Physics at BHS



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"Most people who haven't been trained in physics probably think of what physicists do as a question of incredibly complicated calculations, but that's not really the essence of it. The essence of it is that physics is about concepts, wanting to understand the concepts, the principles by which the world works." - Edward Witten (1951 - )

Physics 1 at BHS - An Overview

I see Physics 1 students for 4 - 4.5 week cycles of 85 minute periods. I try, with limited success, to divide the course as follows:


General Topics

Text Chapters


(Cycles 1 & 2)

Science & Scientific Method


Thermodynamics & Properties of Matter





(Cycles 3 & 4)

Wave Motion, Sound & Light

Electricity & Magnetism

Atomic & Nuclear Physics




I try to stress Scientific Method and how science works (and sometimes doesn't work) in this course. Not many physics students will become professional scientists, let alone physicists, but it is vitally important that, as citizens, they have a reasonably sophisticated idea of how science works.

Mechanics is the soul of physics. We begin with kinematics in one- and two-dimensions (projectiles), proceed through Newton's Laws of motion, momentum, energy, circular and rotational motion, gravitation, and end with special relativity.

We do not stress thermodynamics and properties of matter (chapters 17-24 in the text) in this course, although it is fascinating science. Most students learn a great deal of thermodynamics in their chemistry courses.

Understanding wave motion, including reflection, refraction, diffraction, and interference, is vital to understanding the nature of sound and light. Students also investigate ray optics and the basic operation of plane and curved mirrors, and concave and convex lenses.

A basic understanding of electricity & magnetism is vitally important in a technological society. We first study electrostatics, electric fields, and the idea of potential. We move on to study current electricity and basic electric circuits. We finish up with a study of magnetism and electromagnetic induction.

In modern (atomic and nuclear) physics, we study the basic quantum nature of the atom, the nature of radioactivity, and nuclear fission and fusion.

Text and Philosophy

W use the text:

Hewitt, Paul G., Conceptual Physics, Third Edition, Addison Wesley I find this to be an excellent, readable text for a first course in Physics - possibly the best introductory physics text book ever written.

Other supplementary material I use includes:

Hewitt, Paul G., Conceptual Physics Teaching Guide, Third Edition, Addison- Wesley. I find this guide a valuable resource for teaching ideas and pointers. The "Terms and Objectives" handouts that I distribute to students are expanded versions of the Objectives and Possible Misconceptions to Correct sections in this book. (The terms are an expanded version of the Terms section at the end of the text chapter.)

Robinson, Paul, Conceptual Physics Laboratory Manual, Teacher's Edition, Addison-Wesley. I find this Laboratory Manual a valuable resource, although I no longer use it directly in class. I like the concept of many of the labs, but I just don't like the "fill in the blanks" format. I have expanded and revised many of the labs for my classes.

Hewitt, Paul G. and Helen Yan, Conceptual Physics Next-Time Questions, Third Edition, Addison-Wesley. I make transparencies and use these questions frequently to stimulate problem-solving and group discussions.

The adoption of the Indiana Academic Standards 2000 for Physics I by the state of Indiana is forcing our course to move away from an in-depth conceptual approach to physics toward a more-traditional equation-based survey course. We will be supplementing the text with many numerical exercises and problems this year in order to align our course with the state standards.

Physics Topics: