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I hate my mechanics class and physics is my major!

  1. Sep 7, 2009 #1
    Arg, I just started in on 'real physics' and am taking mechanics this semester but the problem is I don't understand it. Our damn physics department recently transitioned to a new more interactive program, which to them means tossing out the textbook and giving us conceptual videos to watch before the lecture. They spend the actual lecture doing ridiculously simple problems and then give us very difficult computational online homework. I've watched every single video and there is not nearly enough information contained in it to be able to solve the online homework and no additional recommended reading. The online homework offers 'tips' in the form of hints to solve the problems but I feel like I'm muddling through the subject and learning more equation-plugging than anything else. What should I do? This is going to be my major, for christ's sake and I already hate the vagueness and hand-wavey nature of how it's being taught.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 7, 2009 #2


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    Hrm, by the title of your topic I assumed by real physics and mechanics, you meant a junior or senior level course in mechanics covering lagrangian mechanics and such. Evidently, from the rest of the content of your post, it doesn't sound like this is the case.

    Is the physics class you're taking designed for physics major specifically or is it a class applicable to say all science majors or all majors in general?
  4. Sep 7, 2009 #3
    Oh no, so sorry! I meant just classical mechanics, usually the course that physics majors take first. By 'real' I meant calculus-based and for science and engineering majors, not a general course. So to answer your second question, it's a class for all science majors.
  5. Sep 7, 2009 #4


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    Ah, okay.

    Obviously there is a lot of variation from school to school on how they structure their undergraduate physics curriculum, and a lot of variation especially in the level of rigor of the first mechanics course. Also, depending a school's approach to engineering, sometimes the engineers have a class different from the physics or astronomy majors. That said, it seems your course is a general more advanced than general physics course for those who may actually use what is learned.

    Obviously, you cannot increase the level of rigor and difficulty in your course. As far as the rift between in class problems and homework, this is actually somewhat common in physics classes. I would contend, however, that unless your class is being run absolutely horrendously, the fact that you struggle with the homework indicates that you do not fully understand the underlying principles or their applications.

    If you can get past that, and realize that you simply have to get through this course before you start getting to more interesting subject matter, I recommend you spark your interest by either reading about topics you are interested in, or perhaps even a popular science book. At any rate, do some reading outside of what is assigned for class so you don't flounder and get lost in what sounds like is a poorly taught first year course. Bear in mind that what I would consider "real" physics classes start sophomore year with the introduction of relativity and QM, as well as the application of more complicated mathematical techniques (multivariable calculus and differential equations).

    I'm rambling, but my point is don't lose interest because of this one bad class.
  6. Sep 8, 2009 #5
    I didn't especially like my first year physics course, in fact I was very vocal about how much I disliked it. A year after finishing it, i'm signed up for the electrodynamics course and I will probably be taking the classical mechanics course.

    My advice to you is to go to your library and try and check out an appropriate level textbook (Halliday, Resnick, Walker, Krane, is a good book) and go through their worked examples and end of chapter problems. Some creative googling should also help you find worked examples on the internet. Alternatively buy worked problem books such as Schaum's and/or REA.

    Basically, get through this first year course and then see how you like the upper level courses before you drop out.
  7. Sep 8, 2009 #6

    D H

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    Most English professors do not like teaching freshman English classes. Most chemistry professors do not like teaching freshman chemistry classes. And of course, most physics professors do not like teaching freshman physics classes.

    Couple this dislike with faddish teaching techniques and untried technology and you get the debacle with which you are confronted, MissSilvy. To overcome this, you have to do a bit more work. Read some books, talk to your teaching assistants, see if your school has tutors, and one last thing:

    We are here to help you.
  8. Sep 8, 2009 #7


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    It may be worth expressing your concerns either to your professor or the physics department in general, especially if this is the first time they are approaching the course in this manner.

    I second the idea of getting your hands on a standard physics textbook or two - especially if you're majoring in phyiscs. I can't believe anyone would completely do away with a recommended textbook.

