COMPUTER AIDS FOR THE INDEPENDENT STUDY OF PHYSICS SUBJECTS IN THE FRESHMAN YEAR OF ENGINEERING STUDIES
University of Burgos (SPAIN)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN10 Proceedings
Publication year: 2010
Conference name: 2nd International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 5-7 July, 2010
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Abstract:One of the main challenges in the process of adapting existing syllabi to the European Higher Education Area is the decrease in the number of credits assigned to each subject. This decrease is balanced by the fact that former credits were calculated exclusively by taking into account face-to-face interaction between teacher and student while the new European Credit Transfer System concept of credit encompasses not only this aspect but also the time the student has to spend independently in order to acquire the competences associated with the subject.
In the case of freshman year Physics subjects, the student has to grasp many new concepts. Using a traditional textbook is usually not good enough to go beyond the ‘forest of formulas’ and understand the underlying basic principles in a relatively short period of time. In order to help the student in this task, we have developed several Mathematica notebooks that can be used in his or her independent study time. Mathematica (www.wolfram.com) is a powerful high-level programming language especially suited for analyzing any complex mathematical problem and creating graphics and animations that are an invaluable aid in understanding the meaning of the mathematical expressions that describe the behavior of a physical system.
We have used Mathematica in our classrooms for nearly 15 years to help students visualize physical magnitudes but until a short time ago it was not possible to effectively use this code for independent study. The situation has changed because the program publisher has made available for free a piece of code called MathPlayer that allows to run Mathematica notebooks. This code in conjunction with the interactive capabilities of Mathematica 7.0 allows any student with a computer to change the input values for a physical system and create graphics and animations that display the behavior of the different properties of the system.
We have written notebooks devoted to several aspects covered in Physics 101 and 102 syllabi, namely, vector calculus, kinematics and dynamics or particles and systems, fluid mechanics, electromagnetism, and thermodynamics.
Keywords: computational simulation, physics, independent learning, Mathematica.