Conceptual Deficits in my Introductory Physics course

  • #1
Hello! I'm enrolled in PHY 1 in college and this is my first encounter with the subject. I'm usually able to derive the correct answers to the questions, but I consistently sense that I lack a firm understanding of what I'm calculating and or the justification of the steps involved. That concerns me. What books and or resources would you recommend for someone new to the subject who is seeking a firm conceptual understanding of the preliminary topics? I notice I learn best when the justification of the steps are explained to me while I'm solving the question. As I hinted in the earlier question, please offer suggestions for a beginner. I'm extraordinarily ignorant (especially on this subject) and anything complicated would probably further confuse me. Sources and advice are appreciated!
 

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  • #2
analogdesign
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For me, the first volume of the Feynman Lectures on Physics was incredibly useful from a conceptual standpoint. Not everyone agrees with me, but you should have a look and find out for yourself.

Also, I should say that in my experience I never really grok the concept of a class until I'm taking the next level (or have been using it for a while). This has been true for me in Physics, Math, and in my Engineering classes. My point is if you can learn the formulas and get through the calculations, you're already ahead of the game and the conceptual understanding will come.
 
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kuruman
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The transition from a beginner to a novice is long and arduous because the learning curve with physics is very flat in the beginning. From my experience, there is a time lag of about three weeks between when most students see the material and when they own it. This is because the material needs to percolate in one's brain before it makes sense. Unlike fairy tales there is no such thing as instant understanding with physics. To acquire understanding you need to have the right attitude. In my opinion, there are no textbooks that can help you with that; it has to come from within. So here are some Dos and Don'ts.

DO
1. Study your notes from the previous lecture to the next one. This will maintain continuity.
2. Use office hours to see your instructor and ask him/her questions when something is not clear to you. Leave no stone upturned.
3. Start your online homework many days before it is due. This way you will force yourself to think about the concepts more and speed up the percolation rate. Furthermore, it will give you led time to ask your instructor or PF for clarification.
4. Figure out the general strategy for dealing with any given problem and verify that the reasoning behind it is valid before you start writing equations down.
5. Understand that mathematics is the language of physics and physics is a mathematical description of what is going on around us. Train yourself to see the math behind the events that you observe or are described to you.

DON'T
1. Think that just because you have read and understood the solution to a problem, it has become your property; the real test is if you can reproduce the solution when called upon to do so as on an exam. So make sure you put yourself in a position to do so.
2. Start a problem without planning a strategy.
3. Believe that just because you did it and it came out of your calculator, it is correct. Find independent ways of proving yourself wrong. If you can't prove yourself wrong, then chances are you are correct.

Of all of the above, I think the most important is "Never leave things for the last moment."
 
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