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Good at Calculus=Good at Physics?

  1. Jan 6, 2012 #1
    I really enjoy Calc and I'm pretty good at it, but I didn't do well in the only Physics course I took in high school. The teacher was horrible, everyone hated her. I'd study for hours for her tests only to fail. The one time when I got an A on a test was when I wasn't in class for the entire week (due to testing), and I didn't study at all. I got lucky. I can't tell you a single thing I learned from Physics except that F=ma. However, the course wasn't Calculus based. If I take another Physics course that's based on Calculus, will I do better, or should I give up on Physics?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 6, 2012 #2
    It's a necessary but not a sufficient condition for succeeding. Also, F=ma is really all you need to know. You can derive most of classical mechanics from that simple statement.

    Are you a highschool student?
  4. Jan 6, 2012 #3
    Can you explain to us why you failed her tests?? Or why you think it was difficult??

    You can still succeed in physics, but you need to know what went wrong in high school and make the appropriate changes. It could be that it's entirely the teachers fault. But maybe it's also your study methods... A bit of introspection could help.
  5. Jan 6, 2012 #4
    I'm more worried about your view that "the teacher was horrible" than your poor marks. Take responsibility for your own education or you won't get anywhere in any science.
  6. Jan 6, 2012 #5
    If you studied for "hours" and you thought you understood the material then obviously there is a problem with either your revision methods or it could be that your teachers teaching style didn't really suit you.

    One thing about physics is you really need to do active revision, do example questions, try past exam questions or textbook questions etc. Yes for some topics in Physics sitting passively revising by reading over your notes will help you but for most topics, especially math intensive topics like motion you really need to actively revise by doing problems and engaging your brain and getting used to the method for solving the questions.

  7. Jan 6, 2012 #6
    Not even conservation of energy? That has to be one of the most important things you can walk away with from physics.

    Listen to what Angry Citizen said. And you should also know this.. knowing how to do physics has a very high learning curve. Its very hard in the beginning and won't make any sense, but once you get it then it will be easy. My best advice to you is not to try harder but to try smarter. Try pinpointing how you can get better.. which is a skill all in itself. If you acquire that skill, you will go much farther in life.. in ANYTHING.
  8. Jan 6, 2012 #7
    I always tell a story about my own background in physics (at least introductory and engineering physics):

    When I started intro physics, I was in a community college. My first physics class was a calculus-based physics class for engineers. When the first homework assignments were given, I was flabbergasted. I had no idea how to do physics. I struggled and struggled with it. Then the next assignments rolled around, and then the next, and I still struggled and struggled.

    Then one day, when I was struggling in Statics class, it hit me: I was no longer struggling.

    Physics definitely takes time :)
  9. Jan 6, 2012 #8
    Definitely haha.. And it is very difficult to get someone to get the scheme and mindset right. We usually will just say that you need to figure out your own way in getting good at physics. But what about others who haven't developed the skill to deduce the obstacles in front of them? Who is to say they even know the obstacles that must be overcome? It is a very complex subject to talk about or even begin to tackle.

    Introspection is the most important skill one could have, but as the members of this community we need to find a better way to guide their introspection. At least I feel obligated.
  10. Jan 8, 2012 #9
    People who went on to very good colleges (Duke, Penn, Cornell) struggled in her class. She doesn't have a passion for teaching and it was obvious. And PLEASE don't assume that I didn't take responsibility. It's not like I didn't try. She offered extra help after school, and when I would go, she would get angry and just yell at her students because they didn't understand. One day, she insulted a boy after school and called him an idiot. I had to go to another science teacher to get help, and even when I understood the stuff with the other teacher, I would do poorly on the tests. I would do almost a hundred practice problems and still fail the tests. After half-way through the year I decided that her class wasn't worth the effort. I was senior and already admitted into colleges, and there was no purpose putting effort into a class that I knew I wasn't going to do well in. Especially when I didn't have an interest in the course. I got all As my senior year except for physics. I got a C. Of the 18 people in my class, no one got an A. The class average was a D. Many people complained to the principal about this teacher, but the only reason why she hasn't been fired is because she has a PhD, and the teacher's union makes it hard for her to get fired. Only two students took the AP test for the class, and one of them got a 1 and the other got a 2. Not only was she a horrible teacher, but she was not a nice person. My view of physics is ruined because of this woman. I understand that it's a hard course, but if you put in so much effort, did poorly, and didn't learn a THING, you wouldn't like the teacher either.

    Don't judge someone on one post on the internet.
  11. Jan 8, 2012 #10
    When I would ask the teacher why a problem was wrong, and ask her to explain the solution, she would just take my pencil and do the problem for me. When I asked how she got that solution, she would say, "that's how you do it." She was no help at all.
  12. Jan 8, 2012 #11
    A few things I'd like to note.

