Discovery-Based Physics at Grinnell College

Discovery-Based Physics at Grinnell is based on the Workshop Physics model developed by Priscilla Laws at Dickinson College, but a complete new set of curricular materials have been developed at Grinnell by Mark Schneider. These activity guides can be downloaded as PDF files by clicking on the appropriate units below. You may feel free to use them as you see fit for no charge, although copyright is retained by Mark Schneider. These activity guides have been used for about a decade at Grinnell, but have not been classroom tested elsewhere, so neither the author nor Grinnell College can guarantee suitability for your particular application. For additional information, contact Mark Schneider at

First Semester--Particle Mechanics

The goal of this course is to cover particle mechanics in a modern view. With this in mind, Newton's second law is "discovered" early in the course, and initial emphasis on one dimensional motion allows one to see different force laws and conservation principles as early in the course as possible. Waves are introduced immediately after oscillations, with the goal being to lay a basis for the understanding of quantum waves in a qualitative sense. The quantum principles then form a basis for a simple investigation of statistical physics.

Second Semester--Fluids and Fields

The purpose of this course is primarily conventional study of electricity and magnetism, however the approach is considerably different from conventional approaches. Fluid mechanics is studied initially to provide an analogy for electric current, and to gain familiarity with the mathematical concept of a vector field as exemplified by the fluid velocity field. This is followed immediately by simple circuits, and then capacitors, and only then is the abstract concept of charge and the attendant forces introduced. Magnetic concepts are introduced in analogy to electric concepts, including the use of poles as analogous to charges. Finally, a brief mention is made of electromagnetic fields and a short visit paid to physical optics.

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This page is maintained by Mark Schneider ( Send questions or corrections directly to him. This page was last updated on April 7, 2006.