Gestural Physics Presentation at Audacious Speculations

The video for Adam’s presentation on his Gestural Physics idea can be watched on YouTube beginning at 1:10:10:

The Dance of Physics: Developing a Conceptual Language for Physics Through Physical Movement

As someone who teaches basic mechanics to hundreds of college students each year, I see again and again the frustration many students have in understanding and manipulating the symbolic constructions we use to describe motion, forces, particles, etc.  Beside standard mathematical notation (which is already challenging for many), the symbolic representation of physical quantities includes letters from both Latin and Greek alphabets, some of which are obvious to an English speaker (e.g., m for mass, F for force) and some of which are not (e.g., p for momentum, µ for the coefficient of friction), and none of which may be clear to someone accustomed to an Arabic or Chinese alphabet or spells mass as khối lượng (as the Vietnamese do).  There is also a fair deal of redundancy (e.g., g is used for both the surface gravity on Earth and for the mass unit of grams) that can lead to confusion. Most importantly, decoding this symbology draws mental energy away from understanding the underlying concepts, leading to the strange situation in which we end up teaching “concepts” and “problem solving” as distinct activities.  It is no wonder that most students decide Physics is just too hard.

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