Physics Resources

General Interest Links

In Preparation for the Future (Students)

Curricular Development

Discovery-Based Physics

A General Physics course was developed at Grinnell using a pedagogy similar to Priscilla Laws' Workshop Physics but including more contemporary topics. Grinnell's material for this course was developed by Mark Schneider, now Professor Emeritus, in the 1990s. According to Schneider,

The first semester focuses on particle mechanics in a modern view. With this in mind, Newton's second law is "discovered" early in the course, and initial emphasis on one dimensional motion allows one to see different force laws and conservation principles as early in the course as possible. Waves are introduced immediately after oscillations, with the goal being to lay a basis for the understanding of quantum waves in a qualitative sense. The quantum principles then form a basis for a simple investigation of statistical physics.

The second semester focuses on fluids and fields. The purpose of this course is primarily conventional study of electricity and magnetism, however the approach is considerably different from conventional approaches. Fluid mechanics is studied initially to provide an analogy for electric current, and to gain familiarity with the mathematical concept of a vector field as exemplified by the fluid velocity field. This is followed immediately by simple circuits, and then capacitors, and only then is the abstract concept of charge and the attendant forces introduced. Magnetic concepts are introduced in analogy to electric concepts, including the use of poles as analogous to charges. Finally, a brief mention is made of electromagnetic fields and a short visit paid to physical optics.

This active-learning pedagogy was later used to develop an intermediate-level course on computational physics. The guided exercises include investigations of numerical algorithms for integration, matrix manipulation, Fourier transforms, data fitting, and Monte Carlo methods.

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