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Resources for beginning Physics student

  1. Jan 28, 2004 #1
    Hello, I'm new here and am searching the internet in desperate need of help. As the title states I am a beginning physics student at the college level and today, a month into my course, I am completely lost.

    Please understand that I have never experienced physics until a month ago so this is all very overwhelming to me, especially at the pace of a single college semester. Also note that I'm taking my first calculus course ever alongside physics and have no background in either (I barely passed precalculus and trigonometry to get into calculus and physics).

    So my question is: can anyone recommend some great resources for someone like me to help me begin to understand all the classical concepts of physics? Like a good book, study guide, web site, software, etc. that I can use to teach myself all the concepts. I work full time and make very little money so hiring a tutor or seeing my instructor when he's available for help are out of the question for me. Teaching myself on my spare time is my only solution at this point.

    So far in my course we are still doing Newton's Laws applications with friction but I'm finding a hard time even understanding basic vectors and kinematics. I've done my course work so far by just plugging in variables in equations and such but I really want to understand how this all works as come test time no one will be around to help me in forming equations and methods to solving said equations.

    The main problem that I've noticed I have is that when I'm given a problem to solve I can't even begin to imagine the logic in my head, let alone draw a diagram and proceed on a method to solving it. I'm not a very smart person but I do want to succeed in this coursework so any and all help anyone can give me will be very much appreciated. Thank you
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2004
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 28, 2004 #2


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    Unfortunately, for math and physics, there is not really any magical, secret trick that someone can tell you in a concise way that will unlock the ease of solving the problems in general. It comes down to doing problem after problem after problem, until you realize the various patterns in solving them. In a word, "practice." There are hundreds of, what I guess you could call, types of problems, and even the particular type of problem to which a particular problem belongs could change depending on the way the class/lecture/teacher is treating the subject.

    I advise that you dedicate all the time you can stand to practicing, and whenever you need a hint, or help of any kind, post in the HW help forum (or here, if they are conceptual questions).

    Good luck.
  4. Mar 11, 2004 #3
    Wow, I can relate so much with the opening post on this thread. I'm currently taking Calculus II and Physics I and had some difficulty in the beginning with both courses. I was lucky enough to find The Complete Idiots Guide to Calculus to help me in math. Unfortunately, I have yet to find anything that is able to help me understand physics.

    Now I do agree that practicing does help, but how does one practice something that they do not undertand? Better yet, how can one learn in that manner? Surely there is something (a person, guide, or other resource) that can at least explain the concepts of physics in an understandable way to beginners...
  5. Mar 12, 2004 #4
    Try these websites:

    Review Newton's 3 laws, and make sure that you really do understand them.

    Make sure that you understand equilibrium.

    Always remember to look for this when dealing with a force triangle; the magnitude of each force is proportional to the length of each side of the triangle. On most problems you should be able to estimate the solution to within 15% by eye as soon as you complete your drawing.

    Force = mass times acceleration.
    Force = change in momentum/change in time

    Breaking the laws of conservation will yield one of two results:
    1.) You will get the nobel prize for physics.
    2.) You will get the wrong solution to your problem.

    You almost certainly know someone who can help you better understand physics and calculus. Get their help. Now!

    This forum is a wonderful resource; use it!

    Try to apply everthing you learn in class to your everyday life. If you look for this stuff, you will see it all day, everyday, all around you. Think about it all day long.

    Practice, practice, practice...

    Best wishes, -Mike
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 12, 2004
  6. Mar 12, 2004 #5


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    I see this rather often, unfortunately. I'm glad you are realizing that you may be running to problem early on and are actively seeking help.

    I've seen many "complaints" on here and elsewhere by intro physics students on just how difficult physics is. More often than not, if you look VERY CLOSELY at where they are having the problems, I can almost be certain that it ISN'T the physics that they are having a problem with, it is the MATHEMATICS! I have lost count the number of times I've seen students setting up trying to solve a physics problem, and got stuck with basic algebra and trig, while the physics part of the problem are essentially solved. Since mathematics is the "tools" that we use to describe and solve physics, not having this tool is a major setback in doing physics.

