Hope College Department of Physics and Engineering
Research Experiences for Undergraduates
Summer 2004
Project Summary

 

Project Title: Physics Curriculum Development: Revisions of Units T, Q and N in the Six Ideas that Shaped Physics Series
Student Name: Jordan Siemon, Ryan Fedewa, Elizabeth Carlson
Students' home institutions: Hope College, Ball State University, Hope College
Research Advisor(s): Dr. Mader
Source of Support: NSF-CCLI

This project aims to facilitate physics learning by connecting physics and other fields of study to promote interdisciplinary thinking. The introductory physics major curriculum was adapted for an algebra-based course. The publishers of Six Ideas that Shaped Physics provided electronic copies of the text material. This material had no equations or images, thus a large fraction of time was spent importing the text into LaTex, a typesetting program, and adding equations and images. This provided an opportunity to carefully review the mathematical presentation and allowed for easy adaptation of the content to fit the audience.

Methods using graphical analysis were substituted for derivatives and integrals to make the course appropriate for an algebra background. Challenging mathematical revisions included the Schrödinger equation in Unit Q, retaining the difference between instantaneous and average velocities in Unit N, and derivations involving the chain rule in Unit T. Purely physical applications were removed; two chapters discussing the geometry of planetary orbits were shortened significantly. Spinor representation of the quantum mechanical spin states and how spinors are probed in a series of Stern-Gerlach experiments was removed; however, discussion of spin as a property of quantons was retained. In order to help students understand physics in the context of different disciplines, examples applied to other sciences are included.

Case studies, context-rich, open-ended problems spanning disciplines were developed for use in the classroom or laboratory. The cases are student-driven and student-led; students hypothesize and test theories that apply physical concepts to individual interest areas. Case studies have two parts; first, stories provide information illustrating the basic concepts being studied. Students then apply these ideas to learn about the physics in different contexts.

Using these textbooks and case studies, students from varying academic backgrounds should better understand and enjoy the course.