University of Pittsburgh

ACIE Award 2010

Teaching Computer Modeling in Physics


Insert Name

Adam Leibovich

Physics & Astronomy
200K Allen Hall
(412) 624–3617

Physicists often use approximations to solve problems. All introductory physics courses use these approximations, which results in students failing to understand how the problem relates to real life, as well as how the problem-solving method is related to the original question. This impacts future courses where more complicated—and thus more realistic—problems are presented, and students are required to provide complex numeric solutions.

To overcome this, Adam Leibovich and Russell Clark, both from Physics and Astronomy, have used their ACIE grant Teaching Computer Modeling in Introductory Physics to produce 18 computer laboratory exercises for the more than 300 freshman Engineering students who take the introductory physics sequence yearly. The goal of these exercises is to teach freshmen how to create computer simulations to both visualize and solve problems that would otherwise be too complicated. Examples of these problems include calculating the range of a baseball in flight and the classic three-body problem in orbital mechanics. By linking the labs to numerical approaches to problems, Leibovich and Clark will show students how physics is relevant in daily life and, at the same time, why approximations are necessary in the subject.

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