    If one is having problems with the math, studying more physics books will not solve the problem. Realizing the source of the problem is crucial in finding the appropriate remedy.

  7. Mar 12, 2004 #6


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    I agree, it's usually the math. Math is the language of physics.

    The trig needed isn't so hard. It is good to know it so well that you never need to think about it. If you never need to think about the trig, you can concentrate on the other stuff. You should know your trig identities so well that you always know whether to multiply or divide by sine or cosine or tangent. This is good to concentrate on by yourself.

    Calculus is much harder. People who learn it by rote don't know what a "dx" really is. Once you really understand calculus, much of basic physics becomes obvious. For this, you may need to seek out help. A perxon who knows what's up is better than a book or a website.

    If you were good at word problems in algebra, you'll do well in physics once you understand the calculus.

  8. Mar 12, 2004 #7


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    This is the kind of thing that I was talking about. Most first year physics students don't have enough of an appreciation (no offense intended, so please don't anyone get offended) to make use of this. For instance, they start out without knowing about friction, or the first law of thermodynamics in general, so conservation of energy seems violated. Before they know about gravitational potential energy, and a falling object gains kinetic energy, conservation of energy seems violated. Before they learn the concept of closed vs. open systems, any applied external force seems to violate conservation of momentum. And in all three of these examples, among countless others, somewhat of the interpretation depends on how the material is being treated.
  9. Mar 12, 2004 #8

    Chi Meson

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    I highly recommend the text book entitled "Conceptual Physics" by Paul Hewitt. It is avilable as a high school text as well as a college text (It is usually used in courses known as "Physics for Poets"). THe guy does a great job in describing the elementary level of physics. Getting this level first will allow you to go on to your own text and the next level of complexity.
  10. Mar 12, 2004 #9
    I'm not at all offended. The goal here is to offer help to someone. You(along with the others) have made a valuable contribution toward that goal. You all should be commended. -Mike
  11. Mar 12, 2004 #10


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    Dx can stand for more that one thing.
  12. Mar 13, 2004 #11
    you can also mail the people in this forum if u have troubles with soem concepts... from what i understand, you rn't even familiar with the vectors... so get an 11th grade physics book and read the chapter on vectors... that'll help you a lot... dont forget to try and solve the vector problems yourself coz once you finish reading the chapters u'll think u've understood everything... but as u proceed through the tougher and tougher problems you'll realise just how little you've understood...
  13. Mar 13, 2004 #12

    Tom Mattson

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    Check the "Sticky" threads at the top of the Grade K-12 Homework Help Forum. We have collected links to some tutorials on basic physics as well as science fair project ideas.

    If you're feeling a little more ambitious, you can check the "Physics Napster" thread stuck to the top of this Forum, where there are more advanced materials posted.

    By the way, Michael D. Sewell, I sent you a private message saying "Hi, and Ahoy from Troy!" (note my location under my username). :smile:
  14. Mar 13, 2004 #13
    In order to learn Physics, I've taken on 2 tutors, attended most of the lectures, visited the Professor a few times, read the textbook, and attempted homework problems. I'm currently passing Calc II with an A. With all that, I am still lost and failing my Physics class.

    I can barely comprehend anything dealing with Physics. My professor is a really nice guy, but cannot give a simplistic explaination on any of the concepts. My textbook is like a huge complex summary that assumes that the reader has understanding in Physics, and I have never been very strong when it came to word problems. As I try to do homework problems, I barely understand what the question is asking, which equation to use as well as why I would use it (something that my tutors cannot explain to me). When it comes to the test, I feel lucky if I can at least answer one question correctly.

    This ordeal is very frustrating, but I don't want to give up. I find science fascinating and I genuinely want to learn the concepts. I went to the local library recently and picked up some children's books on physics. Thought these books do not give equations or exercises, I am at least hoping that it will help me with a basic understanding of the concepts.

