Home Study Companion: Physics
New Course to be Released in Late Spring or Summer 2020
Teaching physics is different from teaching mathematics courses. Students come into a physics course for the first time with a fairly complete set of intuitions about how the world works that has been built up from ordinary life experiences. They can throw and catch a ball, cross the street without getting hit by a car, and intuitively judge the consequences of their actions. However, the intuitive foundations of their understandings are typically wrong when it comes to understanding phenomena beyond their common experiences.
Teaching physics, therefore, is not writing on a blank slate. The preexisting ideas must be challenged with new experiences and a new foundation must be laid. Intuitions must be rebuilt on this new foundation. Physics at this level is called “Newtonian Physics” because we will be introducing the conceptual framework laid down by Isaac Newton.
Physics requires a lab component because the task is to understand the physical world. Mere textbook learning cannot accomplish this. Even computer simulations cannot really substitute for direct experience of the real world. Students need to experience the real world in new ways that challenge their old intuitions and motivate their adoption of the Newtonian framework.
One challenge for a homeschool physics course is to provide these experiences without the facilities of a formal physics lab. To meet this need this course will structure the “lab” component as “projects.” Hands-on experiences and literal “play” with equipment (physics toys!) is a necessary precursor to analysis.
Because of the lab component there needs to be a willingness to invest in the tools and materials for these projects. I have tried to keep the costs as low as possible, and many of the tools and materials are free or very low cost.
Physics is the most fundamental of the sciences but it is also the most mathematical. (Much of highschool level math, including calculus was invented in order to do physics!) This introductory course is at a non-calculus level but we will make heavy use of algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. To be successful the student should have completed at least the Algebra 2 / Trigonometry course and preferably be continuing with Precalculus (or Calculus, as appropriate) alongside Physics. Physics will help answer the age-old question, “When are we ever going to use this?” Physics and mathematics are not the same, but they support each other.
More details on the specifics of this course will be announced as the course continues to be developed throughout the 2019-2020 school year. I am working with a small group of students as a pilot group who are taking the course as it is being developed and providing valuable feedback along the way.