About the Course & Materials

We have compiled information about the course as we have taught it. You will find information on the text, ordering of topics, course expectations, as well as a description of the transformed materials and their use.

Principles of Electricity and Magnetism 1 (E&M 1), is the first semester of our two-semester sequence of junior-level classical electromagnetism. It uses the tools of vector calculus for solving static and dynamic properties of electromagnetic fields. The topics we will cover include special cases of static charge distributions (electrostatics), time-independent current distributions (magnetostatics), and electric and magnetic properties of matter (dielectrics and magnetic media).

If you prefer, you can download the "Course User's Guide" as a document which contains more detailed information on these materials: [Word] [PDF]


The primary text we used for this course is D.J. Griffith, Introduction to Electrodynamics, 3rd Ed. (Prentice-Hall, Upper-Saddle River NJ, 1999) [Ch. 1-6]).

The following additional textbooks were recommended by electrodynamics instructors at CU Boulder, and various physics faculty at outside institutions:

Course Topics & Ordering

The bulk of the material in this course is fairly canonical across universities. At the University of Colorado, the content coverage and order closely follows chapters 1-6 of Griffith's text. Depending on the pace of the course, some faculty at CU have also included material from chapter 7 (Electrodynamics).

Additional commentary on the presentation of certain topics can be found in the Course Users Guide.

Mathematical preparation

There are many mathematical prerequisites for this course, and students have varying degrees of comfort with this material. Faculty may give a mathematical pre-test to students to both (a) assess where students are weak, and (b) send students the message that this is material they should already be familiar with. Note that not all students may have completed the math pre-requisites– instructors may wish to strongly discourage concurrent enrollment in Math Methods. See also Course Notes on Chapter 1 (Vector Calculus) for ideas on how faculty have incorporated this chapter into the course.

Course expectation

In past experience, students come into this course with unreasonable expectations for the amount of work it will require. This course may be different from what they have encountered before in terms of the level of sophistication required from their involvement in the course, the amount of time that the homework will require, the mathematical background that they will have to draw upon (and will not be explicitly taught).

To that end, making course expectations explicit may be useful in order to prompt students to shoulder the responsibility for their own learning to a greater degree than they have in past courses. This can include giving explicit learning goals for the course (as developed by the physics faculty in conjunction with the Science Teaching Fellow), and by framing the course appropriately from the beginning.

Some faculty have provided a handout to their students that worked well to set the tone of the course, explaining the challenging nature of the course and the expectations in terms of student time and effort.

Instructional Resources

We have compiled a number of resources which can be easily incorporated into a standard university class structure. These resources were designed to encourage the students to be active participants in the learning process.


There is a general consensus among faculty that the bulk of the learning in this course comes from doing the homework. This course is where students learn a certain level of sophistication in solving problems (see Learning Goals) and so assigned homework should reflect that higher expectation. We have compiled a homework bank of useful problems designed to target these higher level goals.

Additional ideas for creating homeworks sets can be found in the Course Users Guide.

Lecture techniques

There are a variety of lecture techniques that have been shown to be useful in student engagement.

1. Clicker questions

Clickers are wireless personal response systems that can be used in a classroom to anonymously and rapidly collect an answer to a question (usually multiple-choice) from every student. This allows rapid reliable feedback to both the instructor and the students. Alternatively, clicker questions can still be used without the presonal response system by using colored cards or hand signals. See the Colorado Science Education Initiative website for additional information and resources for effective use of clicker questions.

Many of the more simple, conceptual homework problems can be reworked into clicker questions, serving two purposes: (a) students engage in meaningful discussion about the concept rather than seeking the answer, and (b) leaving more time for longer problems on the homework set. Faculty members, in conjunction with Science Teaching Fellows, have developed a bank of clicker questions. Clicker questions have proven very effective, though time consuming, in this course, generating a good deal of student discussion and highlighting student difficulties. In addition, because students’ knowledge is tested often, it is easier for them to know where their difficulties lie. One student remarked that the clicker questions in this class worked better than in other classes because they were integrated deeply into the lecture – they acted to connect one topic to the next, instead of a 5-minute aside. They were a bridge rather than a break in lecture.

We have compiled a Clicker bank containing concept test questions developed by faculty at CU and other institutions.

2. Interactive lecture

When solving a problem on the board, the lecturer can pause and ask the class for the next step. If the course culture has included the use of clicker questions, so that students are habituated to actually engaging with this sort of question (instead of waiting for the smartest student to answer), then this type of discussion can occur without the use of actual clickers in every instance. The class should be given a time limit (e.g., “You have 30 seconds,write down your answer”) to focus their discussion. We find that students are more likely to actually write something down on paper if the lecturer leaves the front of the room and talks briefly to students in the middle of the room.

3. Class discussions

In addition to clicker questions, faculty can pose open-ended questions (non multiple choice) for discussion in class, providing students an opportunity to engage with the concepts in class. The more that instructors are clearly open to discussion in class, the more students will feel comfortable posing spontaneous questions.

4. Don’t repeat examples from the text

Students can read the chapter as they work on the problem set. It may be useful to encourage students to read the chapter before lecture, if the professor does not intend to reiterate material from the book in lecture. In that case, lecture may be spent in productive discussion and engagement with the material. Students can easily read derivations and similar content in the book, and so professors may decide how much of that content should be included in lecture.

5. Whiteboard or Chalkboard Activities

We have successfully used whiteboards and student work at the blackboard in class and out of class. Large (2x3 foot) whiteboards provide a convenient public work space for group activities. Small (1x1 foot) whiteboards work well for individual or partner work while still allowing instructor to quickly see what students are getting in a lecture (by walking around to individual whiteboards or by asking students to “publish” their results by holding up their whiteboards).

Additional information on some of the advantages and disadvantages to whiteboard activities can be found in the Course Users Guide or you can browse our in-class activities for specific examples.

5. Tutorials

Tutorials are conceptually focused worksheet activities designed to be done in small groups and target known student difficulties. They are designed to be completed in a 50 min co-seminar; however, some instructors at CU have incoporated Tutorials into lecture.

More information on Tutorials and their implementation can be found in the Tutorial User’s Guide or you can view/download our Tutorials.

6. Kinesthetic activities

We have adapted a handful of kinesthetic activities from Oregon State University – for example, asking students to arrange themselves in the form of a line charge. These activities have met with mixed pedagogical success since there is often insufficient lecture time to delve deeply into the concepts brought up by the activities. However, as a method of engaging students and maintaining their attention, it has been very valuable.

Our in-class activities contain a number of examples of kinesthetic activities.


While recitations can’t be mandatory for this 3-credit course, it is useful to offer an instructor- or TA-led session to work on issues in the homework. In the reformed course, we encouraged students to work in small groups on the homework. They learn by peer instruction with occasional input from the instructor, as in the tutorials. Each group may have a group-sized whiteboard (see above), and the TA does not work out problems on the board, as has been traditionally the case. We have offered two homework help sessions – two nights and one night before the homework is due.