We're learning science through experimentation.

This block in Physics we have transitioned from one-dimensional motion to two, developing the tools for analyzing motion with vectors, and investigating how vertical motion can be described independently of horizontal motion. We are also taking the big step of combining ideas from energy and momentum with applications of Newton’s laws to solve complex problems.

In our labs, students have flown motorized model pigs (complete with flapping wings!) to model an iconic problem, the conical pendulum, to come to grips with centripetal force. In order for students not to identify this with a macroscopic force like contact, gravity, or friction, we are also banning some words, like centrifugal forces, which only exist in special reference frames. One of the central themes of this course is to transition to Newtonian ideas to model problems, and a big step in that direction is to attribute specific meaning to everyday words, or to unlearn their meaning, in some sense, so that they have a more precise physical context.

As we study rotational motion with strong analogs to translation, we are revisiting an old experiment with LEDs attached to carpet sections (and then flung across the room) to make a different connection this time, demonstrating the independence between rotation about the center of mass, and the translational motion of the center of mass itself.

Some of our classes have been spent entirely with students discussing small conceptual problems in groups, and then presenting their ideas. Our small lecture time is interspersed with clicker questions, which the students have to sometimes hazard a guess, thinking independently, and then have a group discussion surrounding anomalous answers. This method of peer instruction has been developed by the author of the text we have adopted, and is a central element in our class.

Being wrong about their physical intuition helps students conflate their physical reasoning with an accurate mathematical model, and it generates animated discussion! Our studies on oscillations ties these themes together at the end of the block, as we step into thermodynamics and kinetic theory.

--Kaushik Basu