Does taking a physics class that isn't calc-based before taking calc-based physics help understanding at all? Basically, I'm wondering if the concepts learned in a non-calc based physics class are actually usable or just something they teach you in high school that is completely "dismissed" once a calc-based physics class is taken. Any help is greatly appreciated.
I can''t vouch for how much it helped conceptually, but I took algebra based physics in high school. It certainly has made my calc physics in college easier, just beasue alot of the calc arises in the derivations of the equations, not the equations them selves. So the majority of the first semester has been review of my high school physics class. However, i am also in calc 3 concurrently so that helps out quite a bit also because I can understand the math alot deeper than some of the studentes who are in calc 1 for the first time
The "concepts" in physics won't change between a hardly-math based "conceptual physics," and "algebra-based" class, and a "calc-based" class... so an algebra course IS highly useful. The mathematics is perhaps more "elegant" in a calc-based course (if you like math) ... but the curriculum of an algebra-based course still covers important physics. AND -- don't YOU want to be able to later explain physics to a "layperson"? Taking courses taught at MANY levels of math will help you do that.
I've worked with other students (workshop leader) for algebra based physics and let me tell you, the problems are about the same as any of the calculus problems. Some connections between things are hidden (such as you don't get to know that F=ma is a second order diff. eq.; or that velocity is the derivitive of displacement, with respect to time). And if you know the math, this might drive you crazy. However, if you don't know, or aren't that fond of calculus, I would suggest that it is the utmost importance to take the course with algebra only. It gives a really good background to work with, and it helps build a better understanding of problem solving techniques. Sometimes an algebra course is also better at getting to the physics of a problem, rather than giving an application for calculus; which I will admit in many physics courses it can feel like you just did this question in you calculus course eariler that day. But if you comfortable with a calculus based course, take that instead anyway, it makes the upper division physics courses a lot less daunting (classical mechanics courses, at least the ones I am enrolled in, are very much exercises in solving diff. eq.).
Depends on what physics class you are going to take. Sometimes even a calculus based course are basically just algebra courses. The emag course I took (introductory, and calc based) was a friggen joke. The tests were structured in a way that you HAD to remember the derived expressions for things (such as basic gaussian surfaces, etc...). I hated this class, because I didn't understand the material. In my emag course we slowed it down a bit and really got into the math, and in turn you really get a deep understanding of the material. I remember my physics emag professor showing us Maxwell's equations and saying something along the lines of, "these 4 equations encompass all of electromagnetics" then I just thought to myself about the hundreds (not that many) of formulas we had to be able to recite on a test. I wish he would have said something like, "these 4 equations encompass all of electromagnetics, but you will have NO idea what they mean." The introduction to quantum, or relativivity were all calc classes, but again... we aren't really doing much with calc. There's just not time. So taking an algebra based course is probably not a bad thing, but I'd say do the calc ones if you can. The more exposure and pain of trying to figure out why the hell they are showing you Maxwells equations will become clear later. It just seems like a series of blindfolds that we wear. Each class removes another, and more light shines through.
I would like to note, that I think I have done just as much if not alot more physics in my calc III class as I have calc in my general physics I class