# High School physics is too easy

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XtremePhysX
High School physics is too easy :(

Why is it that the maths involved in High School physics very simple?
I really don't like the way physics is structured in High School, it is full of theory and very little mathematics is involved. We even study the history of AC and DC and have to write an essay about the conflict between Westinghouse and Edison LOL.
I think I'll start learning uni physics so what textbook do you guys think is good for university physics?

Staff Emeritus

We even study the history of AC and DC and have to write an essay about the conflict between Westinghouse and Edison LOL.
What's wrong with that

XtremePhysX

What's wrong with that

I hate rote learning :(
Rote learning is for biologists !
I did biology as well, you literally just have to memorise the textbook, so I dropped it.
Now I do Maths, Physics, Chemsitry and English, even though chemistry involves a lot of rote learning it is much better than subjects like economics, history etc...

Last edited:
Staff Emeritus

I hate rote learning :(
How is writing an essay rote learning? You have to research into the issue, develop understandings of the topic and construct either a review or argument. These are skills that are very useful, you won't get a good mark for just repeating the subject.
Rote learning is for biologists !
I'm a biologist and I contend this.
I did biology as well, you literally just have to memorise the textbook, so I dropped it.
Now I do Maths, Physics, Chemsitry and English, even though chemistry involves a lot of rote learning it is much better than subjects like economics, history etc...
Your school was teaching/grading the subject incorrectly if all you did was memorise rather than understand.

XtremePhysX

How is writing an essay rote learning? You have to research into the issue, develop understandings of the topic and construct either a review or argument. These are skills that are very useful, you won't get a good mark for just repeating the subject.

I'm a biologist and I contend this.

Your school was teaching/grading the subject incorrectly if all you did was memorise rather than understand.

I assume all these subject are taught completely differently at university so excuse my lack of knowledge :)

nicholls

What's wrong with that

While I agree that learning a little bit of physics history is useful (and interesting), and learning to write essays is useful, I would have to agree that in a high school physics classroom, these types of things should not be the focus.

One of the roles of high school is to make kids interested in pursuing fields, for example physics. Thus, the things they should teach and how they teach them, should be representative of what a future in physics would entail. Unfortunately, writing essays on the history of physics is not something which physicists do often (or at all).

The problem with doing this, is that it may turn kids away from pursuing physics who might otherwise be interested. When I was in high school, I cared a lot lot less about the history of electricity, what really motivated me to go to class were the discussions we had on quantum physics and relativity. Those were the things which really sparked my interest in the field and caused me to pursue it in post graduate education.

Staff Emeritus

I assume all these subject are taught completely differently at university so excuse my lack of knowledge :)
Fair enough.
While I agree that learning a little bit of physics history is useful (and interesting), and learning to write essays is useful, I would have to agree that in a high school physics classroom, these types of things should not be the focus.
I don't think they are the focus but they are important for understanding why the field is as it is. Also studying the history of science and how it has affected the world is equally important than understanding the science itself, especially from the point of view of the vast majority who will never go into science but will have their lives affected by it.
One of the roles of high school is to make kids interested in pursuing fields, for example physics. Thus, the things they should teach and how they teach them, should be representative of what a future in physics would entail. Unfortunately, writing essays on the history of physics is not something which physicists do often (or at all).

The problem with doing this, is that it may turn kids away from pursuing physics who might otherwise be interested. When I was in high school, I cared a lot lot less about the history of electricity, what really motivated me to go to class were the discussions we had on quantum physics and relativity. Those were the things which really sparked my interest in the field and caused me to pursue it in post graduate education.
Different things for different people of course but I can think of many examples where studying the history of a subject can be as inspiring or even more inspiring than the subject; especially amongst groups that are a minority in science e.g. women.

Just because the math is simple doesn't mean the physics itself is easy. I can find countless mechanics problems that only use algebra but are quite difficult to figure out immediately. You just got to find the right books to learn from. Advanced mathematics doesn't necessarily make the PHYSICS any harder or more challenging problems - wise.

