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A short word for acceleration (pedagogy)

  1. Jun 29, 2013 #1
    A short word for "acceleration" (pedagogy)

    I tutor physics, and I am good at explaining to students what acceleration is. I teach them to
    disambiguate kinds of motion--because before studying physics, most people get by without
    separating velocity and acceleration as concepts. I know how to teach it. However, I think it is
    a lot harder than it needs to be. I am being hampered by language.

    Just to repeat: I am not asking how to teach the concept of acceleration. I'm on it.

    Acceleration is hard to talk about because we lack short words for it. "Acceleration" is five
    syllables, and most of the alternatives are several words long. "going faster and faster" is seven
    syllables. "Picking up speed" is better, but then you have to worry about signs while constructing
    your sentence, "speeding up" and "slowing down" and "turning" of course.

    I often tell students that acceleration is when you "speed up, slow down, or turn." That is six
    syllables, barely longer than "acceleration" itself, but it is also six *words.* I'd rather not fill up
    my students' "7 plus or minus 2" buffer with a single concept.

    Discussion is convoluted. Very often, students will use common words that refer to velocity, in
    trying to talk about acceleration. They talk about how "fast" it is accelerating, for example, and
    confuse that with how fast it is going--which really could mean a number of things. See the

    I've been trying to brainstorm new words for acceleration. We need noun, verb, and adverb
    forms at least. They should be short, preferably one or two syllables. I am not averse to making
    up a new word, but I'd rather not be the only one in the world using it and end up confusing my

    So I ask: has this been discussed before? Are there better terms out there already, struggling
    for recognition? If not, does anyone have suggestions?

    Here's one of my attempts, just to clarify what I mean: Zoom.
    "The rock is not just falling, it's zooming." "F is proportional to the zoom, not the speed."
    High zoom, low zoom, small zoom, negative zoom.
    "How high is it? Okay, how fast is it going? Okay, how fast is it zooming?" (You see the
    temptation to use "fast" for it?) "How high is the zoom? How big is the zoom? How much is
    the zoom?"
    "If it isn't zooming, it's in equilibrium. If it isn't moving, it's in static equilibrium. If it's moving
    but not zooming, it's in dynamic equilibrium."

    I've tried to come up with others but so far that's in the lead. Is there are good short word for
    acceleration in some other language, not too hard to pronounce, that English could steal? I
    suspect the problem is universal as languages are older than physics, but it would be nice to be
    wrong, and there would be automatic acceptance of the new term by some.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 29, 2013 #2
    Acceleration is already a winner.

    I would never bother with a new term for it. I just don't see the issue.
  4. Jun 29, 2013 #3
    Leave it alone. The term acceleration is used in physics, as you know, mechanics, cars, and other stuff. Just keep hammering on the kids to use the proper word for the activity. Say, "just memorize it and shut up" :-)
  5. Jun 29, 2013 #4


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    "Surge" or "jerk", the rate of change of acceleration, is only one syllable. Do you think this (the syllable count) will help in explaining that concept?
  6. Jun 29, 2013 #5
    I think that you should change both velocity and acceleration. Both terms are far too complicated.
    I think you should change velocity to "rock" and acceleration to "roll".
    For example, "the car is rocking and rolling". I think this would make physics a lot more fun.
  7. Jun 29, 2013 #6


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    In all honesty, you should just teach them the standard term acceleration so they don't get confused later on in their education because acceleration is an extremely standard term in physics texts. There are physical terms out there that are longer and harder to pronounce, we can't change them all ;)
  8. Jun 29, 2013 #7
    ##\nabla\nabla x##
  9. Jun 29, 2013 #8


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  10. Jun 30, 2013 #9
    Okay, apparently I wasn't very clear. I apologize. Let's try this again, with an example.

    When studying chemistry, a lot of students have trouble with the idea of a mole. My solution is to say that, "a
    mole is a zillion." I then explain that a "zillion" is about 0.6 trillion trillion. I compare it to dozen and million.
    This helps them get the idea that a mole of something is a number, not a mass, not a molecule, not any item
    with units. I then keep using both terms, stressing their equality, and then drop "zillion" once it appears that
    they have grasped the concept. I am *not* trying to get them to write "zillion" on exams. I am trying to help
    them grasp that a mole is a number quantity, that one can have a mole of electrons or photons or atoms or
    molecules. In my experience, teaching this way *helps* them to get the idea of mole faster and more reliably.
  11. Jun 30, 2013 #10
    I am a tutor. I relate the mole to a dozen. They know that a dozen eggs is 12 eggs. A mole of eggs is 6.02E24 eggs. Same concept, just a different number.
  12. Jul 1, 2013 #11
    Make sure your students have a proper grasp of speed and velocity first. Next move on to acceleration and define it as a change of velocity:

    "An acceleration is a change of velocity. To accelerate an object must change speed or change direction or change both."

    Give them non numerical everyday examples of things which are accelerating and then get them to come up with examples of their own. A good example is to ask them to describe their journey to school. Were there times during that journey when they weren't accelerating?

    The mathematical treatment can follow.
  13. Jul 1, 2013 #12


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    Just make sure they understand the relationship between position and velocity involves "change" and then extend that to acceleration. Perhaps "change" is the magic word you are looking for?

    Some people initially think it strange that changing direction is also an acceleration but that disappears if they understand that velocity also has a direction component so changing direction is also a change in velocity = acceleration.
  14. Jul 1, 2013 #13


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    How about "a"? That's as short as you can go!
  15. Jul 1, 2013 #14


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    you have to see it from the mole's point of view :smile:
  16. Jul 1, 2013 #15


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    How about "aaahh!" or something to that effect. I hear that word uttered frequently near roller-coasters whenever the riders experience "a".
  17. Jul 2, 2013 #16


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    Moderator's note: thread moved to "Educators & Teaching"

    It's even more cumbersome having to phrase test questions to ask about the magnitude of the acceleration. We have "speed" for magnitude of velocity, it would be nice to have a simple word for "magnitude of the acceleration".

    But we don't have a word for that, so we work with what we have.
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