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Algebra Based Physics For All Disciplines

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Innovations in Teaching Introductory Physics

Tagged Division

Engineering Physics & Physics

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.167.1 - 11.167.7



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Paper Authors

author page

Gary Turner Morningside College

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Algebra-based physics for all disciplines Abstract A physics education strategy has been developed by which all STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) students, regardless of major, take an algebra-based year-long physics sequence (General Physics). The model is based on programs of study found in other countries, and follows the approach used by international examining boards such as International Baccalaureate (IB) and those administering the General Certificate of Education advanced level (GCE A-level) curricula. With these programs of study, students typically complete a rigorous algebra-based sequence before their university studies. We are emulating that process by having all STEM students take General Physics, and then building on that for those majors that need further development. The curriculum outline and findings from the first two years are presented.

The General Physics sequence automatically meets the requirements for the “traditional” algebra-based (College Physics) population; for students needing the “traditional” calculus-based (University Physics) course, the algebra-based sequence forms the first tier of studies. The second tier of studies comprises a pair of courses titled “Calculus Applications in Physics”. This pair of courses focuses on those areas from General Physics in which calculus plays a significant role, and extends the traditional realm of topics from University Physics into advanced calculus and basic differential equations. In conjunction with the mathematics group, the calculus sequence and physics sequences have been arranged into one, almost seamless, 24 semester-hour block of courses.

The new sequence offers pedagogical benefits by separating the conceptual framework from the rigorous mathematical applications, and scheduling benefits for students already invested in a high quality algebra-based physics sequence. For these students, the entry-level physics courses are now more challenging and interesting, and less tedious and repetitive.

We discuss some of the issues that have arisen during this transition, and present the full 24 semester-hour framework. Samples of assessments and results are included for comparison to local standards.


In the small college setting, enrollment in introductory physics courses is often low and resources limited. A common approach to meeting enrollment criteria is to combine the algebra- based and calculus-based physics sequences into one course, with the calculus-based students meeting for an extra hour per week or so. This approach was tried at first, but we found that “extra time” to be an ineffective tool. The problem lies in the degree to which different topics need continuing development. Some, such as geometric optics, have almost no use for calculus; others, such as the relationship between potentials and fields, are covered minimally in algebra- based physics, but require advanced calculus and significant class time for the calculus-based students.

With the prospect of offering different classes looking bleak, and the current system failing to meet outcomes, we designed an alternative system. As it developed, we started to recognize the

Turner, G. (2006, June), Algebra Based Physics For All Disciplines Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--143

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