Vector Formalism in Introductory Physics III: Unwrapping Dot Products Geometrically

TL;DR: Vector dot products are not like products of real numbers, for which there is an inverse operation to “undo” multiplication. I don’t think we should introduce dot products as a form of “multiplication” in introductory physics courses because it may reinforce the urge to “divide by a vector.” A better approach may be to […]

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´╗┐Vector Formalism in Introductory Physics II: Six Coordinate-Free Derivations of the BAC-CAB Identity

TL;DR: The BAC-CAB vector identity is probably the most important vector identity, and has potentially important applications in introductory physics. I present six coordinate-free derivations of this identity. By “coordinate-free” I mean a derivation that doesn’t rely on any particular coordinate system, and one that relies on the inherent geometric relationships among the vectors involved. […]

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Vector Formalism in Introductory Physics I: Taking the Magnitude of Both Sides

TL;DR: I don’t like the way vectors are presented in calculus-based and algebra-based introductory physics. I think a more formal approach is warranted. This post addresses the problem of taking the magnitude of both sides of simple vector equations. If you want the details, read on. This is the first post in a new series […]

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Angular Quantities I

This is the first in a series of posts in which I want to share some hopefully interesting things about mathematical descriptions of rotational motion. This series was inspired by a talk given at the 2015 winter AAPT meeting in San Diego. The author claimed to have found a way to represent angular displacement as […]

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Matter & Interactions II, Week 5

This week was all about calculating electric fields for continuous charge distributions. This is usually students’ first exposure to what they think of as “calculus-based” physics because they are explicitly setting up and doing integrals. There’s lots going on behind the scenes though. In calculus class, students are used to manipulating functions by taking their […]

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Matter & Interactions I, Week 11

As (almost) usual, I’m writing this on the Monday after the week in question. This week we hit chapter 5, which is packed full of interesting physics and mathematics! We encounter the infamous time derivative of a unit vector (aka a direction), which I have found quite mysterious because of the rather hand waving ways […]

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Matter & Interactions I, Week 5

This week, we transitioned to chapter 1 of the Matter & Interactions textbook (fourth edition). I have WebAssign problem sets for each chapter available for formative assessment and practice while working their way through the reading. I encouraged them to use the book the way it was intended to be used, specifically by stopping and […]

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