Telling the story


A critical element in understanding how equations (and the physics) works, is understanding mechanism — how things happen. To do this, we need to consider each problem in physics as a kind of a story. Almost every problem has these elements:

  • components or objects (cast of characters)
  • interactions (relationships)
  • a time sequence (plot) 
  • causes and principles (message / moral)

We use a reading turtle (terrapin) as the icon to represent this tool.

Too often, students look at a problem and try to reach immediately for an answer without thinking about what's happening and what physical principles are governing the process. Learning to "tell the story" is a critical piece of learning to do any science.

In this class, we developing some specific tools to help you identify and focus on the components and interactions in a problem (system schema and free-body diagrams). Our use of multiple different time graphs will also help you learn to identify the sequence of events and not miss important parts. 

We won't give an example here, since learning to do this requires applying specific bits of physics and you may be reading this at the beginning of the class. We'll apply these ideas in many sample problems as we go through the class. If you want to see examples that you'll see early in the class, check out the links in the Follow-ons.

Joe Redish 7/4/17


Article 296
Last Modified: June 24, 2023