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Re: Questions on Neg. and Pos. Acceleration


You have a luxury that many of us don't share. Our courses, conceptual and
calculus level (no physics majors), are populated by students with a VAST
range of experiences in physics--from none to considerable. Even those
coming from HS Physics classes display knowledge and skills again ranging
from none to considerable. It is therefore all but impossible to proceed
with these classes assuming much of anything lest we completely blow away
the 'nones'. The trick is to somehow keep from boring the 'considerables'
while trying to get everyone up to some common plateau from which to
proceed. Some years this works better than others. If you get a large
group of the 'considerables' mixed in with some of the 'nones', it is all
but impossible to keep from boring them to some extent despite course
structures that encourage extra work and exploration for those having an
'easy time of it.'


Richard W. Tarara
Department of Chemistry & Physics
Notre Dame, IN 46556

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----- Original Message -----
From: Leigh Palmer <palmer@SFU.CA>
To: <>
Sent: Thursday, September 23, 1999 12:31 PM
Subject: Re: Questions on Neg. and Pos. Acceleration

Here at Simon Fraser we require that our introductory physics
students have previously taken a high school physics course
that includes one- and two-dimensional kinematics. In teaching
this course this semester (the "algebra/trig" course) I did just
what Stan Greenspoon suggests. I started with the vector
kinematics that they supposedly should already know and then did
linear kinematics as a special case. I can't say that it reduced
the usual rate of confusion and misconception, however, because I
did no measurements, but I agree with Stan. We also impose on
those students a corequisite calculus course, and it seems more
than 90% of them have already been exposed to some in high
school. For that reason I also introduce the calculus to the
extent that I associate slopes with derivatives. Polynomials are
as far as we've got so far, but I intend to do this again when we
get to harmonic motion.

Our postsecondary students are not blank slates. They bring a set
of tools to their studies acquired over a long educational
process, and the people we see are those who assembled the best
sets of tools. Too many postsecondary physics teachers assume
that they must teach students as though they are as helpless as
the most naive among them. That is a bad idea in my view. I have
320 students in this class. If I waste one minute of my lecture
time it costs five and one third person-hours of their time. They
are paying me for what I can provide to them. Down deep they
really don't want high school all over again.