Topic Order in Introductory Physics and its Impact on the STEM Curricular Ladder

Teresa L Larkin


Introductory physics courses are an important rung on the curricular ladder in STEM. These courses help to strengthen students critical thinking and problem solving skills while simultaneously introducing them to many topics they will explore in more detail in later courses in physics and engineering. For these reasons, introductory physics is a required element on the curricular ladder. Most often, introductory physics is offered as a two-semester sequence with basic mechanics being taught in the first semester and electricity and magnetism in the second. In fact, this curricular sequence has not been altered in decades. Is there a reason for this? There are many other enduring questions that arise pertaining to these foundation courses in physics. These questions include: Does taking the introductory course sequence “out of order” have an impact on student learning in physics? What topics should be taught? When should these topics be taught? What topics could be left out? The list of questions is essentially endless. This paper will address some of these questions in part, through a brief discussion on student learning in a second-semester algebra-based physics course. Connections will also be made to the broader curricular ladder in STEM. To this end, an illustration that makes connections to an engineering statics course will be presented. This discussion will conclude by presenting some broader implications for the larger STEM communities.


Assessment; Topic Order in Physics; STEM curriculum

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International Journal of Engineering Pedagogy (iJEP) – eISSN: 2192-4880
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