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Dealing with a physics class where you essentially have to teach yourself.

  1. Oct 15, 2011 #1
    Any advice on this? Although much is review and I was surviving quite easily for the first few chapters and units, I only took grade 11 physics, so many of the concepts are quite new. The professor just skims through very important and difficult concepts and usually goes off on useless tangents and asking stupid clicker questions. The readings assigned are very difficult to keep up with, as I am teaching most of the concepts to myself and usually find myself reading a page twice or thrice and still managing other classes that are just as difficult.

    Don't get me wrong, he's a great prof and explains things pretty well in office hours. Unfortunately, he only offers office hours 1 hour during every week and they conflict with one of my classes, so I would have to miss a lecture in order to go to office hours.

    I feel like I am really going to fail this class, as I didn't do too well on my midterms (managed to salvage a C- even though I could have gotten an A if I used my time more wisely. I understood all the concepts and could have answered all the questions). I know this is university and much self-learning is expected of me, but none of my other classes are like this. The problems take too much time to work through (draw a free-body or motion diagram, list the knowns and unknowns, make inferences such as the vertical component and the horizontal component of a projectile motion problem are only related through the change in time, and finally calculate for all the unknowns). Despite this, I feel that no matter how much problems I work through, they will just give me a problem that I won't even begin to know how to solve on the exam.
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  3. Oct 15, 2011 #2
    a) Can you ask him to meet you at a different time? A lot of professors are willing to make appointments to meet with students who can't come to the scheduled office hours.
    b) Does your school offer any sort of organized tutoring or help session for the class in question?
    c) Can you find an upperclassman or graduate student who might be able to sit down once a week and help explain things to you?
  4. Oct 16, 2011 #3

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    Your first line of defense should be the TA.

    If you are struggling to understand the material, how do you know the lectures have "useless tangents" and "stupid clicker questions"? They may well be very relevant, and the fact you don't understand how or why a red flag.
  5. Oct 16, 2011 #4
    Why ask us when you know the solution?
  6. Oct 16, 2011 #5


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    Having to do those steps to solve a problem seems perfectly reasonable to me. You had better get used to it, because the same will apply to almost every problem you meet in any course from now on. That's the difference between "solving a problem" and "plugging numbers into a formula".
  7. Oct 16, 2011 #6
    ^ Agreed. You won't have to follow those exact steps every-time you do it, after 100 or so problems you've done. After the 100, you know where to put what in whatever place, and will be able to visualize the problem/diagrams better within your head. You are basically developing an intuition of the problem by drawing it out and plugging in the information, that may seem tedious at first but you'll soon realize how effective the process is in time.

    Not when your TA is incompetent. While my professors were good in teaching the material, the TAs weren't so good. One even told me he couldn't help me with a simple problem and I'd have to go in for tutoring hours to get additional help because he didn't know what the questions were asking. That was tier 1 level chemistry work as well in which he should have already been seasoned with.

    So I just decided to do away with TAs and figure everything out on my own through practice and closely following the material.

    Hopefully Retribution doesn't have any similar cases.
  8. Oct 16, 2011 #7

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    The first line of defense should still be the TA. If you discover the TA is incompetent, that should be something you bring up with the professor, the second line of defense.
  9. Oct 17, 2011 #8
    a) I've tried, but every time he's tried to arrange an appointment with me, I either have a class, a lab, or a tutorial during that time.

    b) Yes, there is a physics drop-in centre I've been using extensively. Unfortunately, there are plenty of other students and it is only staffed by one TA every hour.

    c) I don't know any upper year students, but the TA's I talked to are very, very busy and do not have the time to do 1-on-1 tutoring.
  10. Oct 17, 2011 #9
    The TA's are helpful, but the problem is, when I've attempted to do a few very difficult problems at home and want to go over what I did quickly, they start from scratch and walk me through entire problem, although I did somewhere between 50-70% of it already. During a 1 hour visit, I would only get help with 1-2 problems, and if there is no one there but me and the TA, 3 problems.

    He goes over difficult concepts in a few seconds and emphasizes on the concepts that everyone easily understands. I've talked to many students in my class who have taken the test and have said they have found the notes and the clicker questions to be completely useless, and that they would have been better off doing problems from the textbook and going to a TA when they were stuck. It is not just I, but I'd say a majority of the students feel the same way.
  11. Oct 17, 2011 #10
    I actually agree. I find it much more easier to solve problems I would have found too complex in high school by using diagrams, simplifications such as the particle model, listing the unknowns, etc.

    However, I want to get as much practice as possible, and using this method, one question that would normally take 10 minutes could take up to 25 minutes to solve.
  12. Oct 18, 2011 #11
    “Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.”
    – Isaac Asimov
  13. Oct 18, 2011 #12
    There is a difference between mindless practice and useful practice. If you are in first intro to mechanics class and you need more then 2,3 minutes(max) to do a FBD it means that you need to practice doing FBDs a lot more. Also if your prof demands you are very organized in your solutions it's a great thing Being organized helps you avoid errors and detect them easier when you eventually make them.That usually saves a lot more time than being fast and sloppy.(I know this too well).
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2011
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