Physical Sciences Core proposals

Course proposals for the Physical Sciences Core should describe how your course fits within your Core discipline, and how your Core discipline is situated within the purpose and values of liberal education.

Components of your proposal

Your proposal will include both a narrative description and a syllabus.
As you develop your proposal, you should not assume that the goals of your courses are obvious. It may be helpful to remember that the members of the Council on Liberal Education, like students in liberal education courses, come from units across the University. The council's aim is to ensure that liberal education courses meet the University's goals and that these goals are clear to students and to faculty members.

Narrative proposal

Your narrative proposal should explain how the course meets:

  1. The general requirements of liberal education.
  2. The common goals for all Core courses.
  3. The specific goals for the Physical Sciences Core.

Effective proposals will provide concrete examples from the course that illustrate how the course meets these goals, e.g., from the course syllabus, detailed outlines, course assignments, laboratory material, student projects, or other instructional materials or methods.

Your proposal should also include two brief statements that address:

  1. How your course addresses one or more of the University's Student Learning Outcomes.
  2. How the learning associated with this outcome will be assessed.


Because it is written for students, your syllabus should contain the following elements.

Language to help students understand what liberal education is and how this course fulfills its mission as a liberal education course. A course description at the head of the syllabus followed by a paragraph describing the precise aims according to the guidelines is one efficient way of doing this.

A clear explanation of how the particular course fulfills the Physical Sciences Core, so that students are aware of how and why the course meets LE requirements. This can be done through the stated course objectives, course topics, writing assignments, and required readings. You may also include supporting materials, such as lab manuals, sample assignments, or handouts.

Information about small group activities (small group discussion, debates, and so on) that will be employed in the course.

A brief paragraph describing the Student Learning Outcome(s) the course addresses, how it addresses these outcomes, and how the learning that is associated with the outcome will be assessed.

Additional syllabus guidelines:

  • For existing courses, the syllabus must be for a term within the past two years.
  • For courses under development, the syllabus may be provisional but still must document how the course will meet the LE requirement(s), as indicated above. A list of lecture topics or discussion topics should be included, with the understanding that dates, schedules, and readings may be tentative.
  • The syllabus needs to conform to the University Senate Syllabi Policy, approved December 6, 2001. It should be in English, or with an English translation provided.
  • Formatting is often lost when material is copied and pasted into the system. Try to keep formatting simple.


All liberal education courses must:

  • Explicitly help students understand what liberal education is, how the content and the substance of this course enhance a liberal education, and what this means for them as students and as citizens.
  • Meet one or more of the Student Learning Outcomes (SLO). In the syllabus you submit, specify which of the SLO(s) that the course meets, how it addresses the outcome(s), and how the learning that is associated with the outcome(s) will be assessed.
  • Be offered on a regular schedule.
  • Be taught by regular faculty or under exceptional circumstances by instructors on continuing appointments. Departments proposing instructors other than regular faculty must provide documentation of how such instructors will be trained and supervised to ensure consistency and continuity in courses.
  • Be at least 3 credits (or at least 4 credits for biological or physical sciences, which must include a lab or field experience component).

All Core courses must:

  • Employ teaching and learning strategies that engage students with doing the work of the field, not just reading about it.
  • Include small group experiences (such as discussion sections or labs) and use writing as appropriate to the discipline to help students learn and reflect on their learning.
  • Not (except in rare and clearly justified cases) have prerequisites beyond the University's entrance requirements.

To meet more than one requirement:

  • A course may be approved to meet one Core or one Theme or both a Core and a Theme. In the latter case, the Theme must be fully and meaningfully infused into the course (the old standard of "one-third of the course" will no longer be sufficient).
  • Courses may be submitted for both LE and WI designation.

Physical Sciences Core objectives and criteria

The Physical Sciences Core requirement is intended to acquaint students with the theory and practices of some aspects of this broad area of inquiry. Courses that satisfy the Physical Sciences Core requirement will expose students to key basic concepts and results regarding the natural laws, processes and properties of matter, as they pertain to a particular discipline, and will expose students to the processes of producing such knowledge, albeit on a basic level. Courses fulfilling this requirement may be part of the fundamental coursework taken by majors in the physical sciences, or they may be designed for students who have a limited exposure to a particular field and desire a general introduction to key concepts and results of a given discipline.

All knowledge in the physical sciences is based upon empirical data and creative, often collaborative work in producing and reflecting about it; and, thus, a proper exposure to the ways of knowing and thinking in the physical sciences requires a laboratory or fieldwork component. 

To satisfy the Physical Science Core requirement, a course must meet these criteria:

  • The course imparts an understanding of physical phenomena by analyzing and describing the nature, constitution, and properties of non-living matter and energy.
  • Students employ mathematical or quantitative analysis in the description and elucidation of natural phenomena.
  • The course includes a laboratory or field work component, consisting of, on average, two hours per week, which may involve direct experimentation, fieldwork, or computer simulations. 
  • The course provides an understanding of the scientific method, by which observations of the natural world lead to the formulation of hypotheses or explanations of physical phenomena that are then empirically tested by experiment or observation.

A lab experience in the physical sciences requires students to do one or more of the following:

  • Perform hands-on experiments, measurements, simulations or analyses that test basic concepts or hypotheses.
  • Quantitatively examine and test phenomena that may be described in terms of principles recognized within the discipline.
  • Do discovery-based experiments.
  • Manipulate data sets.