    Also, I'm assuming that the class has just started? You may want to give it a few more weeks. Sometimes professors like to start the students off with some extra-challenging material for several reasons: it makes them take the class more seriously, and it can give those not committed to it the chance to drop it and get their money back before wasting their entire semester.
  9. Sep 8, 2009 #8
    I generally find mechanics the least interesting of all the physics coursework, so you aren't alone. It does, however, suck that you're finding the course structure frustrating. Perhaps talking to the professor will help... and I encourage you to take advantage of office hours to request help on some of the hard HW problems, and to also ask for additional (also more difficult) examples. If he/she doesn't have these "on the fly" you could even come prepared to ask about specific (similar) problems from appropriate-level texts you find in the library (especially perhaps the text used in prior versions of the course).

    Good luck, and as you know, we're all cheering for you!
  10. Sep 8, 2009 #9

    Vanadium 50

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    The audience of that class is chemists, engineers, etc. It's not intended for majors - indeed the vast majority of that class will not major in physics. IIRC, Illinois was putting a freshman physics for physics majors class together. Can you register for that one instead?
  11. Sep 8, 2009 #10
    its gets more interesting when you finish all the first year material; mastering physics sucks so much but gutting through all the crap will get you to some very interesting material later on
  12. Sep 8, 2009 #11
    May I suggest watching courses on MIT's OCW site. Here you will find a fantastic Physics I and II professor named Walter Lewin.

    http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/Physics/8-01Physics-IFall1999/CourseHome/index.htm [Broken]

    He is amazing, fun, and easy to understand. He helped me where my Physics I and II professor couldn't. I have him to thank for my A's.

    I forgot to say, that because of him, I changed my major from Math to Physics. If he does not inspire and help you, then no one can!

    Ok maybe that's going a little too far.... I'm such a fangirl.. geez...
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  13. Sep 8, 2009 #12
    I'll second this suggestion. Walter Lewin (who does engaging demos and classic example problems in a traditional lecture-format) reminds me of PBS's Julius Sumner Miller (my inspiration for entering physics.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  14. Sep 9, 2009 #13
    I despised mechanics when I took it in my second year of undergrad. I found the textbook gave general ideas with very few worked examples and homework seemed next to impossible. I ended up finding a solutions manual - not to cheat - but just to help me get better at working through problems. It's the only thing that saved me. My marks were still low.
  15. Sep 9, 2009 #14


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  16. Sep 9, 2009 #15
    Well, there should be some vagueness and hand wavy-ness that's really fun and they call argument from symmetry :biggrin:

    but no worries, Mechanics is boring and nobody really likes it. You're not supposed to. What you ARE supposed to do is pick up a few techniques on how to "think" physics, but that really depends on the teacher (mine was great in college but terrible in high school).

    But no worries, things only start to get interesting once you start looking at Maxwell's Laws in E&M.
  17. Sep 9, 2009 #16
    ... you're in undergrad?

    From the amount of advice you gave to other people on this forum with regards to grad school applications and admissions I had thought you were at least a faculty member somewhere...
  18. Sep 9, 2009 #17
    Sometimes all the information is given but you don't know how to find the information. Reading things or watching online lectures etc wouldn't help you solve difficult problems.

    Just solve some 10 simple problems and then 10 other medium difficulty problems and then attempt the harder problem. You would be able to solve it more easily.

    Go to library and find all the relevant books. See which book has problems relevant to what is asked in the online quizes. (Schaum usually has good problems)
  19. Sep 9, 2009 #18
    Yeah I think this is a copy MissSilvy, she has WAY less posts than the MissSilvy who helps out.
  20. Sep 9, 2009 #19
    A quick reply, but I thank everyone who's offering advice. I will check out the lectures and there's, of course, these forums. Hopefully it'll get better as the semester goes on and thank you for your support!

    I've been an assistant to an admissions committee member for two years. She is the head of grad school admissions here at my school and I assist her with the applications and the process. Hence, I like to think I know more than 'just an undergrad' since I sit in on meetings and actually know what committees look for in applicants. I hope I never gave anyone a false impression that I was something I'm not, but I don't just post advice for posting's sake; a lot of it is advice that that I have heard given to prospective grad students by professors and faculty members.

    There's another MissSilvy? How odd!
  21. Sep 9, 2009 #20
    Classical mechanics provides much of the foundation for quantum mechanics. You need to know it well if you are going to major in Physics. Maybe you need a better book or a better instructor. Or maybe you need to change your perception about how the courses should be taught and work harder - start solving problems, read various books, etc. Physics is all about solving problems.
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