This summer I taught the part II of algebra-based physics. It is odd, but I rarely teach this course. I usually end up teaching the calculus-based version (with Matter and Interactions). There is something strange. If you look at the algebra-based physics I and calculus-based physics I, they are just about the same course. Both essentially cover forces, momentum, energy, and angular momentum. Oh, I know – some also cover waves and pressure and sound and stuff.
I think what tipped me off to the big difference in the algebra-based physics II is the theme in Matter and Interactions. Yes, there is a theme for Matter and Interactions. The whole part II is essentially just about Maxwell’s equations (the relationship between charge, electric fields and magnetic fields). Since Maxwell’s equations are sort of mathematically complex, the algebra-based course doesn’t really get there. This is what most of these courses cover:
- Electric forces, electric fields
- Electric potential – sometimes capacitors are in here too
- DC circuits* (and maybe RC circuits)
- Currents and magnetic fields
- Faraday’s law and stuff (changing magnetic fields and induced EMF)
- AC Circuits
- Light and stuff
- Optics stuff
You get the idea. Almost all of the algebra-based texts are similar to this. There are a couple of problems. First, very few texts make a solid connection between DC circuits and electric fields and electric potential. For most, it is this little side street that is explored. But why? If it is not connected, why go down that road? A common faculty reply will be: but they have to cover DC circuits. You may have me there. This is a service course, it is not for physics majors. Who takes this course? It is mostly:
- Biology majors
- Industrial Technology, Engineering Technology
- Computer Science – just a few. Most CS students take the calc-based physics
So the question should be: what do these major programs need? Do they need circuits? I really don’t know the answer. I guess they do, aren’t circuits on the MCAT?
This problem of disjointedness continues in the text. The farther you get, the more hand-waving there is. It just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.