Matter and Interactions

Developed by: Ruth Chabay and Bruce Sherwood

middle schoolhigh schoolintro collegeinter-mediateupper levelgrad school   other

 Intro College Calculus-based
calc based

Mechanics  Electricity / Magnetism  Waves / Optics  Thermal / Statistical  Modern / Quantum
Lecture - Large (30+ students)  Lecture - Small (<30 students)  Studio

What? A modern calculus-based introductory curriculum with a radical change in content and emphasis, focusing on the power of fundamental principles and guiding students through the process of starting from these principles in analyzing physical systems, on both the macroscopic and the microscopic level.

Why? Many veteran teachers consider this method to be a true breakthrough in physics education due to its effective integration of modern physics in introductory courses. It is recognized for a focus on "Big Ideas" and extensive use of modeling to promote macro-to-micro conceptual understanding.

Why not? Computational modeling tasks are robust and will require close guidance and assistance from qualified teaching assistants to ensure student success.

Topic outline

VOLUME I: Modern Mechanics

  1. Interactions and Motion
  2. The Momentum Principle
  3. The Fundamental Interactions
  4. Contact Interactions
  5. Determining Forces from Motion
  6. The Energy Principle
  7. Internal Energy
  8. Energy Quantization
  9. Translational, Rotational, and Vibrational Energy
  10. Collisions
  11. Angular Momentum
  12. Entropy: Limits on the Possible

VOLUME II: Electric and Magnetic Interactions

  1. Electric Field
  2. Electric Fields and Matter
  3. Electric Field of Distributed Charges
  4. Electric Potential
  5. Magnetic Field
  6. Electric Field and Circuits
  7. Circuit Elements
  8. Magnetic Force
  9. Patterns of Field in Space
  10. Faraday’s Law
  11. Electromagnetic Radiation

Student skills developed

Designed for:
  • Conceptual understanding
Can be adapted for:
  • Problem-solving skills

Instructor effort required

  • Medium

Resources required

  • TAs / LAs
  • Projector
  • Computers for students
  • Cost for students

Developer's website: Matter and Interactions
Intro Article: R. Chabay and B. Sherwood, Restructuring the introductory electricity and magnetism course, Am. J. Phys. 74 (4), 329 (2006).

You can buy the Matter and Interactions book from Wiley. You can also view a sample chapter from Wiley.

You can find additional resources on the Matter and Interactions website.

Bronze Validation
This is the third highest level of research validation, corresponding to:
  • at least 1 of the "based on" categories
  • at least 1 of the "demonstrated to improve" categories
  • at least 1 of the "studied using" categories
(Categories shown below)

Research Validation Summary

Based on Research Into:

  • theories of how students learn
  • student ideas about specific topics

Demonstrated to Improve:

  • conceptual understanding
  • problem-solving skills
  • lab skills
  • beliefs and attitudes
  • attendance
  • retention of students
  • success of underrepresented groups
  • performance in subsequent classes

Studied using:

  • cycle of research and redevelopment
  • student interviews
  • classroom observations
  • analysis of written work
  • research at multiple institutions
  • research by multiple groups
  • peer-reviewed publication