XtremePhysX

While I agree that learning a little bit of physics history is useful (and interesting), and learning to write essays is useful, I would have to agree that in a high school physics classroom, these types of things should not be the focus.

One of the roles of high school is to make kids interested in pursuing fields, for example physics. Thus, the things they should teach and how they teach them, should be representative of what a future in physics would entail. Unfortunately, writing essays on the history of physics is not something which physicists do often (or at all).

The problem with doing this, is that it may turn kids away from pursuing physics who might otherwise be interested. When I was in high school, I cared a lot lot less about the history of electricity, what really motivated me to go to class were the discussions we had on quantum physics and relativity. Those were the things which really sparked my interest in the field and caused me to pursue it in post graduate education.

This is exactly what I'm trying to say.
I watch a lot of physics documentaries and I read about university level physics and maths on Wikipedia and other websites so I know what physics and maths actually are in university and I'll most likely pursue physics/maths.
I think the reason why they do not teach applications of mathematics in Physics is because Mathematics is not compulsory at high school so they assume that some students don't have the knowledge to do for example basic zeta functions and their uses in the areas of the Casimir effect and Bose–Einstein condensation. We study Bose–Einstein condensation but we never get deep into it, we just know that +0.5, -0.5 fermions combine due to the formation of a phonon which results in a 0, +1, -1 Boson which becomes a Bose–Einstein condensate when the metals temp is below Tc...
The maths involved is very very simple which I believe is not the case in university physics.
We do Motion, Electricity, Introduction to Quantum Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics and Quarks (they are named differently).
Have a look at these exams papers:
http://www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/hsc_exams/hsc2011exams/pdf_doc/2011-hsc-exam-physics.pdf
http://www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/hsc_exams/hsc2010exams/pdf_doc/2010-hsc-exam-physics.pdf
http://www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/hsc_exams/hsc2009exams/pdf_doc/2009-hsc-physics.pdf
http://www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/hsc_exams/hsc2008exams/pdf_doc/2008HSC-physics.pdf

Mentor

I think I'll start learning uni physics so what textbook do you guys think is good for university physics?

There's not a heck of a lot of difference between introductory university physics textbooks. It's mainly a matter of style, and preferences are hard to predict if you've never used one. If you know some calculus, get a calculus-based book, e.g. Halliday/Resnick/Walker "Fundamentals of Physics." If you have some idea what university you'll end up going to, try to find out which book they use there.

XtremePhysX

There's not a heck of a lot of difference between introductory university physics textbooks. It's mainly a matter of style, and preferences are hard to predict if you've never used one. If you know some calculus, get a calculus-based book, e.g. Halliday/Resnick/Walker "Fundamentals of Physics." If you have some idea what university you'll end up going to, try to find out which book they use there.

I'll look for it in the library, otherwise, I'll have to buy it, it costs around $100. Thanks for the help =) Education Advisor Why is it that the maths involved in High School physics very simple? I really don't like the way physics is structured in High School, it is full of theory and very little mathematics is involved. We even study the history of AC and DC and have to write an essay about the conflict between Westinghouse and Edison LOL. I think I'll start learning uni physics so what textbook do you guys think is good for university physics? If you don't mind my asking, where exactly are you from? I'm curious as to whether your experience in high school physics class is typical of students in your area. Years ago when I was in high school (in Canada for me), the physics classes I took consisted of basic high school algebra explaining the theory of physics combined with fairly simple experiments demonstrating basic physics principles (e.g. E&M, dynamics, etc.). As far as I can recall, the history of physics was discussed, but it was very far from the core curriculum (although there was a project requirement which consisted of a number of options, including teaching the class on a physics topic, writing an essay on a physics-based topic, developing a computer program demonstrating a physics principle using simulation, or conducting a class demonstration of a lab). XtremePhysX If you don't mind my asking, where exactly are you from? I'm curious as to whether your experience in high school physics class is typical of students in your area. Years ago when I was in high school (in Canada for me), the physics classes I took consisted of basic high school algebra explaining the theory of physics combined with fairly simple experiments demonstrating basic physics principles (e.g. E&M, dynamics, etc.). As far as I can recall, the history of physics was discussed, but it was very far from the core curriculum (although there was a project requirement which consisted of a number of options, including teaching the class on a physics topic, writing an essay on a physics-based topic, developing a computer program demonstrating a physics principle using simulation, or conducting a class demonstration of a lab). I'm from Australia. http://hsc.csu.edu.au/physics/ this website shows you exactly how the physics course is structured here. Mentor Why is it that the maths involved in High School physics very simple? I really don't like the way physics is structured in High School, it is full of theory and very little mathematics is involved. We even study the history of AC and DC and have to write an essay about the conflict between Westinghouse and Edison LOL. It makes me think about: Teaching Math in 1950: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for$100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit?

