Conceptual Physics: A Curriculumby: Keri Garver
In addition, physics is the basic science. It is the foundation for biology, chemistry, geology, and all other sciences. Therefore, what one learns in Conceptual Physics will be the basis on which all of one’s knowledge from the disciplines of science builds.
I intend to equip my high school physics students with a conceptual
base of physical knowledge. From this base they can predict, control, calculate,
measure, and observe their interactions with the physical world around
them on a daily basis. This conceptual base will also foster their critical
and analytical thinking for use throughout their lifetime.
The order of the units within the course is not flexible, either. The units are where they are in the sequence due to the increase in complexity and sophistication as the year progresses. For example, the first unit, About Science, is a foundation for all subsequent units; hence it must be the first unit. Each unit is a prerequisite for the following units. For the course itself the only prerequisite is basic math since it is based on concepts, not complex mathematical computations.
In fact, what students have been taught and particularly the way they have been taught in other disciplines may cause some confusion for them in approaching science in a non-mathematical way. Most students are used to black and white—right or wrong—approaches to science and math. It is imperative that the teacher creates an environment that emphasizes new ideas or innovative ways to approach old ideas for a paradigm shift to occur. One effective way to foster such an environment for change is having students formulate their own theories before being taught the "correct" theory. Students are more likely to reevaluate their concept structures if they are consciously committed to their personal beliefs before learning the "correct" theory or witnessing the actual results (i.e. in an experiment). Likewise, students are more likely to grasp a concept if it is presented in a way that it is personally relevant to the students. In other words, present the phenomena as it occurs in nature—as the students have already observed for themselves—before it is presented in terms of a principle or law. Numerous examples are given in current conceptual physics textbooks and manuals.
I have based my course on the book Conceptual Physics
by Paul Hewitt. I strongly recommend using a conceptual as opposed to a
traditional text. If you are forced to use a traditional text be wary that
those textbooks do not explain concepts in detail, but, instead, hope the
math will do that for them, which is not often the case. Therefore, you
must constantly stray from the book in lecture to emphasize the principles
in words, not numbers. Laboratory Manual in Conceptual Physics by
Bill Tillery is an excellent source for preparing experiments. Another
good laboratory reference is The Phenomena of Physics: A Conceptual
Laboratory Manual by Karen Johnston and Cecil Shugart. I must reiterate
that the laboratory experience is an integral part of learning physics
conceptually. By means of a close partnership between lecture and laboratory,
this course attempts to answer the following question: What fundamental
concepts of physics do we need to know to predict, control, calculate,
measure, and observe our interactions with the rules of nature in the physical