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# [Phys-L] Re: Goals of the Introductory Course

• From: John Denker <jsd@AV8N.COM>
• Date: Tue, 22 Mar 2005 12:47:41 -0500

On 03/22/05 11:49, Rodney Dunning wrote:

When teaching the introductory course, what are the essential lessons
you would like students to learn through having taken the course?

[I wrote this before seeing Rick's note, and I'm
happy to see that we basically agree about the
centrality of learning to think.]

0) Far and away the most important objective is that
they learn to think!

Naturally we're talking about an introductory level
of thinking ... but still this is the crux of the
matter. The idea is that you can measure things
and then use equations etc. to make quantitative
predictions about what will happen next.

Everything else is a just a means to this end.

(As a corollary: thinking requires reading, writing,
studying, calculating, et cetera.)

1) Some notion of how to measure length, mass, time,
voltage, and current. Some notion of how accurately
they can be measured.

2) The great conservation laws: conservation of
energy, conservation of momentum and angular
momentum, conservation of electric charge.

3) Some notion of uncertainty. Measurements do not
need to be exact to be useful. This implies at
least some glimmer of an idea about probability.

4) The great scaling laws: surface as a function
of volume, perimeter as a function of area, et
cetera.

5) Basic notions of wave mechanics. Energy
proportional to the square of the amplitude.
Constructive and destructive interference.

6) Introduction to the universe: How big is an
atom? What is the wavelength of light? How big
are bacteria? Roughly how far away are the moon,
sun, stars?

7) Introduction to electrical technology: current
and voltage; series and parallel circuits; Ohm's
law.

8) Some notion of information, entropy, and the
paraconservation of entropy.

9) Some notion of vectors. Position, velocity,
acceleration, and force as examples of vectors.
Invariance of vector equations under rotation.

10) Newtonian 1/r gravitational potential. Coulomb
potential. Field of a bar magnet, field of a solenoid.
Ferromagnetism distinct from paramagnetism.

11) Physics in the real world. At least one example
examined in enough depth to show how the various
ideas work together. I don't much care what example
you choose (physics of color vision, physics of
power plants, physics of weather, physics of flight,
etc. etc. etc.)
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