Teaching Math in 1960:

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or$80. What is his profit?

Teaching Math in 1970:

A logger exchanges a set "L" of lumber for a set "M" of money. The cardinality of set "M" is 100. Each element is worth one dollar. Make 100 dots representing the elements of the set "M." The set "C," the cost of production contains 20 fewer points than set "M." Represent the set "C" as subset of set "M" and answer the following question: What is the cardinality of the set "P" of profits?

Teaching Math in 1980:

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is$80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20. Teaching Math in 1990: By cutting down beautiful forest trees, the logger makes$20. What do you think of this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the forest birds and squirrels "feel" as the logger cut down the trees? There are no wrong answers.

Norfonz

Part of physics is learning how to think; not necessarily in the mathematical sense, but in the physical sense! Keep your mind open, as the mathematics isn't necessarily the most difficult part of physical problems.

I can't answer your question on the textbook, though. I've only used the standard collegiate textbook "University Physics" by Freedman. I found it rather dry, though it is chock-full of good examples.

zyj

I'll look for it in the library, otherwise, I'll have to buy it, it costs around $100. Thanks for the help =) A cheap older edition of HRW in good condition off of AbeBooks shouldn't cost you that much, though I admit I have no idea how much shipping to Australia costs. Not much actually changes between editions. thegreenlaser Your ambition is good, but beware of the "what I'm learning is stupid" attitude. An attitude like that won't help you succeed. I've known enough people who think that way, and they usually regret it or don't make it far. chill_factor There's plenty of algebra and trig based problems that are very challenging even for physics majors. The skills I've used most is basic calculus. 80% of problems you will encounter in undergrad homework and tests can be handled by math from high school algebra up to multivariable calculus which is amazing when you think about it. Of the remaining 20%, 19% can be solved with differential equations or linear algebra. That doesn't mean that everyone gets A's even if they know all the math. I've had upper division physics classes where there were zero calculations on the final yet the mean was extremely low because *physics itself* is hard, it is not just because of the math that makes it hard. Science Advisor It makes me think about: Very interesting and definitely in many ways an unfortunate sign of the times. mikelepore Why is it that the maths involved in High School physics very simple? Regarding the state-controlled high school syllabus in New York, I agree with you. The math involved in physics class tends to have this form: Multiple choice: If you double the force applied to a mass, what happens to the acceleration? (1) You double it (2) You half it (3) You quadruple it (4) None of the above The hardest problem ever encountered is calculating sin, cos, tan when given the sides of a right triangle. A lot of math is a prerequisite to take the class, but then it is not used. XtremePhysX Regarding the state-controlled high school syllabus in New York, I agree with you. The math involved in physics class tends to have this form: Multiple choice: If you double the force applied to a mass, what happens to the acceleration? (1) You double it (2) You half it (3) You quadruple it (4) None of the above The hardest problem ever encountered is calculating sin, cos, tan when given the sides of a right triangle. A lot of math is a prerequisite to take the class, but then it is not used. We just have to memorize formulae, we aren't even required