27 December 2013

Banning the C-words

Banning the C-words (the physics ones)

Fox Trot by Bill Amend

It has a name and even an equation, so it must be real.

One of the challenges when dealing with circular motion in a typical physics class is getting students to realize that the centripetal force is the result of other forces. One trick that I have used in my class the past few years is to use the phrase "the force needed for circular motion". By never using the term "centripetal force", I try to emphasize that we need other, real forces to make something move in a circle. This approach seems to help when looking at classic examples, like the roller coaster (see a previous post here). This approach also helps because I don't have to get into the discussion of the difference between centripetal and centrifugal. Unfortunately, for typical high school students, once you give something a name, it becomes real.

So, do like I do, and ban the C-words in your class.

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