Gas station without pumps

2011 September 6

Physics C curriculum

Filed under: home school — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 16:21
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I’ll be homeschooling my son and one other student in Physics this year, using the Matter and Interactions book.  My copy of the book just arrived, and now I have to put together a schedule for getting through it.

The two students have quite different backgrounds: one has been programming for years and did his first physics simulation over 4 years ago in 5th grade, but has not yet had a formal introduction to calculus, while the other has already finished single-variable calculus, but has no programming experience.  Thus one will be getting up to speed on calculus while the other will be getting up to speed in programming.  Of course, this means that the ideal pace and coverage will be different for the two of them, and I’ll have to make compromises, even with a class of only 2 students.  Luckily both are quite bright and are used to learning from books, so I can give reading assignments with confidence that they will do the reading and ask questions about what they don’t understand.  The authors claim that “an adequate subset of the underlying Python programming language can be taught in an hour or two, even to students who have never written a program before, and instructional materials are available to instructors.”

The book does not contain any mention of Vpython in the index or table of contents, but the text has clearly been written for computational approaches: Section 2.5 is “Iterative Prediction of Motion” and gives the momentum equations as updates assuming a small Δt.  The authors do highly recommend VPython in the preface.

There is auxiliary material for teachers, but one needs to e-mail the authors Ruth Chabay and Bruce Sherwood to get the password to open the zip archive.  (Incidentally, double-clicking on a password-protected zip archive on a Mac OS X system does not give you any way to enter the password—it just fails.  You have to use the command-line “unzip” command instead.)  I hope that the authors will be willing to let a home-school teacher have access to the Vpython material, as I really don’t want to have to invent all the programming assignments as well as the labs.  (As a computer scientist, I’d probably make the programming assignments far too difficult and not focus enough on the physics.)

Anyway, one of my first decisions for this curriculum is whether to cover half the book or the whole book this year.  I think I have about 33 weeks before the AP exams this year, and there are 13+12=25 chapters in the book, each about 40 pages long (1080 pages total). While 32 pages a week of reading is no big deal for either student, it wouldn’t provide much time for doing labs and programming.  We’ve currently only budgeted 3 hours a week (including homework) for my son for physics (see Home schooling week 1 for his course load), so we’re looking at only 100 hours total.  That seems to me to make the half-book goal seem more reasonable than the whole-book goal, as a typical college course is about 120 hours, and the book would normally be covered in 2 college courses.  It also means that the students would be prepared just for the AP Physics C: Mechanics test in May, and not have to take both tests.

Checking the AP Physics C: Mechanics topics in the College Board description of physics, it looks like Matter and Interactions covers all the topics and quite a bit more.  It doesn’t cover all of AP Physics B, though (for example, it doesn’t cover Bernoulli’s equation and buoyancy).

So, assuming 13 chapters (552 pages) in 33 weeks, we need to average about 17 pages a week, or 2.5 weeks per chapter. That seems to me like a reasonable pace, particularly since the students will have to design and build any lab equipment we use. (See Physics Lab 1 for my first lab assignment, given even before the book arrived).  Things may have to go a bit faster in the beginning, to allow more time for the more complicated things later on.  I should probably set up a calendar with reading assignments and due dates, but I need to read more of the book than the Preface and Table of Contents to do that.


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