to know the derivation. For example, we are just required to substitute given values into $$\frac{1}{\lambda }=R\left ( \frac{1}{n_{f}^{2}}-\frac{1}{n_{i}^{2}} \right )$$ we are not required to know the derivation at all. And that it probably the most complicated-looking equation in the Australian syllabus. nicholls We just have to memorize formulae, we aren't even required to know the derivation. For example, we are just required to substitute given values into $$\frac{1}{\lambda }=R\left ( \frac{1}{n_{f}^{2}}-\frac{1}{n_{i}^{2}} \right )$$ we are not required to know the derivation at all. And that it probably the most complicated-looking equation in the Australian syllabus. To be honest, that is a lot more complicated then the equations I had to know. I think all I learned was kinematics, and a little bit of gravity (potential, force). I think you are receiving a pretty good physics education haha. I never learned how to derive things until university. Mentor $$\frac{1}{\lambda }=R\left ( \frac{1}{n_{f}^{2}}-\frac{1}{n_{i}^{2}} \right )$$ we are not required to know the derivation at all. If memory serves me well, this one was actually guessed, not derived :tongue: XtremePhysX To be honest, that is a lot more complicated then the equations I had to know. I think all I learned was kinematics, and a little bit of gravity (potential, force). I think you are receiving a pretty good physics education haha. I never learned how to derive things until university. Yes, that's Bohr's equation I think. I had a looks at Maxwell's Equations on Wikipedia the other day and they look really complicated, wish we studies those too :P Quantum Mechanics is my favourite topic and luckily we spend 50% of the course on Quantum Mechanics, 25% on motion and %25 on Electricity. XtremePhysX If memory serves me well, this one was actually guessed, not derived :tongue: I think this is how they derived it: $$E_{n}=\frac{1}{n^{2}}E_{1}$$ Hence we have: $$\Delta E=hf=E_{i}-E_{f}$$ $$hf=\frac{1}{(n_{i})^{2}}E_{1}-\frac{1}{(n_{f})^{2}}E_{1}$$ as $$f=\frac{c}{\lambda }$$ therefore: $$\frac{1}{\lambda }=R\left ( \frac{1}{n_{f}^{2}}-\frac{1}{n_{i}^{2}} \right )$$ It has a lot of limitations though. Last edited: Mentor I think this is how they derived it: I don't think that is correct. Rydberg was looking for a formula that would describe experimental results, he was not deriving it starting with any assumptions about the atom energy as you suggest. A posteriori you can show any "derivation", but that's not how the formula was (historically) produced. XtremePhysX I don't think that is correct. Rydberg was looking for a formula that would describe experimental results, he was not deriving it starting with any assumptions about the atom energy as you suggest. A posteriori you can show any "derivation", but that's not how the formula was (historically) produced. LOL I think that's why we aren't required to know the derivation, because it doesn't exist :P bigerst i went through one of the exams you posted, it seems very fact based indeed lool mathematics isn't necessary for interesting / hard physics. eg physics olympiads, none of the math is super advanced but the physics itself is interesting and tough nickbob00 Your Physics course sounds a lot more in depth than the one I just finished. I just did a British A level in it, supposedly equivalent in difficulty to an AP. Our study of quantum mechanics had zero mathematics in it... Special relativity was vaguely touched upon (things get heavier as you approach the speed of light, or in exam terms reciting "this prediction may be unreliable due to relativistic effects" as the answer to the question "why might your answer be wrong" after you calculate an electron to be going 10^54 ms-1 using stupid assumptions). Our teacher was good enough to us to derive and explain where equations come from and supplement