummies; Physics for Jocks.

Students at Cal want an education. Some may take the easiest classes available, but there is a core of students who really want to learn.

So based on Filippenko’s success, I designed a course that would be loaded with important and fascinating material. I nicknamed it “Physics for Future Presidents.” I excluded anything that was either unimportant or uninteresting. (There was lots left!) I had great flexibility since the course was not a prerequisite for any other; I was just supposed to teach physics for a semester. Other professors had taught about the history of physics, or the scientific method, or great experiments, and the enrollment had dwindled to 50 per semester. I filled the course with substance, and within a few years, I had an enrollment of 500 with a waiting list.

I didn’t want students to pick their class (Astronomy 10 or Physics 10) based on grades, so I set my “curve” to be identical to his. Only 25% of the class could earn the grade of A- or above, in either class. This was not to be an class with an easy grade.

The fourth time I taught it, Filippenko asked me if I would mind if he sat in. He did, for virtually every lecture that semester. I was flattered and honored. He became a good friend.

I always give him credit for setting me on the right path.

What changes did Richard Muller make to his physics class to gain "Best Class on the Berkeley Campus" status?


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