    First, just because you go to a good college doesn't mean you're smart or are capable of doing physics.

    Second, most professors do not have a 'passion for teaching'. Get over your need for an instructor who has 'passion for teaching', because many lecturers will consider it secondary (or even tertiary) to their research.

    Third, some small quantity of professors are rude enough to call their students idiots. You will likely encounter one, probably without realizing it because you'll be too busy taking charge of your own education - won't you now?

    Fourth, just because you don't have an interest in the course doesn't mean you shouldn't care about it. I can't say I'm particularly interested in my materials lab course next fall, but y'know, I'm gonna suck it up and do it.

    Fifth, you will encounter professors who grade hard and refuse to inflate. This is to be commended, not lamented. Props to your teacher for having the sack to fail a class in the age of student entitlement (which you very clearly demonstrate).

    Sixth, I encountered a professor pretty similar to your teacher in my introductory physics classes in college. He was a hard SoaB, and while a contrast exists in the fact that he was quite a nice guy, he was very much a "throw you to the wolves" kind of professor. I thank the Sky Fairy every time I run into a mechanics problem and go through the steps I learned from his class. Many of the pieces of advice I give fellow students comes directly from him or from struggling through his course. No, it wasn't a pleasant experience at all, but it taught me more than any course I've taken so far. I wound up with a B in both courses, but dammit if I didn't work my butt off for it. A very clear progression can be seen from my low original marks in Physics 1 to my incredibly strong finish in Physics 2 (I, in fact, scored higher than all other students on the final exam). Sink or swim.

    I'm sorry you were unable and unwilling to rise to the challenge set by your teacher. Surely if you'd bothered to crack the book open, you would have absorbed more knowledge than "F=ma". At the very least, you should have grasped some conservation of energy, some vector algebra, an understanding of torque, a fairly firm grasp on friction, some of the basics of spring physics, and a decent understanding of Newtonian gravity, hopefully including some shell theory since that was actually a really interesting idea. Superposition should also be in your mind as a really important concept. You should probably also know some angular analogs of translational quantities - or at the very least be able to understand what I just said.

    To be perfectly blunt, I hope you wise up in college. The world doesn't need a(nother) lazy physics student who expects his or her hand to be held.
  13. Jan 8, 2012 #12
    Haha I find it funny how judging you are. How would you know if I cracked open the book or not? This is an internet forum, geez. I was simply trying to explain something, and you get all defensive. Calling me lazy? I'm sorry, but I didn't know writing something on the internet meant you knew me. And why are you calling me a physics student? Did I say I'm majoring in physics? NO. I started this thread because I like Calculus and I want to give Physics another try, but because I did poorly in my high school Physics class, I was unsure. You really are an angry citizen. Maybe you're better than me in physics, but after your posts, I can say that I am probably less cynical and bitter than you are.

    Edit: I don't know why you're talking about a professor. She was not a professor, she was a high school teacher with a PhD in education. She didn't do any research. Her full time job was teaching high school physics.
  14. Jan 8, 2012 #13
    Because you didn't learn anything more than F=ma, or so you claim. If you did crack the book open and still didn't manage to absorb anything more than F=ma, then I could note other aspects of your personality beyond 'lazy'.

    I judged you because I'm tired of people who think they deserve everything in the world. I'm tired of people who think failure is impossible. It happens, whether you want it or not. And frankly, most of the things I said in the above post are completely applicable to other majors - even liberal arts.

    I imparted sound advice in my original post in this thread. You need to wise up and take care of your own education. Teacher sucks? Ask another teacher or find a student or study on your own time. Book sucks? Find another or use the web. Not enough feedback from the impersonal book solutions? Post your questions and solutions on Physics Forums and you'll have a legion of physics students, graduates, and professors ready to critique your work. There are resources - use them. In fact, I'll go on record as saying that this lesson I'm trying to impart to you is the single most important lesson one must learn in college. Angry Citizen is Angry, but he's also trying to help you. Take it or leave it.
  15. Jan 8, 2012 #14
    wowwwwwwww did I say I deserve everything in the world? Yet another judgement. Have fun judging people on the internet, I think I'm gonna go study physics :)
  16. Jan 8, 2012 #15
    Your being a little defensive, he is giving you constructive criticism, granted a bit more harsh than you would like. I personally appreciates these talks, accurate or not, because it brings me back to reality. Angry citizen said really important things about having the responsibility to use other resources. Your right in every sense to resent incompetent teaching habits, and I don't believe that we should just accept it either as most would like to say, but what you can't complain about is your performance. That is your responsibility. Taking a bit more responsibility will take you much farther in college than the run of the mill victim of the world [and education]. People who will blame others and act like victims for their performance won't go too far.

    And oh, it was more like a figure of speech alegnagogo. Keep in mind that knowing how to take criticism is very important because it will happen many times throughout your life.

