Initial value problems

Heather Whitney
Wheaton College (IL), Physics
Author Profile


This is a very open-ended project in which I assemble student groups of 5-6 students. They are required to select and model a physical problem using initial value methods or adaptive methods. This is a summative project for a sophomore-level two-hour course on Computer Modeling of Physical Systems, using Matlab.

Learning Goals

Students should learn how to create code that works with other separate portions of code to accomplish a problem solution as a team.

All code is written in Matlab and the students learn how to produce code that can be used by others.

Synthesis of ideas and model development are part of the learning goals of this project, as well as the implementation of numerical methods for solving initial value problems.

Context for Use

Sophomore level course at a small liberal arts institution
Final course project
Students should be familiar with MATLAB basics such as coding in general (array creation, figure creation, basic computations) along with using anonymous functions and other higher-level tasks.

Description and Teaching Materials

The only materials used are MATLAB.
Student handout for initial value problem project (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 19kB Oct17 18)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students often need coaching about where to share files or appropriate physical problems to model.


I grade the students individually on their personal contribution and then as a group for the entire project, using the rubric.

References and Resources