Update on Python Physics Curriculum

So here is the deal.  I had this idea.  The plan was to include numerical calculations into the intro physics curriculum by writing a sort of online textbook.  Or maybe just redo my Just Enough Physics ebook to include more numerical calculations.  Anyway, this is what I came up with. It’s written with trinket.io – an online implementation of python that pretty much rocks.

Here is my curriculum (it’s incomplete – but totally free).

Introductory Physics with Python

Here are some of my own thoughts on this curriculum (including using trinket.io):

  • It’s free and online.  That’s mostly good – but I don’t know if online is the best format for physics.
  • There is one thing about trinket.io that makes this rock.  There is python RIGHT IN THE PAGE.  Readers can view and run code – no logging in, no saving, nothing.  Just edit and run.  No barriers.
  • It has the same idea as Just Enough Physics in that it goes over the basic stuff – but doesn’t overload the student with tons of different ideas (no fluid dynamics, waves, buoyancy, sound…).  It’s not that those are bad topics, it’s just too much.  Too much.
  • Homework.  Students want homework questions.  I sort of added those in – but students seem to want traditional homework questions.

Now for the part that needs work.  Well, all of it needs work – it’s not complete.  But I made an error – I figured I would finish this curriculum as I was using it to teach the summer session of physics, but the pressure was too much.  In the end, I think I made it too much like the traditional format of a textbook (with the traditional order of topics).  Really, I started along the best path – but went off the rails when I wanted to do a problem that involved new physics.  So, I just added that new stuff in there.

I need to rethink just what I want to cover – and here is my new plan.

  • Kinematics in 1-D and 2-D. I like starting with kinematics because students can model motion and this works great with numerical calculations.  The one problem is that you have to use acceleration instead of change in momentum – and this messes up with my momentum principle.  Actually, maybe I will just do 1-D motion so that I don’t need vectors.
  • Forces. I don’t really want to focus on forces and equilibrium, but the students need this to do more stuff.  In this, I need to do the following.
    • Vectors.  Boom – need vectors.
    • Special forces: gravity, real gravity, maybe Coulomb force.
    • What about friction, and forces of constraint (like the normal force)?  Here you can see how it gets out of hand.  Friction is super crazy if you think about it – so are normal forces.
    • What if I just did simple forces – like pushing with your hand or rockets?
  • Momentum Principle.  Here I need to make a connection between forces and motion.  Since I used acceleration before, I need to make a connection between the momentum principle and \vec{F}_\text{net} = m\vec{a}.  Honestly, I hate calling this Newton’s Second Law – it seems wrong.
    • But what about circular acceleration?  How do you deal with that?  I don’t know.  Maybe just avoid it for now.
  • Work Energy Principle. I think this is mostly ok – except I need to introduce the spring force and spring potential energy.
  • Angular Momentum Principle.  My initial idea was to cover “Three Big Ideas” – momentum principle, work-energy, angular momentum principle.  However, there is SO MUCH baggage associated with angular momentum principle.  Much of this stuff is just beyond intro-level students.

I think I have a new plan.

  • Start with kinematics in 1-D.
  • Forces – but simple stuff.  No friction.  No normal forces.  All the examples will be in space or something.
  • Momentum Principle and acceleration. Again, normal stuff.  No forces of constraint.  Mostly space stuff because that will be fun.  Projectile motion stuff too.
  • Work-Energy Principle.  Springs, gravity, dropping objects.  Orbits.
  • Special cases.  Instead of Angular Momentum, I’m going to go over forces of constraint, friction, normal forces, circular acceleration.

The end.  Oh, I need to make sure there are plenty of exercises for students.  Rewrites coming.

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