Centripetal Force Notes

I recently had the opportunity to give a lecture to a physics class at my high school, and I was amazed by just how difficult it is to teach a class, even when it is on a topic that you supposedly know a bit about. Even if you attempt to have the most organized and logical presentation of the material possible, at the end of the day whether a class learns anything from your lecture depends on your ability to clarify ideas and provide clear metaphors ex tempore. I think that many people undervalue just how much effort excellent teachers must put into their work.

My lecture was about centripetal forces.¬†When many of us are first taught about centripetal acceleration, it seems like a mysterious concept– the equations and formulae clearly work, but it’s very hard to visualize how exactly the underlying¬†forces act. In these lecture notes, I attempted to explain circular orbits in terms of the classic parabolic projectile problem, using the conic sections as a bridge from a downward force to a central force.
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Centripetal force notes