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2011 October 10

Discussion of potential conceptual physics texts

In one of the home-schooling mailing lists that I read, the question came up what textbook to use for teaching a gifted 12-year-old physics.  This question is similar to the one I had last June about conceptual physics books (see Conceptual Physics text needed).  I won’t repeat that post (though there were several good suggestions in the comments), but discuss some of the options we looked at.

Paul Hewitt‘s Conceptual Physics Conceptual Physics textbook cover
Used locally by several of the better schools, and frequently recommended on several mailing lists.   We gave up on it because of its snail pace. Ideas that need a paragraph or a page are stretched out to fill a chapter.  It may be a gentle introduction for people who love to have things said very, very slowly, but it was putting us to sleep.
Larry Gonick‘s Cartoon Guide to Physics
Larry Gonick’s books are always fun and the content is usually good. But you can be left believing you understand something without actually being able to apply it.  Get this book, but use something with exercises as well.
James Kakalios‘s The Physics of Superheroes
A fun book for thinking about physics and getting a grounding in Newtonian thinking.  Like Gonick’s book, worth reading, but needs to be supplemented by labs and exercises. (We have the first edition, which has a more boring cover than the second edition.  I don’t know if there is any difference in content).
Richard Feynman‘s Six Easy Pieces
Several of Feynman’s lectures have been collected and are worth reading. Some are too advanced, but “Six Easy Pieces” collects some of the easier-to-understand lectures and presents them well.  Again, they would need exercises and labs.
Science Curriculum Inc’s Force, Motion, and Energy
This is more middle-school than high-school level, but the approach and labs are better than I usually see in 9th grade physics.  This would be an excellent book for a 12-year-old to work through.

There were a couple of other physics books we looked at, but they turned out to be even more boring than Hewitt’s book.  I don’t remember their titles or authors.

2011 June 27

Conceptual Physics text needed

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Conceptual Physics textbook cover

The Conceptual Physics book that we have looks like this image from an Amazon customer, but without the "media update" banner.

My son is planning to take AP Physics next year, but he has never had a really solid physical science course, just done some reading on his own, so he and I agreed that it would be a good thing for him to read a light-weight physics book over the summer to make sure he was well prepared—the rest of the class will have had a prior physics course. Since it has been over 40 years since I had any physics (and that a high school course that was lower than AP level), I agreed to read the book along with him.

We had a textbook that is used locally by several of the better schools, and that I had heard recommendations for: Conceptual Physics by Paul Hewitt.  We settled on a 10-page-a-day reading schedule and started in.

This week, my son gave up in disgust at the snail’s pace of the book—and I can’t really blame him.  Ideas that need a paragraph or a page are stretched out to fill a chapter.  It may be a gentle introduction for people who love to have things said very, very slowly, but it was putting us to sleep.

Can anyone recommend a better way to get an intro to physics at a livelier pace?

We’ll look into Lewin’s MIT lectures, but neither of us have been big fans of video lectures, most of which are even slower paced than textbooks.  (We’ve not looked at Lewin’s lectures yet, which have a reputation for having good demos, which could compensate for them being videos.)

Note: my son has not had a formal introduction to calculus yet, though he has had some of the basics for several years, so we are not looking for a standard college text, but a quick way to fill in any holes in his self-education, so that he is ready to do AP Physics without much effort.

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