Physics – Algebra and Calculus Based Approaches

Many students take classes in physics as requirement for their undergraduate degree. This is one reason why Introduction to Physics classes are so big. Generally speaking, there can be both algebra-based and calculus-based physics available at you college or university.

Algebra-based Physics can be a great place to begin since it attempts to take the challenge of calculus out of the discussion. The concepts covered in a single quarter or semester are based mostly on common experiences everyone has in daily 21st century life.

The key here is to become comfortable with the vocabulary of general physics and the process of how scientist think. The physics lab course that complements the lecture helps to make the equations meaningful.

A favorite lab/lecture involves projectile motion. Here the concepts of time and distance are investigated for various objects of different weights propelled through the air at different angles. The experiment is simple: launch an object at an angle, see where it lands, and compare to the equations that describe projectile motion. Here, the actual concept is simple since everyone understands projectile motion. Getting involved in tracking the details and relating the data to 2-dimensional motion is the challenge. There are easily defined changes in time and distance that relate directly to the Projectile Motion Equations.

In this case, there is practically no difference between how algebra-based physics and calculus-based physics is being learned.

Calculus-based Physics provides an opportunity to showcase how our attempt to understand our environment has driven a development of math to explain the relationships. Most students in this sequence progress through Introduction to Physics and Calculus simultaneously. Trust me, the classes really do compliment each other and will set the foundation for the type of studies involved in advance courses in almost every applied scientific field. The increased exposure to how Physicist apply and derive scientific ideas and how Mathematicians derive mathematical relationships helps to maintain as sense of discovery.

While there is not a one-to-one comparison between where your physics class and you calculus class will be at any given time, you need the practice and exposure. Many times a Physics Instructor will derive the equations from basic relationships and where there is calculus, there is almost always algebra. In fact, you’ll quickly discover that the physics classes will make you a stronger student in calculus because there will be physical meaning to the vocabulary of calculus.

Algebra-based or Calculus-based, whichever you decide is best for you, will help you appreciate the importance of discovery in the scientific process. Along the way, many of the great thinkers will be introduced and their contributions noted. You’ll find that many of the units we use daily are acknowledgments to people in who have helped define and articulate our understanding of the natural world.

I wish you success in your journey.

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