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Question Regarding Physics Textbooks


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#1 Chipper

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Posted 06 May 2003 - 03:28 AM

I'm currently in 10th grade, going into 11th next year.  I'm going to be a AP Physics B course, which doesn't involve a lot of calculus (I'm only going into Pre-Cal next year, actually, and only getting into a smaller fractino of calculus).

I was wondering if anyone could recommend any sort of textbooks that would help me out in understanding the basics of physics.
I took chemistry this year, and the textbook I had was horrible.  Let's just say that when you have a pothead for a teacher, it doesn't work well. ;)

Thanks a lot!
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#2 Gvambat

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Posted 06 May 2003 - 07:35 AM

Erm...

Well, I'm rather fond of my book from intro physics, but I'm not sure it's what you'd be looking for, as I wasn't trying to learn straight out of it.

Physics for Scientists and Engineers by Serway and Beichner, fifth edition.

We used that for two semesters of college physics, so I think that should be the subject matter you'd be looking for, but don't take my word on it.

:)

Edited by Gvambat, 06 May 2003 - 07:37 AM.

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#3 Orpheus

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Posted 06 May 2003 - 07:43 AM

I loved Halliday and Resnick "Fundamentals of Physics" at that age, and I still use it 20+ years later. It's less than 30 cm from me right now. I think it's a good compromise between detailed and simple, but IMHO, it'd be improved by coming full circle back to algebra after doing the calculus bit. Calculus is a good didactic tool to simplify explanations (you don't actually need to be able to do the calculus, just understand the basic principles), but I find that once you really get something down cold, you can often solve them faster with algebra, and I wish H&R did a bit more to guide you in that transition back. This book is often used as a college text, but college students could benefit as much as HS students from having the algebraic intuitions reinforced.

Still, the Jearl Walker (and other) "supplementary" essays more than make up for any deficiencies. When I taught physics (something everyone ends up doing at some point in their lives) I used a salmon paperback "supplement series" for further simplification and examples of the stuff that tripped certain students up. I wouldn't buy it, but you'll probably find it in your school or town library, and you can decide for yourself.

#4 Christopher

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Posted 06 May 2003 - 02:51 PM

Hey, Halliday & Resnick was my textbook!  And I still have mine, too.

I don't remember what text I used in 11th-grade physics -- what I remember is the great teacher we had, actually a professor, Dr. Roger Burgess.  He was the kind of teacher who used toys and cool tricks to demonstrate the principles he was teaching, though that was just the start of it.  The best thing he did was to administer a test in which we were given a few weeks to solve a bunch of very imaginative questions that challenged our skills in research and problem-solving, assembling info from various sources and putting it together to answer the question.  Like, given its Biblical dimensions, what was the total mass of wood used to build Noah's Ark?  Or how long would the groove on such-and-such an LP (I'm betraying my age here) be if it were unwound?  And other really cool questions I can't remember offhand.  Alas, though I still have the answer sheet, I no longer have the question sheet.
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#5 Jid

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Posted 06 May 2003 - 06:00 PM

Those texts sound good, but it really depends on what you'll be learning in your physics class.

If its the basics you're looking for, I'd recommend going after something that focuses a lot more on basic optics (lenses and light bending), and Newtonian Mechanics (equations of motion).

Of course, the latter are *derived* with Calculus, but are easy to understand without any calculus at all.

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#6 Christopher

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Posted 06 May 2003 - 07:57 PM

Jid, on May 6 2003, 10:50 AM, said:

If its the basics you're looking for, I'd recommend going after something that focuses a lot more on basic optics (lenses and light bending), and Newtonian Mechanics (equations of motion)....

-Jid (who didn't touch relativity till the end of grade 12)
I think that's exactly the problem with the way physics is taught in schools -- it's more like physics history, beginning with the old, inaccurate assumptions of past generations, and only later introducing us to our more complete modern understandings, forcing us to unlearn a lot of the misconceptions we had drummed into us before.  I encounter this a lot in online science discussions -- people just have so much trouble grasping relativistic and quantum principles because they're unable to shake off the classical assumptions they were raised with.  I think if kids got taught modern physics from the start, it would be much easier for them to grasp in the long run.
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#7 Jid

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Posted 06 May 2003 - 08:20 PM

Perhaps...

But Since Newtonian Mechanics still hold quite accurately upto around 10 PSL, they're still valid, and I dare say an easier place to begin examining motion than relativity would be.
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#8 Christopher

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Posted 07 May 2003 - 12:04 AM

Jid, on May 6 2003, 01:10 PM, said:

Perhaps...

