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Physics – Algebra and Calculus Based Approaches
Many students take physics courses as a requirement for their undergraduate degree. This is one of the reasons why introductory physics courses are so important. Generally speaking, there can be both algebra-based and calculus-based physics at your college or university.
Algebra-based physics can be a great place to start as it attempts to take the challenge of computation out of the discussion. The concepts covered in a single trimester or semester are based primarily on common experiences that everyone has in daily life in the 21st century.
The key here is to become familiar with the vocabulary of general physics and the thought process of scientists. The physics lab course that complements the lecture helps make the equations meaningful.
A favorite lab/lecture involves projectile movement. Here the concepts of time and distance are explored for various objects of different weight propelled through the air from different angles. The experiment is simple: throw an object at an angle, see where it lands and compare it to the equations that describe the motion of the projectile. Here, the actual concept is simple since everyone understands the movement of projectiles. Getting involved in detail tracking and linking the data to two-dimensional motion is the challenge. There are easily defined changes in time and distance that relate directly to the projectile’s equations of motion.
In this case, there is almost no difference between how algebra-based physics and computation-based physics are learned.
Computational physics provides an opportunity to show how our attempt to understand our environment has led to a development of mathematics to explain relationships. Most students in this sequence progress simultaneously through introductory physics and calculus. Believe me, the courses really complement each other and will lay the foundation for the type of study involved in advanced courses in almost any applied science field. Increased exposure to how physicists apply and derive scientific ideas and how mathematicians derive mathematical relationships helps maintain a sense of discovery.
Although there is no individual comparison between your physics course and your calculus course at any given time, you do need practice and exposure. Many times a physics instructor will derive the equations from the basic relationships and where there is calculus there is almost always algebra. In fact, you will quickly discover that physics lessons will make you a stronger student of calculus because there will be a 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 leading thinkers will be featured and their contributions noted. You will find that many of the units we use daily are acknowledgments to people who have helped define and articulate our understanding of the natural world.
I wish you success in your journey.
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