    Edit: What is your major?
  17. Jan 8, 2012 #16
    Unfortunately, there is a lot of that in this subforum. The mentors and many others give great advice but there's a couple bad apples in the bunch (and in almost all cases, they're freshman or sophomores in college, which is even more reason to dismiss their advice). It almost seems like these people just wait around until something like your post pops up then full on attack.

    The best advice I can give is to use the homework help subforum because it's the best resource I've found online. Many here will take a lot of time answering your questions and making sure you understand what you're doing. Good luck.
  18. Jan 8, 2012 #17
    I have to agree with Angry Citizen on this. While it was a bit harsh, it was nevertheless true—sometimes teachers won't do anything for you.
    I'm not going to repeat everything that's been said already, so I'll get back to the original question—could you do calculus based physics? I would have to say no. If you walked away from the textbook with nothing more than F = ma (as you stated), then evidently you lack a conceptual understanding of all the material. Sure, you can memorize formulas and plug numbers in, but if you don't have a good conceptual understanding, you won't be able to apply any of the calculus, meaning that if there's a decent problem on a test, you'll get it wrong.
    Now, if you spent a summer reviewing physics, and studying up on concepts, then I see no reason why not.
  19. Jan 8, 2012 #18
    It may sound like we're ganging up on you here but I think the way you react to their criticism is a bit alarming. What Angry dude said was true, in college you are all by yourself. If you've got a professor who even gives good lectures and cares if his/her student absorbs anything out of it, consider yourself lucky. The kind of work that you have to put through college is different from high school, but considering you're having good grades from calculus, then maybe you've got a good shot in the calculus based physics. It would be nice if you can go and review your high school physics that will give you an advantage.
  20. Jan 9, 2012 #19
    It sucks that you had a bad teacher in high school, and to be honest, I have NO idea what these people are talking about (other than drummingatom, take his advice on the subforum). Anyway, just because you are good at math doesn't mean that it'll translate into physics success. Physics != math.

    Anyway, it's good that you remember f=ma because that is the heart of Newtonian mechanics!

    Good luck.
  21. Jan 9, 2012 #20
    I understand where your coming from saying the teacher in high school was bad, because most of my high school peers felt the same way regarding our physics teacher.
    One thing to note is that odds are, most students weren't interested in the material at all, this makes it very hard to teach. But also physics is a hard subject to teach in and off itself. Physics is not just a set of facts and equations. It is a method of problem solving.

    My high school teach taught a basic procedure of problems solving that i still swear by 4 years later.
    1. state the relevant principles to the problem.
    -this is something like f=ma, or conservation of energy, conservation of momentum,
    2. draw a picture
    -developing a sense of what ever is going on in the problem.
    -sometimes it will be a before and after picture
    -a lot of people see free-body diagrams in intro physics classes as annoying, they aren't
    3. write down the equations that relate the knowns to the unknowns
    -there is not one way to do this
    -physics is self-consistent, so as long as you are always talking about the same quantities in all of your chosen equations as in the problem, it works out (usually).
    -there maybe intermediate unknowns that gap two equations. if i have x and am looking for z, and i know i can relate x to y and z to y, then y will be my indeterminate unknown.
    4. manipulate the equations, symbolicly, to that you have the knowns solved for the unknown.
    -don't plug in values! (that comes next)
    -this gives you a chance to see how the variables are connected in that particular problem
    -this helps develop an intuition for the problem, and the more problems you do, the easier the previous steps become.
    -you might have found a round-about way to solve the problem the first time, if so you will often see familiar looking expressions pop out of your algebra. You essential start deriving principles you learn out of the book, but with a better understanding of where they come from.
    -eventually you start jumping to the higher principles to save time.
    5. plug in knowns, with units
    -units are important.
    -for example "m" representing a mass has implied units of kg, but "5" has no physical meaning; "5 kg" does.
    -when you solve you can make sure your units work out
    -if your units work, it is much less likely you made a mistake, but if they don't, you know there is a mistake.
    6.calculate the answer
    -make sure the units make sense.

    Most other people rejected this method of problem solving. And when I was a senior I saw many of my peers that where taking AP calculus concurrently struggle with an algebra and trigonometry based physics class. I took the class when I was a sophomore in algebra II. I didn't even know what a vector or a cosine was when I walked into that physics class. But I worked very hard, learned the needed math to get through, and focused on how to solve problems. I got one of the highest grades in the class, beating out seniors that were in calculus.

    I recently told one of my engineering friends who was studying for an E&M course not to memorize problem types, but principles. And I explain the method of problem solving I described above. We were hang out a few days later and he told me that it was significantly easier to do it my way. You have no preconceived notions of what types of problems you can solve. Instead you learn how to solve problems that you have the necessary background for, no matter what the problem actually is.
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