But Since Newtonian Mechanics still hold quite accurately upto around 10 PSL, they're still valid, and I dare say an easier place to begin examining motion than relativity would be.
But at least the teachers should let the kids know that it's just an approximation.  And it's other things, too.  Like, once I asked my college physics professor to explain how one fundamental interaction, electromagnetism, with one exchange particle, the photon, could manifest itself as two different forces, electricity and magnetism.  He didn't explain to me how magnetism is a relativistic outgrowth of electricity, a fictitious force of sorts arising from the different frames of reference of moving charges, even though he knew I was knowledgeable enough to understand that.  Instead he just repeated the party line, "No, electricity and magnetism combine to produce electromagnetism."  Which is BS.  It's not true at all.  It's just that we discovered the two separately and only later learned that they were actually different manifestations of the same force.  He was presenting physics history, the change in our understanding of physics, as though it reflected physical reality.  And this wasn't even in a lecture.  It was after class, in response to a student that he knew was able to understand things on a more advanced level.  (If he hadn't already known that about me from experience, the way I asked the question should've demonstrated it.)  And I assume that he knew the real explanation, since he had a Dr. before his name.  But he was just so used to the party-line way of explaining it that he pushed me away from the real answer rather than bringing me closer to it.

And then there's the tendency to teach that momentum is defined as the product of mass and velocity.  This makes it hard for students to understand that it's possible for a massless particle to have momentum.  The reality is that momentum is a more fundamental property than mass -- we just came up with the concept of mass before we came up with the concept of momentum, so physicists initially defined the relationship as though mass were the fundamental property and momentum derived from it.  And science teachers today just keep perpetuating the misconceptions of the past as though they were true.  And that makes it harder for students to understand modern physics, because they have to unlearn too much.
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#9 Chipper

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Posted 07 May 2003 - 04:17 AM

Thanks for the advice.
Considering the class is technically a first year of college class, what you have recommended seems pretty helpful to me.

:)
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#10 NeuralClone

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Posted 07 May 2003 - 08:30 AM

I used "University Physics: Extended Version With Modern Physics" by Hugh D. Young and Roger A. Freedman in my undergraduate physics courses last year. It didn't get into quite enough detail for my tastes (I wanted more mathematical detail) but it was definitely a good introductory book.
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#11 Gvambat

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Posted 08 May 2003 - 01:42 AM

Christopher, on May 6 2003, 04:51 PM, said:

But at least the teachers should let the kids know that it's just an approximation.
That's one of my pet peeves; if something is wrong, a teacher should say so, even if that particular topic is going to be the focus for a while ("This is Bohr's model of the atom. It's wrong, but it's close enough for our puposes.") but I think (or wish) teachers should have some basic explanation of why it's wrong, instead of telling students that they'll figure it out after they've had some other class.

Some topics are probably impossible to explain, depending on the level of education (I was bugging my parents to tell me what a derivitive was before I'd had basic algebra) but imo, they should at least give it a try.
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#12 Orpheus

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Posted 08 May 2003 - 02:12 AM

Actually, I learned what derivatives and integrals were long before I took algebra, and I feel that insight really helped me in my later career in mathematics. I've always felt that they could drop a few of those useless September warm-up chapters on Venn diagrams and Set Theory (which are only useless because the never follow up on them with anything cool like Group Theory)  and replace them with discussions of basic principles of calculus and other topics, so they aren't so weird and scary later, to mathies and innumerates alike.

It's funny, when I was in first grade, we had "Handwriting exercises" with sentences like "Three time two equals six." and  by the middle of the year, the result would be left blank. We were expected to fill in if we could (almost all of us usually could)  Yet we weren't formally taught our "times tables" until third grade.

But don't get me started on how little we're taught in our formal education, even at the doctoral level

#13 Gvambat

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Posted 08 May 2003 - 03:56 AM

Really? How do you explain derivatives? You can explain integrals with area under a curve, but I've been pondering it, and still don't have a simple way to describe derivatives.
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#14 Orpheus

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Posted 08 May 2003 - 04:53 AM

slope of a line or curve = rate of change

I've successfully explained it to "technical school' junior high'ers. They know "slope" as  "rise over run" (e.g. the pitch of a roof) instead of the dy/dx that the honors students get - but as they say in the traditional mixed gender Japanese bathhouses "evy body same-same in back"

Edited by Orpheus, 08 May 2003 - 04:55 AM.


#15 Gvambat

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Posted 08 May 2003 - 06:04 AM

Wow, that makes sense.

Applauds

I think that was a bit more geometry than I knew at the time (3rd or 4th grade) but that would've made a lot more sense.

:)
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#16 Christopher

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Posted 08 May 2003 - 11:28 AM

I never quite figured out integrals.  I just never got a sense for what I was actually doing in any real-world sense when I performed the computations -- it just seemed arbitrary to me.  So I could usually struggle through the exercises but I didn't get what they meant.

Edited by Christopher, 08 May 2003 - 11:29 AM.

