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Disagreements between physics and math departments.

  1. Oct 10, 2005 #1
    I had a thread a bit ago in which I explained how I was getting different advice from the physics and math departments. A physics professor thought I should jump right into the calculus, while the math department thought I should take precalculus first.

    I encountered another issue in which these two departments disagree on the other night. I was at an astronomy viewing session talking to a physics professor who was there. He said that he and other physics professors weren't satisfied with the way the math department was teaching. He believed their methods made students too dependent on a graphing calculator. I have yet to get the perspective from the math professors on this issue, but I've taken to limiting my use of the calculator as much as possible to acquire the necessary skills.

    This intrigues me, nonetheless. Are these sorts of disagreements common-place? Does it happen at all universities? What other issues do these departments disagree on? And who's word should I take for it?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 10, 2005 #2


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    There are almost always disagreements between departments with regard to how courses are taught and what is best for students -- and their own budgets! My advice would be to take the recommendations of the department of your major!

    Specifically, if you are a physics major you can likely go straight into the calculus course because you'll certainly get the "pre-calc" in abundance from the physics courses - starting from day one! That is, unless, you have serious deficiencies in your math background which I wouldn't think likely if you're serious about majoring in physics.
  4. Oct 11, 2005 #3
    Yeah, that's what I've been doing. The physics professors probably know what's best for me as a physics major.

    Funny. That's exactly what one of the physics professors was telling me.
  5. Oct 11, 2005 #4
    Buy a Guide

    As far as the original question they math people tend to be more intersted in proofs and the physics people in aplication. (this is a generalization but it often holds true). If you stick with physics though you will find that the people who double major in math and physics tend to have an advatage when going into upper level classes.

    More specific to you: Buy a guide that will help you through the math anyway. I like Schwams (i mispelled that) because they really helped me get through colloge, but any guide will help make up for the little details you may have missed in pre-calc.

    Other than that I agree with Tide.
  6. Oct 11, 2005 #5
    Arguments between departments are very common. The engineering department at my school was very angry about the way Calculus 1 was being taught. We were using a book the professor wrote. It was poorly written, but worst of all... it had NO pictures or visual aids. It was a paper-bound text with writing totally above the average freshman's head. A few years later, the professor was made to stop teaching low level classes and a new text is being used for the course. In fact, the entire course was restructured. A few years too late for myself and my classmates, who are now juniors, but at least they acknowledged that there was a problem -- and did something about it.
  7. Oct 11, 2005 #6
    Yes it also happens in my country. I think it's common, why else would people make up so much jokes in which there are 1 physicist, 1 mathematician, (1 engineer) ... :biggrin:.

    I didn't like my profs from math department (especially in Linear algebra) because they didn't care if you actually understand stuff, all they liked is when someone memorized all theorems and all proofs. On the other hand, (most) profs in my physics department are just the opposite.
  8. Oct 11, 2005 #7

    Same here...
  9. Oct 11, 2005 #8
    I always hated how physicists represent an inner product as < , > instead of ( , ) :mad:
  10. Oct 11, 2005 #9
    Thats strange. My physics teachers don't care whether you use graphing calculators not or. In all my math courses we are not even allowed to use a calculator of any kind.
  11. Oct 11, 2005 #10
    If students are learning Dirac notation < | > in quantum mechanics, it's simpler to begin writing it as: < , > in the first place. :smile:

    Sorry for offtopic.
  12. Oct 11, 2005 #11


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    For some reason, our math department insists on structuring its calculus sequence as four courses with three semester-hours each, instead of three courses with four semester-hours each as most U.S. colleges and universities do. They don't cover integration at all until the second semester, and most students don't take differential equations until their third year. :eek:
  13. Oct 11, 2005 #12
    I can't say much about university, but in my high school there is such a disagreement...
    When I enrolled in physics, I had just come out of Algebra 1 & Euclidean Geometry...
    When my Algebra teacher saw my enrollment, she forced me to take Algebra 2 concurrently with Physics... (And this other math teacher said stuff about how I need Pre-Calculus and how I need it for angular momentum, but who learns angular momentum in a college-preparatory physics course?)
    In the end, it turned out every single bit of what was needed from Algebra 2 (Not much, quadratic formula... and he suggested we just use a graphing calculator!) was taught to us by the teacher and there wouldn't have been a need for it...
    I ended up doing well in the course.
    Also, now it's suggested by the school itself to take Pre-Calculus for AP Physics B and AP Calculus for AP Physics C....
    The funny thing is though, the physics teacher still teaches you the math before he goes straight into the subject, thus eliminating any need for taking the math course in the first place!
    Not saying that the suggested preliminaries for courses as set by schools and departments don't HAVE TO be followed, but sometimes your path can be bent just a little bit.

    Moral of my story: Yup, there can be conflicts with departments, but I guess you should just take the way you're most happy with...
    I guess take a look at the Pre-Cal syllabus and if you think you can skim through it and get the jist of it and go straight to Calculus, do that!
  14. Oct 11, 2005 #13

    Physics Monkey

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    I've found that a lot of times there is a disagreement about which courses should be taken first. For example, the math department at my old school wants students to take introductory electromagnetism from the physics department before they teach them formal multivariable calculus. The point here being that the math professor doesn't have to motivate the material, he or she can just say, "remember from emag ..." On the other hand, the physics professors would prefer students to have the mathematics of multivariable calculus in hand before attempting emag since it makes the presentation go a lot smoother (the need for constant mathematical asides is avoided). Presently at my old university it seems that most students do take emag before multivariable calculus, so the math department sorta gets what it wants. However, the students in emag really struggle with the vector calculus in the end, and I don't think they come away with much of a real understanding of the physics or the mathematics. More students fail introductory emag than any other course in the whole university, if memory serves. So disagreements do exist and they aren't always trivial.
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2005
  15. Oct 11, 2005 #14
    That's sort of like at my school Physics Monkey. We're doing calculus and linear algebra in physics that we haven't learned in the math classes yet. You just have to accept the math as it is and use it for physics problems, even if you don't fully understand it. :confused:
  16. Oct 11, 2005 #15
    That's pretty bizarre. I don't any of the physics professors here allow students to use anything bigger than a scientific calculator. Yet in the math courses, they actually teach you the tricks for using the graphing calculator. Of course, neither departments allow the use of anything as advanced as a TI-90 something.

    Tell me about it. The Calculus I course is just starting to get into integrals, while we've had to use integrals quite a bit already in Physics I, yet these classes are meant to be taken together. My Physics I professor also doesn't mind it if there are precalculus students in the class, because he just brushes over the power rule which so far has sufficed for them.
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