Introduction to Physics, using Faraday's The Forces of Nature
Scholars Online Summer Course
Let us now consider, for a little while, how wonderfully we stand upon this world. Here it is we are born, bred, and live, and yet we view these things with an almost entire absence of wonder to ourselves respecting the way in which all this happens. So small, indeed, is our wonder, that we are never taken by surprise; and I do think that, to a young person of ten, fifteen, or twenty years of age, perhaps the first sight of a cataract or a mountain would occasion him more surprise than he had ever felt concerning the means of his own existence; how he came here; how he lives; by what means he stands upright; and through what means he moves about from place to place. Hence, we come into this world, we live, and depart from it, without our thoughts being called specifically to consider how all this takes place; and were it not for the exertions of some few inquiring minds, who have looked into these things, and ascertained the very beautiful laws and conditions by which we do live and stand upon the earth, we should hardly be aware that there was any thing wonderful in it. These inquiries, which have occupied philosophers from the earliest days, when they first began to find out the laws by which we grow, and exist, and enjoy ourselves, up to the present time, have shown us that all this was effected in consequence of the existence of certain forces, or abilities to do things, or powers, that are so common that nothing can be more so; for nothing is commoner than the wonderful powers by which we are enabled to stand upright: they are essential to our existence every moment.
Michael Faraday (1791-1867) was one of the greatest experimental scientists the world has ever seen. His discoveries and inventions include the concept of the electric field, the electric motor, the electric generator, laws governing magnetic induction of electrical current, isolation of a number of chemical compounds, and proof that magnetic forces bend polarized light.
Childless himself, Faraday loved teaching children, and inaugurated a series of lectures for children at the Royal Institute in 1825. The lecturer performed experiments live on stage, and the first six rows of the Institute's Lecture Hall, usually occupied by prestigious Fellows of the Royal Society, were reserved for the exclusive use of visitors under 14 years of age. Between 1825 and his death in 1861, Faraday delivered nineteen of the lecture series himself, introducing the latest concepts of chemistry, electricity, the properties of metals, and forces of nature to his "juvenile auditory". The original "Mr. Wizard", his lectures involved lively descriptions and nearly constant experiments or demonstrations performed (after much practice!) in front of his live audience. In the process, he revolutionized how science was taught to children. The Royal Institute has sponsored the lectures continuously since 1825, the only exception being the years from 1939-1942, when London was under attack. Recent lectures have been given by such notable scientists as David Attenborough and Carl Sagan.
The Forces of Nature is an eight-week course covering the basic concepts of physics, using the lectures of Michael Faraday on the Forces of Matter and James Breithaupt's Understanding Physics: Teach Yourself as starting points for discussion concepts, experimental methods, and practical problem solving.
Students who have "physics phobia" will find this a gentle introduction to the principles underlying studies of motion, heat, electricity, magnetism, light, nuclear reactions, and modern cosmology. Students planning on taking Honors or AP Physics will be given more challenging assignments to help them hone skills essential for surviving the fast pace and college-level workloads of these courses.
The class will require some preparation time outside the discussion sections, involving short exercises assigned from the text and some lab work. Students should plan on completing at least four of the accompanying labs and will need to commit additional time for building lab equipment, performing experiments, and presenting their reports.
Prerequisite: Students must be able to handle simple algebraic equations, such as F = ma or s = 1/2 at2 and should have completed a junior-high level survey of physical science.
Because Scholars Online personnel cannot oversee the experiments, parents must sign an agreement to provide adequate supervision during performance of experiments.
Meetings: The course meets once a week for 90 minutes. See the 2021 Schedule for topics.
Required Texts: Students will need to download a copy of Faraday's Lectures on The Forces of Nature from the web and obtain a copy of James Breithaupt's Understanding Physics: Teach Yourself. See the Text link for more details.
Labs: Students must perform and report on at least one experiment every other week. The Labs page explains the safety procedures and lists required lab equipment for experiments used in this course.
This course will next be offered in Summer, 2021.
© 2005 - 2022 This course is offered through Scholars Online, a non-profit organization supporting classical Christian education through online courses. Permission to copy course content (lessons and labs) for personal study is granted to students currently or formerly enrolled in the course through Scholars Online. Reproduction for any other purpose, without the express written consent of the author, is prohibited.