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#17 Orpheus

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Posted 08 May 2003 - 05:11 PM

I agree that sometimes one simply ends up working by rote, expecially stuff like iintegration by parts ( the  bit about § U dV = UV- § V du), but back when I was learning, I really did have a great deal of luck with the "area under a curve" and "filling a bathtub" analogies. I knwo you have the concepptual abilities - did you ever sit down and visualize the analogy for each of the basic transformations? [Sometimes they were a little *too* simple: it took me a good solid month of pondering to trust implicit differentiation, where most people I know bought it immediately without problems) When it came to actually visualizing the difference curve of most functions (definite integrals)... well, let's just say I used more faith than Thomas Aquinas.

Sure physical analogies do seem a little hairy and counterintuitive on stuff like radius of curvature (and I'm still known to blow "volumes of multiple revolution" with results rarely seen outside a museum of abstract art) but I'm usually pretty happy knowing that I worked out the analogy once (or 10x). Then, like the Pythagorean theorem or toothpaste, I don't think about how/why they work too often; I just use them.

On the original subject of Physics texts: I should add that for the AP physics exam, you only need to understand the first chapter or two of each group well (you'll see the groupings of 3-5 chapters readily, even when they're not explicitly stated) and a decent gloss of the remaining chapters in each group will more than suffice. The test is really very easy: it's mostly checking on breadth and foundation, not depth and intricacy.

However, even if you AP out of physics using H+R, do yourself a favor and take a 200-300 level course ASAP, even if your degree program doesn't require it. because the real depth and beauty of H+R is the graduating difficulty of the problems at the end of the chapters. (I, for one, probably wouldn't have had the discipline to work though the last half of the problems in most chapters, were I not sitting, bored, in a physics lecture)

But we all know by now that doodle-inspiring boredom is the primary didactic tool in modern education.

#18 Christopher

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Posted 08 May 2003 - 07:18 PM

Orpheus, on May 8 2003, 10:58 AM, said:

I agree that sometimes one simply ends up working by rote, expecially stuff like iintegration by parts ( the  bit about § U dV = UV- § V du), but back when I was learning, I really did have a great deal of luck with the "area under a curve" and "filling a bathtub" analogies. I knwo you have the concepptual abilities - did you ever sit down and visualize the analogy for each of the basic transformations?
Well, I don't quite remember what the analogies are -- it's been so long since I had to think about it.  The only time in the past decade that I've tried to do anything with integrals was a few months ago when I was trying to figure out an equation for the average time dilation of an accelerating ship.  I got what I thought was the appropriate formula from my old calc text, but eventually figured out I'd done something wrong when I was getting inconsistent or illogical results.  But I couldn't figure out what I'd done wrong, and I had to ask for help online.

I dunno, I did okay in 11th-grade calculus class, but when I took it in college I was lost.  Maybe part of it was the teachers; my high-school calc teacher was a no-nonsense, straightforward guy (or so I thought -- my opinion of him cooled when female friends pointed out to me how sexist he was), while my college calc teacher was a classic milquetoast, a really sweet avuncular guy but not exactly attention-grabbing as a lecturer.  But I think it was more to do with the fact that when I took college calc I was suffering from a debilitating case of unrequited love and kind of lost the ability to concentrate on classes.

Actually most students at my high school didn't get calc until 12th grade, but I was in the accelerated program.  Which turned out badly for me -- normally seniors took a college-level course in Prob & Stat, but the professor was on sabbatical or something that year, and they brought in a substitute who knew less about the subject than we students did.  It was a total failure as a Prob & Stat class, and was soon retooled into a generic and rather pointless "Topics in Math" class.  Worse, the only way this special course could be fit into the schedules of all the accelerated-math students was to hold it in "zeroth bell," before first period -- after which I had two or three study hall periods in a row.  It became the only high school class that I ever persistently skipped.

Quote

I should add that for the AP physics exam, you only need to understand the first chapter or two of each group well (you'll see the groupings of 3-5 chapters readily, even when they're not explicitly stated) and a decent gloss of the remaining chapters in each group will more than suffice. The test is really very easy: it's mostly checking on breadth and foundation, not depth and intricacy.

Of course ideally the goal of education is to actually learn stuff, not just to pass tests.  The tests should be a means to the end of gaining knowledge, not vice-versa.
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#19 Chipper

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Posted 09 May 2003 - 03:35 AM

I was actually able to find out what textbook my school uses.

It's simply called Physics, and is written by Giancoli.

My friend said it was very good, I was wondering if anyone here heard of it?
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#20 Techfreak Ziana

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Posted 09 May 2003 - 05:19 AM

Chipper, on May 5 2003, 08:15 PM, said:

Let's just say that when you have a pothead for a teacher, it doesn't work well. ;)
Bit too much firsthand experience with chemistry, hmm? ;)
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