Conceptual Understanding in Introductory Physics XXX: Two Expressions for the Cross Product

I just realized this is the thirtieth post in this series! I don’t know if anyone has found this series helpful, but I think these questions collectively might make a pool of original exam questions. That’s mainly how I see them anyway. This post is almost a word for word duplicate of the last post […]

Read More Conceptual Understanding in Introductory Physics XXX: Two Expressions for the Cross Product

Conceptual Understanding in Introductory Physics XXIX: Two Expressions for the Dot Product

Students sometimes see vector dot products in their calculus classes before they see them in their physics classes. Dot products are often presented with two seemingly unrelated definitions, one of which is geometric and coordinate free and the other is in terms of components in a particular basis. Yet, the two give exactly the same […]

Read More Conceptual Understanding in Introductory Physics XXIX: Two Expressions for the Dot Product

Vector Formalism in Introductory Physics VI: A Unified Solution for Simple Dot Product and Cross Product Equations

TL;DR: Simple vector dot products and cross products may be “undone” using formal methods consistent with Gibbsian vector algebra. Writing the cross product and dot product of an unknown vector relative to a given vector in a canonical form allows a well known vector identity to be used to isolate the unknown vector. Special cases […]

Read More Vector Formalism in Introductory Physics VI: A Unified Solution for Simple Dot Product and Cross Product Equations

Vector Formalism in Introductory Physics V: Two Equations, One Solution

TL;DR: Solving seemingly trivial dot product and cross product equations leads to an astonishing result, namely that they have the same solution, which can be derived both geometrically and algebraically. Establishing this common solution is an important step in motivating formal Gibbsian vector algebra. In the previous two posts, I demonstrated that the simple dot […]

Read More Vector Formalism in Introductory Physics V: Two Equations, One Solution

Vector Formalism in Introductory Physics IV: Unwrapping Cross Products Geometrically

TL;DR: Vector cross products are not like products of real numbers, for which there is an inverse operation to “undo” multiplication. I don’t think we should introduce cross products as a form of “multiplication” in introductory physics courses because it may reinforce the urge to “divide by a vector.” A better approach may be to […]

Read More Vector Formalism in Introductory Physics IV: Unwrapping Cross Products Geometrically

Vector Formalism in Introductory Physics III: Unwrapping Dot Products Geometrically

TL;DR: Vector dot products are not like products of real numbers, for which there is an inverse operation to “undo” multiplication. I don’t think we should introduce dot products as a form of “multiplication” in introductory physics courses because it may reinforce the urge to “divide by a vector.” A better approach may be to […]

Read More Vector Formalism in Introductory Physics III: Unwrapping Dot Products Geometrically

´╗┐Vector Formalism in Introductory Physics II: Six Coordinate-Free Derivations of the BAC-CAB Identity

TL;DR: The BAC-CAB vector identity is probably the most important vector identity, and has potentially important applications in introductory physics. I present six coordinate-free derivations of this identity. By “coordinate-free” I mean a derivation that doesn’t rely on any particular coordinate system, and one that relies on the inherent geometric relationships among the vectors involved. […]

Read More ´╗┐Vector Formalism in Introductory Physics II: Six Coordinate-Free Derivations of the BAC-CAB Identity

Vector Formalism in Introductory Physics I: Taking the Magnitude of Both Sides

TL;DR: I don’t like the way vectors are presented in calculus-based and algebra-based introductory physics. I think a more formal approach is warranted. This post addresses the problem of taking the magnitude of both sides of simple vector equations. If you want the details, read on. This is the first post in a new series […]

Read More Vector Formalism in Introductory Physics I: Taking the Magnitude of Both Sides

Angular Quantities I

This is the first in a series of posts in which I want to share some hopefully interesting things about mathematical descriptions of rotational motion. This series was inspired by a talk given at the 2015 winter AAPT meeting in San Diego. The author claimed to have found a way to represent angular displacement as […]

Read More Angular Quantities I

Matter & Interactions II, Week 5

This week was all about calculating electric fields for continuous charge distributions. This is usually students’ first exposure to what they think of as “calculus-based” physics because they are explicitly setting up and doing integrals. There’s lots going on behind the scenes though. In calculus class, students are used to manipulating functions by taking their […]

Read More Matter & Interactions II, Week 5