Order of pre-college (high school) physics textbooks

  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

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.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
gleem
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
1,670
1,024
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 .
 
  • Like
Likes ddimensoes
  • #3
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
Dr. Courtney
Education Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
3,221
2,324
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 lightening the load students have to carry around.
 
  • Like
Likes ddimensoes
  • #5
140
78
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
 
  • Like
Likes jim mcnamara and ddimensoes

Related Threads on Order of pre-college (high school) physics textbooks

Replies
87
Views
5K
  • Last Post
Replies
13
Views
6K
Replies
68
Views
11K
  • Last Post
Replies
5
Views
1K
  • Last Post
2
Replies
30
Views
12K
  • Last Post
Replies
11
Views
2K
  • Last Post
Replies
4
Views
8K
  • Last Post
Replies
20
Views
12K
  • Last Post
Replies
10
Views
12K
Top