Matter & Interactions I, Week 1

This is the first post of a series of sixteen in which I will attempt to describe the weekly goings on in my introductory calculus-based physics course. You probably already know that I use Matter & Interactions for this course, and I have since 1999. In fact, I was the first instructor in North Carolina to adopt M&I back when it was still considered to be in “beta testing” outside of Carnegie-Mellon University, where Chabay and Sherwood were working at the time. To my knowledge, my institution was the first community college to adopt M&I, and I’m told by Sherwood that our adoption of M&I influenced NCSU‘s decision to adopt it for their intro course.

My intro calculus-based physics course meets four days per week for a total of six contact hours each week. This year, as last year, it meets M-Th 10:00-11:20. This time has proven to be very convenient…not too early and not too late in the day. This semester’s enrollment is eight students, which is down from the past two years. It is also the first all male class in approximately three years. All eight current students plan to go into some form of engineering.

As in the past, the first week was dedicated to tech setup. Students set up their WebAssign accounts, and created accounts at both and Overleaf. That’s a lot of online stuff to keep track of, but we will use it all in this course. The big innovation this year is teaching LaTeX, and Overleaf is the best solution I have come across. It works online, so it requires nothing to be installed locally (which is good because I can’t update my iMacs in my classroom). It also works on tablets as well as notebooks and desktops so as far as I can tell it’s completely platform agnostic. We spent most of the first week learning the basics of LaTeX. Specifically, we saw how to use the most common math commands and constructs (exponents, subscripts, fractions, roots, inline math mode, display math mode, parentheses, trig functions, and Greek letters).  The remaining time was spend demonstrating, as opposed to learning, GlowScript and VPython. We will, of course, come back to VPython and GlowScript later. I felt that LaTeX took precedent this time because my expectation is that all homework will be done in LaTeX via Overleaf and I wanted students to get used to it. I gave students a ZIP file containing everything they need to get started creating LaTeX documents with my mandi package. Note that the version my students get is usually a small increment ahead of the CTAN version. They give me feedback on new features before I push an update.

Next week, we begin with special relativity.

I welcome comments, feedback, and constructive criticism.

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