    I thank all who have given suggestions. If anyone else has any suggestions, please don't hesitate to post them. :smile:
  15. Mar 13, 2004 #14
    If it's ok with you, you can mail me with your questions and the concepts that r bothering you and i'll try my best to give u a simplistic explaination...
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2004
  16. Mar 14, 2004 #15
    I highly recommend the book Understanding Physics by Isaac Asimov published by Barnes & Noble.

    Q. What would you use physics for?
    A. Every single thing you have ever done, or ever will do!

    I tried to return your message. My reply would not send. Your mailbox was full. I'll try again soon. -Mike
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 14, 2004
  17. Mar 14, 2004 #16

    Tom Mattson

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    I've just cleared it out.
  18. Mar 14, 2004 #17
    Kinda long. My apologies.

    IMHO, while it may seem like your only option, teaching yourself Physics is a tricky proposition. Trying to master concepts *while also trying to do the problems* and complete your coursework is pretty tough, and kinda like taking two classes instead of one.

    Two months ago, I was right where you are.

    Last term, I got embarrassing grades in both Calculus I and Physics. This term, I'm looking at a B in Calc, and on my last physics midterm, I'd jumped 40 points.

    What changed? (Frell, I sound like an info-mercial!) First of all, I decided that I wasn't throwing in the towel, no matter how bad it was.

    I may not know what I'm talking about, but let me tell you what worked for me:

    1. Work the problems. Try to hack at 'em even if they don't make sense. Here's one trick I learned from a physics grad student: look at what result they're asking for, check to see what units that answer should be in (meters, vector notation, amps, ohms, coulombs, whatever), and try to back track from those units to what you were originally given. Then check your book to see what formulae will give you those units. It may not be the best way to get the answer, but it *did* teach me how to start working the problems, which I hear is the only real way to learn physics.

    2. I begged, yes begged, my professor to recommend one of his grad students to tutor me. I tried finding a tutor on my own (and the guy wanted $20/hr, and only managed to confuse me more as well as forcing me to eat top ramen) and tried to learn physics via "The Idiot's Guide" and the Schaum's outline book, to no avail. And I couldn't continue to hassle the professor when there are 120 other students in the class. Anyway, he hooked me up with a grad student who was willing to take $10/hr, and all we did at first was work the problems. If that rate is still too expensive, keep trying - there's bound to be at least one student *somewhere* who might be willing to help out even a little *for free or for the cost of a beer or a pizza* just to help you get a better grade.

    3. I helped start a study group. We meet on my day off, about half a dozen of us, work through the problems, and I realized that I'm not the only person who, at first, thought they were stupid because they didn't get it. It took awhile to get it going, and some folks just didn't want to do it, but those of us who are, are improving our grades.

    This stuff takes a little while to pay off, but pay off it did. It might be late next term before I see the B+ or better grade that I want, but I'm glad I've made the extra effort.

    Hope this helps, and wasn't too preachy.

  19. Mar 14, 2004 #18
    Way to go Daemon.... thats fantastic...
    I'm surprised you have people who refused to help without charge. I know a lot of people at school (including myself) who help anyone who asks for it as much as they want. It's usually pretty hard to get things directly from profs coz they know so much and often fail to understand where and why students face difficulty. It can only be helped by those who are talking the course along with you and are good at it.
  20. Mar 16, 2004 #19
    My Physics has been helped by joining some of the societies at uni where I get to meet students at higher levels at me (I'm only in level 1 at uni). Getting to know the Phd students has beeb a huge benefit, as long as you don't get one of theones that likes to frazzle you with their knowledge.

    2 books I've found really helpful have been the 2 Physics ones (volumes 1 and 2) by Halliday/Resnick/Krane. I had no idea about electrostatics due partly to rubbish lecture notes (the other part due to me just not having a clue!), but by the time the exam came around I was understanding it a lot better as the book laid it out in a much more basic format that helped me to actually understand it. I'm not sayin the books will turn you into a genius overnight but they do help with the general understanding. I think you can get it on ebay, new or second hand at under £20.
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