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Calculus Based Physics course

  1. Aug 24, 2010 #1
    I need to develop a calculus based physics curriculum for a small 2-year college. Do you have any suggestions for texts that might be useful to me in this process? If you are currently teaching a calculus based physics course, which text are you using? Thank you in advance.

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 24, 2010 #2

    Andy Resnick

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    I'm confused- do you want to develop a whole curriculum, or simply Physics I/II?
  4. Aug 25, 2010 #3
    Sorry for the confusion. I need to develop the course (Physics I/II). Currently the school is offering only algebra based physics I and physics II, but wants to offer calculus based physics next year. I would like to get ideas from people who are experienced in developing courses. How do I begin this process? What are the steps involved? I personally think that the first step is to identify a good text.
  5. Aug 25, 2010 #4

    Andy Resnick

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    I haven't developed that many courses from scratch, but here's my perspective:

    The introductory Physics texts are essentially identical- there is very little variation in the topics covered, and the order they are covered. I have 5 different ones on my shelf (both calc. and algebra), and they are completely interchangable- and that includes web support and online homework resources.

    The introductory class has a 'standard' list of topics to cover (ours are given to us by the State of Ohio), so a large part of your job may already be done: the choice on what to cover, the 'learning objectives', etc.

    For me, my effort went into deciding what I want the students to get out of the course, choosing the homework problems to assign, and the order the topics are covered: just because rotational motion comes after energy in the book, I don't have to cover rotational motion *after* I discuss energy. I cover linear and rotational motion in parallel, before momentum and energy.

    Another area you may want to spend time thinking about is the level of mathematics: you may be teaching a calculus-based course, but I wager your students haven't mastered calculus. How much time do you want to spend on mathematical techniques, and how will you respond to 'weaker' students?

    I spent quite some time putting together my syllabus, and I'm happy to email you a copy (email me if you want one) for your reference.
  6. Aug 26, 2010 #5
    “so a large part of your job may already be done: the choice on what to cover, the 'learning objectives', etc.”

    For the first time I am teaching the algebra based physics at this same school. For this course, I was provided with a set of learning goals and the text was already picked for me (Essentials of College Physics by Serway and Vuille). So, I am assuming the learning goals for the calculus based physics are the same as those for the algebra based course.

    “For me, my effort went into deciding what I want the students to get out of the course, choosing the homework problems to assign, and the order the topics are covered:”

    I would love to see your syllabus. I will send you an email.

    “Another area you may want to spend time thinking about is the level of mathematics:”

    This is a real issue. My supervisor was asking me about this and I said that the students could be enrolled in a calculus course while taking the calculus based physics. But now I realize that this could be a problem because students might find it difficult to apply the calculus concepts that they just began to learn. This problem could be solved if we make the calculus course a pre-requisite. What is your experience?

    Thanks for your reply.
  7. Aug 26, 2010 #6

    Andy Resnick

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    My experience/opinion is not to turn the Physics course into a Math course. In practice, that means teaching the algebra-based course using *at most* basic trigonometry and quadratic equations. For the calculus-based course, I would limit the math to simple derivatives and integrals, but keep the general level of the course at algebra. I don't have the students do any derivations on exams, and I provided them with a formula sheet last year.

    But realize, this decision is up to you- just make sure you communicate to the students on the first day what your expectations are, what they should know, and what they can do if they don't. For example, you may want to quickly solve a simple kinematics problem using calculus for the class, and tell them they are responsible for being able to work at that level if they want an 'A'.

    Enjoy the experience!
  8. Aug 26, 2010 #7
    One perhaps unusual approach would be to use the text "Matter and Interactions" (by Chabay and Sherwood)... which tends to treat things from a momentum/impulse point of view rather than a position/force point of view. Our institution recently adopted it for a TWO-semester calc-based physics course and the professors who have used it really like it for this purpose (I haven't been assigned that). The text uses extensive use of programming/modeling -- I using the language Python (the authors are associated with the development of VPython).

    Our institution is currently using this in a studio-style course... which works particularly well with low-enrollment courses. The course mentioned above is for physics, math, computer science and other science students.... not engineers. Therefore it's pretty low enrollment.

    As an aside: Our engineering students take FOUR semesters of physics -- TWO in mechanics through the college of engineering, then they take an EM course and a Waves/Optics/Modern course through physics. I've taught the latter two courses, and the calc level on EM is pretty high (integrating charge distributions, looking at Gaussian surfaces and the like -- stuff that would be easy IF they were better at looking at symmetries, which they generally aren't at first), but for the modern class it's pretty low. I tend to suggest students have completed CALC II before EM, even though it's a co-requisite... but this is also because I teach during the summer, which has 2/3rds of the class sessions of a regular term (so I can't spend time "teaching them math" -- though I do spend over half the time doing example problems that help them get accustomed to the math level).
  9. Aug 26, 2010 #8
    As a student I would recommend "Physics for scientists and engineers with modern physics, 7th edition, by Serway/Jewett". I found this to be an excellent calculus based intro physics text, very clear explanation of concepts and derivations, a good sized bank of practice problems, some very challenging (answers to odd numbers at the back).

    If you were choosing this you would want to coordinate with other professors since it covers more than just a first year course. I used this text for all my physics courses all through first and second year. It covers Newtonian mechanics, optics, special relativity, classical EM (in quite good detail), introduces quantum mechanics with several chapters applying quantum mechanics to basic nuclear and atomic physics applications, and covers a solid introduction to the standard model of particle physics. It also has a very excellent appendix which summarizes the all of the math you need in order to follow the text.

    As someone who is always too shy to ask questions or go in for help I essentially taught myself everything out of this book, and I found it to be a very enjoyable text. Of course I haven't had a chance to use a bunch of other texts, but this one certainly won't disappoint. Plus I really liked how it applied to so many different courses, it saved me lots of money using one text in all my classes for two years.

    But that's just a students opinion.
  10. Aug 28, 2010 #9
    Andy: Thank you for the syllabus, so wonderfully done. I will use it as a guide for mine.

    Both suggested texts sounds interesting and I will definitely check them out. I am coming to the conclusion that calculus I must be a pre-requisite for calc. based physics.

  11. Aug 28, 2010 #10


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    Or taught concurrently. In my senior year of high school, I took Calculus and Physics concurrently. Unfortunately, there was little connection between the two courses, which was puzzling and frustrating.

    However, the Calculus teacher and Chemistry teacher were good friends, and toward the end of the junior year, both introduced us to derivatives. The advanced math teachers introduced us to limits and derivatives toward the end of the junior year when we did a second year of algebra with trigonometry and analytical geometry.

    Hyperphyiscs is also a good reference. They use some basic calculus.
  12. Aug 28, 2010 #11
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