the textbook with ample demonstrations and experiments, but like every A level course it had to focus on passing exams else everyone would complain. More than half the paper, year on year, is written. mikelepore We just have to memorize formulae, we aren't even required to know the derivation. In New York this reference table giving all the formulas is handed out. http://www.p12.nysed.gov/apda/reftable/physics-rt/physics06tbl.pdf [Broken] Last edited by a moderator: XtremePhysX In New York this reference table giving all the formulas is handed out. http://www.p12.nysed.gov/apda/reftable/physics-rt/physics06tbl.pdf [Broken] LOL They hand out a formula sheet here too, but it doesn't cover all formulae I think, I never use it to be honest. The one you posted covers almost everything you need. Mathematics isn't a compulsory course is Australia, only English is compulsory so I think that's why they increase the amount of theory. I realized that worded responses aren't rote learning at all because you need a good understanding of the concepts in order to properly answer a worded response question. For example, a question asking you to explain the sling shot effect. There is no way you can answer it without an understanding of relativity, conservation laws, Newtons lows etc... so I'm pretty happy with the structure of the physics course, the only thing I'm not happy with, is as I said the mathematical content, which is unnderstandable since mathematics isn't compulsory (it should be IMO) Last edited by a moderator: dawn_pingpong Fair enough. Different things for different people of course but I can think of many examples where studying the history of a subject can be as inspiring or even more inspiring than the subject; especially amongst groups that are a minority in science e.g. women. HEY HEY don't be discriminatory:P I'm studying in a girl's school now and currently studying electricity and magnetism, which is a whole lot on concepts (no formulas no calculations no nothing), and my classmates all complain why it is so annoying, because we love calculations! (well majority, not everyone obviously). And then we learn about fuse ratings and how to on/off the electrical mains in our homes, which is a bit of commonsensical knowledge... I don't really like our physics modules now either (and I think I'm around the same grade as XtremePhysX?). At least I think last year was better, when in dynamics at least we get to calculate E=mgh or whatever, those simple stuff. This year for us is all explanation questions, which means that (1) I can't score cos I can't explain well enough (2) it gives me no motivation to study physics. For example, there was this question in one of our exams: explain what happens for a thermometer when (1) the bore is twice the orginal size, (2) the length is increased (3) blah blah. This question was 6 marks I think, and it was 1/6 of the total score of the whole test. And some of the people who are not good at physics, just exam smart and can memorise word for word score well (not jealous or anything) While I wholeheartedly agree that concepts are absolutely important, physics deprived of all math is just... !@#$% Right here in our school the syllabus is a bit weird: like in year 7, we have not even learned how to solve linear algebra equations, then we learn about kinematics and the formulas. And for us here, there is no deviations no nothing. And they don't even teach you any formulas in the first place (maybe the most advanced I can think of is heat=mc deltaT? the kinematics equations, all the projectile motion ones, are just optional, means we don't even touch on them). We go for the A level, which surprisingly contains all the calculations like KE=eV=hf-work function, and the dynamics portions, and it's common that some of the students suffer a bit-the jump is just too great. Which is a bit weird.

