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Course Overview

This course covers a variety of traditional topics including mechanics, waves, thermodynamics, optics, and fluids as well as the more modern topics of quantum and special relativity.You will learn about the physical world around you in much the same way that scientists do.This course utilizes inquiry and student-centered learning to foster the development of critical thinking skills.Lecture and demonstration activities will often center on having students evaluate their own thinking and then making predictions about a given situation.

Course Content

Unit 1: Kinematics

Students learn to actively participate in an inquiry-based online course within the context of learning mechanics in 1D and 2D through graphical analysis and problem solving. The relationships between x vs t, v vs t and a vs t graphs are emphasized as a way to set the stage for in-depth data analysis in laboratory investigations that will allow students to later derive equations. Problem solving and discussion will enhance the understanding of kinematics principles, free fall, and projectile motion. Online simulations will be used to reinforce topics learned in class.

Unit 2: Force

Using Newton’s Three Laws of Motion as the basis for this unit, students explore forces, including friction, and their effect on motion. By the end of the unit, given a combination of forces acting on an object resulting in constant acceleration, students will be able to apply Newton’s Laws and kinematics equations for constant acceleration to solve problems involving the motion of the object; that is, concerning its acceleration, velocity, position, etc. They will also be able to represent a system of forces by modeling them as free body diagrams for a system of 2 or 3 objects with constant acceleration, identify the reaction forces for each force acting on the objects and apply Newton’s Laws to solve for any unknown quantities.

Unit 3: Work, Energy and Power

This unit combines the ideas of conservation of energy with conservation of work, leading to the work energy theorem. Introduction to situations where work is done by non-conservative forces is also included in this unit. Graphical analysis is also used to determine the relationship between work done and position of an object, along with the amount of power produced or used in certain situations. Students have the opportunity to not only solve quantitative problems about work, power and energy, but qualitative questions will also be analyzed and discussed. Real life situations about moving objects around rooms and a study of how engines can be used to do work for us will be included.

Unit 4: Momentum

Linear momentum and impulse will be introduced as a way to interpret changes in mechanical situations. Graphical analysis will again be an underlying concept through which to understand this unit. Conservation of momentum in 2D will be applied to two or more objects in two dimensional motion. The difference between elastic and inelastic collisions will be thoroughly discussed with respect to conservation of momentum for both colliding objects and exploding objects. Car safety and an understanding of amusement park physics will be included in this unit with the use of online simulations.

Unit 5: Circular Motion

In this unit, we move from translational motion to rotational motion. We will apply all of the kinematics we have learned to rigid bodies experiences torques as opposed to linear forces. The introduction of radians in this unit will help students further understand the idea that observations need to be made in the most appropriate system of measurement as well as give them exposure to the unit circle. Students will relate centripetal/radial acceleration to a change in direction of an object’s velocity vector, relate an object’s tangential speed and radius to its angular speed and/or its period or frequency of revolution. A study of the effect of a torque on various objects will also be carried out through both laboratory investigations and problem solving. These concepts will be related to students’ lives through discussions about bicycle tires, car tires, and other toys that utilize circular motion.

Unit 6: Relativity

A comparison between classical mechanics and special relativity will start this abstract and fascinating unit off. This unit will include discussions of the conceptual side of special relativity, along with quantitative analysis of situations dealing with objects moving at relativistic speeds. Mark Greene’s lecture series on the topic, along with Russell Stannard’s book “The Time and Space of Uncle Albert”, will be utilized as the basis for this unit. Discussions will be based around students learning about why there is an “ultimate speed limit” and how things change as we approach it. Understanding will be gained through both problem solving and use of simulations. Relativistic momentum, energy, velocity and mass, along with time dilation and length contraction will not only be explored qualitatively, but also quantitatively. Students will also get an understanding of the impact of special relativity on our lives and future space travel.

Unit 7: Waves

Building on the students’ ability to interpret graphs to determine relationships between factors, waves are introduced as graphical representations of moving energy. All aspects of traveling waves and standing waves are explored through laboratory investigations as well as problem solving and discussions. The relationships between amplitude, wavelength, frequency and speed of waves are explored through evidence found in investigations, both virtual and real, as well as through problem solving examples of such situations. Waves on strings, standing waves and the Doppler Effect are also included in this broad study of wave mechanics.

Unit 8: Thermodynamics

This unit is based around the kinetic theory model of an ideal gas. The first and second laws of thermodynamics, along with the concept of entropy are applied to engines and heat sinks. The students’ understanding of phase changes of substances is enhanced in this unit through the study of calorimetry. Entropy’s influence on evolution of life on earth is also discussed as a link to other sciences they have studied, and to give students a better understanding of how the models that we use in science fit into their lives.

Unit 9: Fluids

The historical aspect of science will be talked about in this unit as we discuss Archimedes and his experimentation with buoyancy. Pressure in fluids, at rest and moving will be investigated, which will lead to Bernoulli’s Law being derived and then applied to various situations. Students will again go through the entire scientific process when they investigate how pressure in fluids change with depth, velocity or flow rate. Laminar flow and the application of the equation of continuity will finish off the students’ study of fluids.

Unit 10: Optics

In this unit, we return to the concepts introduced in the waves unit with the study of light waves. We also investigate how light travels through different media, including fluids. Snell’s Law is used as a model for light’s behavior between different media. All of the different combinations of mirrors and lenses are covered, from simple image formation through a thin lens to investigating how telescopes, microscopes, and glasses combined with the human eye work. For students interested in becoming an optician, astronomer or biologist, this unit gives them the foundation to understand how different pieces of equipment each will use in their future field works. We also go back to graphical analysis of data to determine focal lengths of diverging and converging lenses and mirrors. Investigations allow students to discover the effect of changing the focal length of a lens on where the image will be formed, as well as how changing media for the light to travel through changes the behavior of light.