Tuesday, May 03, 2005

When you get your own AP class, you can do what you want

So it's looking likely that next year I'll be teaching the newly wildly popular AP Physics C. This will be a chance to relive old memories.

In addition, an AP Physics B class will be offered to seniors for the first time in several years, so it will be important to clarify the distinction between the two. Some of the differences are obvious: B is all about breadth, C is about depth. B is a dizzying tour through a wide range of physics topics (though it will probably be much less dizzying for students who have already had a year of physics), while C focuses only on mechanics and E&M, going deeper into those two areas, particularly by using calculus throughout the course.

C is generally understood to be a more advanced course. However, after starting to read the Feynman Lectures (one of my projects for the summer), I have decided to frame it as a more fundamental physics course (albeit only for students with sufficient background in physics and math). In this course, students will master all the roots of classical physics. Everything in Physics B (except for the atomic physics at the end of the year) can in theory be derived from Physics C (the actual history of physics be damned!): conservation of energy and momentum in a system of particles leads to PV=nRT when averaged over 10^23 particles; Maxwell's Equations lead via some convoluted path to the simplicity of Snell's Law and the lens equation. That's how I want to introduce the course to the students on the first day.


  1. Hey, you're reading Feynman now too? How far through are you? I finally started this January (a kind soul sent me the complete set as a gift while I was home sick - just the perfect time to start reading!).

    It's weird. On the one hand, some of it is really brilliant stuff. (starting with numerical integration of planetary orbits! Blew my mind.) On the other hand, it seems sort of disorganized to me. The way he jumps from forces, to relativity, back to angular momentum... I just keep thinking "man, this is all over the place". Maybe I just don't have the genius to see all the connections the same way he did. :-)

  2. I just got it last week, so I'm only two pages into it (plus the introduction), so all of my impressions so far are based on skimming the contents plus the reputation that precedes it, but I look forward to having more informed thoughts soon.

  3. My physics teacher had us derive PV=nRT using conservation of momentum and energy; I was a big fan of that derivation. I should read the Feynman lectures since I have the feeling that it would be sound like he was quoting my physics teacher.

  4. I read parts of them while I was taking AP Physics (thanks to my father, the former nuclear physicist). My physics teacher did not really bother to ground the seemingly random equations we had to memorize and learn to apply -- Feynman definitely more than made up for that. I was sorry to learn later that he was a bit of a misogynist.

    Your teaching plan sound great, Ben!