Debora M. Katz The United States Naval Academy
Physics for Scientists and Engineers: Foundations and Connections is a calculus-based introductory physics textbook designed to assist you in taking your students “beyond the quantitative.” Debora Katz leverages physics education research (PER) best practices and her extensive classroom experience to motivate her readers and address the areas where students struggle the most—bridging the gap between abstract language and application, overcoming common preconceptions, and connecting mathematical formalism and physics concepts.
Students often view physics as a series of unrelated facts, concepts, and equations that have little or no bearing on their everyday lives. This text aims to change these impressions.
Case studies motivate students and make abstract concepts concrete
This text uses cases studies to draw readers into the story of physics.
In this text, case studies are introduced and revisited throughout the
chapters in pedagogy such as the concept exercises, examples, and
Some case studies are based on “real-world” experiences, including news events students may have read about. These case studies make abstract physics concepts understandable and help bridge the gaps between the key concepts, the formal language, and the mathematics of physics.
For example, Chapter 5’s case study illustrates Newton’s laws of motion by examining an actual train collision described in news articles. The author introduces free-body diagrams and Newton’s second law, asking students to determine why backward-facing passengers received less bodily harm than did the forward-facing passengers. Students apply physics “tools”—Newton’s laws and free-body diagrams—to get to the bottom of this real-world example.
studies are based on historical events. For example, Chapter 24’s case study
(in Volume 2) discusses Benjamin Franklin’s study of lightning and his
subsequent invention of the lightning rod. Although many students know that Franklin flew a kite
during a storm, many do not know he was trying to test one of his scientific
hypotheses or that he subsequently invented the lightning rod. The shape of
lightning rods was of great debate—Franklin’s
design included a pointed tip, but a rival of Franklin argued that the end of a
lightning rod must be rounded. As students work through the debate, they are
motivated to calculate the electric field produced by charged conductors of
Student dialogues address preconceptions
Students come to the classroom with preconceptions
(what some call misconceptions). By acknowledging and addressing these
preconceptions, we can transform them into building blocks toward proper
understanding. Often, students simply need a connection between their
preconceptions and the true physical principles.
For example, many students believe that when
a truck and a car collide, the force of the truck on the car is greater than
the force of the car on the truck. This can be viewed in one of two ways—either
as a misconception about Newton’s
third law or as a misapplied resource in need of additional knowledge. Students
know that the car’s “experience” in the collision is different from the truck’s
experience. They need to connect this preconception to the acceleration of the
car instead of to the force exerted on the car by the truck. Once students make
that connection, it is much easier for them to understand that the force on
each vehicle must have an equal magnitude. Thus, they are able to incorporate Newton’s third law into
their own newly unified worldview.
In Physics for Scientists and Engineers, preconceptions are primarily
addressed by dialogues between fictional
students. These student dialogues allow the readers to discover their preconceptions
without a sense of failure. Dialogues may be incorporated into case studies,
concept exercises, examples, and end-of-chapter problems. For example, a
student dialogue discussing the train collision case study (Chapter 5) helps
students address their preconceptions around Newton’s first and second laws.
Two-column format for
examples and derivations connect mathematical formalism and physics concepts
Research shows that students struggle to make these connections. By
presenting many of the examples and
derivations in two columns (what an expert problem-solver thinks on the left
and what that expert would write on the board on the right), this text helps students make
connections between the concept being taught and the mathematical steps to
follow. It is like having an instructor within
the text: in one column he or she explains the concept, and in the other he or she
shows the mathematical steps to follow, just as an instructor would verbally
explain a problem in class while simultaneously solving the problem on the