Anyway there is this advanced class in my school which teaches you a lot more stuff like more advanced fluid dynamics and quantum, but sadly I'm not in as I'm already in Chem...

I like physics, because it's fun, but is very very bad at problem solving. Like really. I just can't whack the question and try to solve it for hours. I guess just have to practice... I bought a 2nd hand university textbook for 30 bucks (college physics-8th or 9th edition I think), and also has the Halliday/Resnick one (ebook version-someone gave it to me). A bit not understandable as there's too much calculus and stuff so I dose out, but not bad for reference. I think XtremePhysX you can just go to a 2nd hand shop near your house and see what they have to offer? It's much much cheaper and worth it and you can get to flip through to see which style you like too. Anddd... go watch the youtube videos and lectures! I think they are very good, especially for me who understand better if someone explains it to me. Coffee high!

XtremePhysX

HEY HEY don't be discriminatory:P I'm studying in a girl's school now and currently studying electricity and magnetism, which is a whole lot on concepts (no formulas no calculations no nothing), and my classmates all complain why it is so annoying, because we love calculations! (well majority, not everyone obviously). And then we learn about fuse ratings and how to on/off the electrical mains in our homes, which is a bit of commonsensical knowledge...

I don't really like our physics modules now either (and I think I'm around the same grade as XtremePhysX?). At least I think last year was better, when in dynamics at least we get to calculate E=mgh or whatever, those simple stuff. This year for us is all explanation questions, which means that (1) I can't score cos I can't explain well enough (2) it gives me no motivation to study physics. For example, there was this question in one of our exams: explain what happens for a thermometer when (1) the bore is twice the orginal size, (2) the length is increased (3) blah blah. This question was 6 marks I think, and it was 1/6 of the total score of the whole test. And some of the people who are not good at physics, just exam smart and can memorise word for word score well (not jealous or anything)

While I wholeheartedly agree that concepts are absolutely important, physics deprived of all math is just... !@#\$% Right here in our school the syllabus is a bit weird: like in year 7, we have not even learned how to solve linear algebra equations, then we learn about kinematics and the formulas. And for us here, there is no deviations no nothing. And they don't even teach you any formulas in the first place (maybe the most advanced I can think of is heat=mc deltaT? the kinematics equations, all the projectile motion ones, are just optional, means we don't even touch on them). We go for the A level, which surprisingly contains all the calculations like KE=eV=hf-work function, and the dynamics portions, and it's common that some of the students suffer a bit-the jump is just too great. Which is a bit weird.

Anyway there is this advanced class in my school which teaches you a lot more stuff like more advanced fluid dynamics and quantum, but sadly I'm not in as I'm already in Chem...

I like physics, because it's fun, but is very very bad at problem solving. Like really. I just can't whack the question and try to solve it for hours. I guess just have to practice... I bought a 2nd hand university textbook for 30 bucks (college physics-8th or 9th edition I think), and also has the Halliday/Resnick one (ebook version-someone gave it to me). A bit not understandable as there's too much calculus and stuff so I dose out, but not bad for reference. I think XtremePhysX you can just go to a 2nd hand shop near your house and see what they have to offer? It's much much cheaper and worth it and you can get to flip through to see which style you like too. Anddd... go watch the youtube videos and lectures! I think they are very good, especially for me who understand better if someone explains it to me. Coffee high!

I absolutely hate this!
Happens in chemistry. Some people just rote learn everything and learn techniques to get "top marks" it is like cheap tricks etc...
I think high school exams should not be a measure of you "exam techniques" but a measure of how smart and hard working you are.
Fore example, some times there is a really silly 6 mark question asking you to draw a "table" and then you lose 3 marks for not putting a title for the table, the table is not neat etc...
I want the exams to be EXTREMELY hard and have extremely complicated questions that actually test you intelligence and knowledge not how careful you are and how you can write down things you memorised.

dawn_pingpong

Fore example, some times there is a really silly 6 mark question asking you to draw a "table" and then you lose 3 marks for not putting a title for the table, the table is not neat etc...
I want the exams to be EXTREMELY hard and have extremely complicated questions that actually test you intelligence and knowledge not how careful you are and how you can write down things you memorised.
Absolutely! I always cross my fingers and hope that there will be loads of hard calculations. Hehe. I think physics is not as bad compared to biology (at least in high school I think). For bio, there are questions on Mendel genetics, where you have to draw a punnet square. And one question is 10 marks! Before the exam, the teacher will break it down for you, and tell you this is 0.5 mark, another part is 0.5 mark etc etc: there's formula (like you just write the word "gametes" at the top right hand corner, you get 1 point...)! And if you memorise the formula, you will definitely get full marks! I think this sort of exams don't even test your understanding, just purely how well you can memorise! So nonsensical. There is no point at all! Don't even talk about a line. Geddit?

I believe it's now 1am in Australia too:P