I have often said that calculus physics is easier than algebra physics.
If you know a little bit about derivatives and a little bit about
integrals, you have more analysis tools available, and that makes the
When my son took a good high-school physics course as a high-school
senior, I kept asking him where they were in the book and what problems
were assigned and what the exams looked like. I was amazed how closely
his HS course paralleled my calculus-based course. Aside from the
calculus the two courses studied the same topics in about the same order
at about the same pace. Currently, my daughter is taking HS physics and
she is on the same chapter I am on, except she is in an algebra-based
A much larger difference is the labs. My students do more (weekly) and
more sophisticated labs. My students write formal lab reports whereas
the high school class complete worksheets.
Therefore, in this particular case, I did not see that my calculus-based
college course would be all that more challenging than the HS course in
terms of text material and pace. But I certainly expected a lot more in
terms of lab, and I use the calculus.
At Bluffton College we do have a physical science type of course for
general education. This course is "integrated" and includes essentials
of physics, chemistry, earth science, astronomy.
Majors in the following areas must take the full year calculus-based
physics course... physics, chemistry, biology, pre-med, computer
science, high-school and middle-school science teachers. Most students
take it as sophomores having taken calculus as freshmen. But we have
more and more students who took calculus in high school, and some of
them take physics as freshmen.
Interestingly, the computer science students complain the most about
having to take calculus physics along with the physics majors. Even the
middle-school science-education students complain much less than the
computer science students. And, some of my better students are headed
into middle-school science. I think this is great.
Gary Turner stated in his post that he wants a prerequisite of 4 years
of HS math. Gary teaches at a college in Iowa. I do not know what the
HS requirements are in Iowa, but in Ohio the math requirement is 4
years. Therefore, all HS graduates in Ohio would comply with Gary's
math prerequisite. Gary also would require HS physics as a
prerequisite. Nationally, only 20% of HS students take physics. Ohio
requires three years of HS science, and therefore physics is an option.
The Ohio average usually runs a bit higher than 20%, but not much
higher. If I required HS physics then I would cut my class size at
least in half and maybe to a fourth. Gary would require an ACT of 24.
The average ACT at Bluffton College is 23, so our average student is
almost at his cut-off.
With the wide spread of ability and majors in my class, not all students
receive A grades. My average grade is on the B-/C+ borderline. My
class size averages about 25, and each year there are about 2 failures
and everyone else is C- or better; I just don't have many D grades.
Either the students work and get C- or better, or they don't work and
I have had some students attend large schools like Ohio State or
University of Toledo and then transfer here. Some of them took part of
their physics there and completed it here. They say my course is
roughly the same, although they say I move at a slightly slower pace. I
can move slower not because we have more time, but because I omit more.
That is simply a choice I make.
I have had high school students take my course as part of the
post-secondary program. They took calculus concurrently. One of these
students went to an engineering school after high school and they made
him repeat physics by taking "engineering physics" there. He was angry
because he said my course was better and actually went deeper. Of
course he was seeing things for the second time when he took the
engineering physics class. But he was a very good student, and when he
says that my course was better and deeper than the engineering physics
course at a good engineering school, I trust that he was at least in the
correct ball park.
Michael D. Edmiston, Ph.D.
Professor of Chemistry and Physics
Bluffton, OH 45817