Order of pre-college (high school) physics textbooks

In summary, the order in which high school physics textbooks typically cover topics such as first thermodynamics, optics, and wave motion is not random. The authors have specific reasons for choosing this order, which are often explained in the preface of the book. Generally, topics are presented in a way that ensures students have a solid understanding of prerequisite material before moving on to more complex topics. This includes starting with mechanics and incorporating concepts such as vibration and waves before introducing electricity and magnetism. Additionally, the order of topics may be influenced by the structure of a year-long physics course and the desire to have a convenient break point at the end of the first year. Overall, this order has been found to be effective in helping students develop a strong foundation
  • #1
ddimensoes
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Hi there,
I'm not sure this has been addressed before (couldn't find a post on this). I often see high school physics textbooks (and therefore courses) teach first thermodynamics, than optics, than finally wave motion. Is there a reason for this order or is it sort of random?

IMO, The most logical sequence would be Oscilatory Motion + Waves, then Optics, then finally Thermodynamics. Things vibrate. The propagation of the vibration produces waves. So does atoms. When atoms (i.e., charges) vibrate they can produce light. The average of these vibrations result in the notion of temperature, and so on.
 
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  • #2
The authors generally have a reason for choosing the order of presentation of the topics. Have you read the prefaces of the books. The authors usually discuss their reasons for the choice of material covered especially if it is an unconventional element to it .
 
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  • #3
gleem said:
Have you read the prefaces of the books/
The ones I put my hands on, yes I did, and could not find an explanation. But I'll try looking at some others.
 
  • #4
Often topics are laid out so that more important pre-requisite material is fresher in students' minds. The mechanical equivalent of heat is an important idea in thermodynamics, and this makes understanding of mechanical energy an important pre-requisite. Most books I can think of put mechanical wave motion (harmonic oscillator, sound, other mechanical vibrations and waves) before E&M and optics. This seems to me because Newton's laws and motion analysis are still an important pre-requisite for this material, and this material is important material for understanding electromagnetic waves.

Another view (though perhaps some circular reasoning) is that when a year long Physics course is divided into 2 distinct semesters, material needs to be standardized and included in one semester or the other to better serve students who may not have the same teacher or take the second semester immediately after the first. Most commonly, the first semester includes mechanics and thermodynamics and sometimes mechanical oscillations and mechanical waves (including sound). The second semester includes E&M, electronics, and optics. The order of the chapters in the book attempt to keep the material in each semester more contiguous. This is convenient, and in many cases allows a longer book to be split into two separate smaller physics books lightning the load students have to carry around.
 
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  • #5
High School Textbooks and college textbooks almost always follow the same order. You seem to have left out the fact that almost all textbooks start with mechanics well before statistical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, waves, optics, modern physics etc.

Let us examine Hewitt, (for example). The order is : About Science- (Talks about sizes). Almost all physics textbooks start out with measurement and dimension and basics. This is understandable. Then they go to Mechanics:

Linear Motion (motion in 1 dimension)
What Hewitt calls nonlinear motion ( introduces vectors and motion in two diimensions)
Later
Rotational Motion

Notice carefully that Hewitt and others starts out with linear motion (one degree of freedom)
then progresses to motion in two dimensions (otherwise known as translational motion in two and more but a few degrees of freedom)

Rotational motion is rigid body motion. Although an extended body like a pully contains billions of particles, the rigid body constraint allows it to be described with an angle. If it rolls and slips this is two total degrees of freedom
Centripetal forces, gravity etc, but the treatment is always few degrees of freedom.

Next Resnick and Halliday treat Vibration. This keeps to few degrees of freedom but introduces non-rigid bodies.

Heat is next. This is the first time the student is introduced to physical systems with innumerable degrees of freedom where collective properties temperature, entropy, volume, pressure are described.

So you see the textbooks progress from systems with few to many nearly infinite degrees of freedom. There is also a progression from familiar forces from gravity, to contact forces which are electromagnetic in nature, to electricity and magnetism. (Weak and Strong nuclear forces are too esoteric for these textbooks).

It all makes sense. Part of it also may be that professors want to come to a convenient break point at the end of the first year of a two year sequence in introductory physics. Teaching a few chapters of thermos and stat mech at the end of mechanics brings to a year end, rather than putting half or a third of an electricity and magnetism study before the year end and starting in the middle next year.

All things considered, after many years teaching, I (and presumably many others) have found this or very close to this to be the proper order
 
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Related to Order of pre-college (high school) physics textbooks

1. What is the purpose of pre-college physics textbooks?

Pre-college physics textbooks are designed to introduce students to the fundamental concepts and principles of physics in a way that is understandable and relatable. They provide a foundation for further study in physics and other related fields.

2. What topics are typically covered in pre-college physics textbooks?

Most pre-college physics textbooks cover topics such as mechanics, electricity and magnetism, waves, thermodynamics, and modern physics. Some textbooks may also include topics like optics, nuclear physics, and astrophysics.

3. How do physics textbooks differ from other science textbooks?

Physics textbooks are unique in that they focus on understanding the fundamental laws and principles that govern the physical world. This often involves using mathematical equations and models to explain natural phenomena, rather than simply describing them.

4. Are there any recommended pre-requisites for studying from a pre-college physics textbook?

While it is helpful to have a basic understanding of algebra and geometry, most pre-college physics textbooks are designed for students with no prior knowledge of physics. However, a strong foundation in math and critical thinking skills can greatly aid in understanding and applying the concepts in the textbook.

5. How can I make the most of studying from a pre-college physics textbook?

To get the most out of your textbook, it is important to actively engage with the material. This could involve taking notes, working through practice problems, and seeking additional resources or explanations when needed. It is also helpful to regularly review and reinforce the concepts learned in each chapter.

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