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Physics Secondary Physics Teacher / More coursework?

  1. Nov 12, 2008 #1
    I am trying to decide how to best approach becoming a stronger teacher of Physics at the high school level. I am teaching General Physics for the first time this year. My background is Biology/Env. Sci. I had 8 hours of Physics (w/lab) and 8 hours of Calculus as an undergrad but that was over 20 years ago and I am rusty on many basic things though most of it comes back as I review the material. However, I am never always sure how I know what I know and even some algebra is elusive for me.

    My question is how can I best improve my physics background? Our high school physics is not calculus based though eventually I would like to be able to teach that. When I talk to my local university, they recommend taking the 3 semesters of Physics (w/ Calc.) for Physics majors but I work full-time so that seems like a stretch and though they think the Calculus will come back to me, I feel unsure. I had a 3.5 in Calculus but when I look at it now, I really don't remember much at all.

    Would you recommend I retake Calculus before taking a Calculus based Physics course again? Are there any good remedials online for Calculus or Physics that might be a better use of my time? I would ultimately like to take some face to face Physics classes with labs to get ideas on lab strategies for my students but I do have couple of jobs going right now plus children still at home.

    And the main point I forgot to mention is I really dig Physics which is why I even have this notion to get more training/education. It does not seem to come easily for me when I sit in a room by myself and try to do it. Interaction makes a huge difference with my comprehension, I just hate to pay and take huge amounts of time (neither of which I have much of) to retake courses I have already earned credit in.

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 12, 2008 #2
    I like it that you try to find the best way to learn physics and calculus. Perhaps you can *at least* buy the textbook that the local university would use in the calculus-based physics course.

    On the other hand, may I ask why they chose you to teach physics (I mean this in a friendly way, I can see how one could misinterpret my question!)?
  4. Nov 13, 2008 #3
    I wouldn't consume your schedule actually taking classes. But as borgwal said, you could get a calc-based textbook from your local university. You could also ask a professor for his syllabus and perhaps the homework assignments. Then just go through that material at your own pace - no stress.
  5. Nov 13, 2008 #4
    I remember one time I decided that I wanted to read this really thick book on Mathematical Physics and what I did was to set aside some time at home between 6 and 7 every night and I sat at the dining table and read a few pages every night, and WHACKO, before I knew it, I had finished the book! Amazing.

    Teaching is a really tough occupation. I did it for 30 years. Every year I would rewrite all my notes and use different text books in the hope that *this* year I would finally be able to communicate these ideas to my students. It never happened. I kept wanting them to *comprehend* the ideas, but only the good ones did. If I had to do it over again, I would use more memory work for the exam and not test so much for comprehension. I now believe that later on, when the kids actually need the material, their dim memories will drudge up some of it, enough so they can go look up what they need. And then it will all start coming back to them. They will then comprehend the topics they need and use.
  6. Nov 13, 2008 #5
    I greatly appreciate your feedback. I like the idea of getting the text and seeking the support of the faculty at the local university. To this point they have been more than generous and willing to assist.

    Why do I want to teach Physics? I started a PhD in env. sci years ago and intended to teach at the college level. I had completed my M.S. but did not complete PhD. I do some indep. college teaching but there are no good junior colleges in my area for me to seek full time work. I ended up teaching secondary mostly over the past 8 years but I have no patience for kids who do not want to be at school, much less learn and the public schools unfortunatly are full of this (and I am in NM where the public ed is very poor). I ended up being asked to teach Physics first for an online college (conceptual) and then got hired to teach physics all day for a local high school (algebra based).

    I like teaching this population much more because it is an elective and the students have more of a buy in plus the subject is just awesome and fun. I would like to strengthen my Physics background as much as possible (and somewhat eventually on paper) so that I can be competitive to teach at the few private schools here which are frequently looking for Physics teachers (of course). It may just be too much of a stretch and looking back I do not think my Physics was Calculus based so that would be new for me to actually take/study Physics that is Calculus based. The truth is I think there would only be a calling for Calculus based Physics teachers in the private school sector. If I had more time I would just go for it but at this point I need to pick and choose the most effective of paths towards this goal and possibly it is just too much of a stretch but I like to think not.

    Any additional pointers are more than welcome. I did find some reviews and solved problems online so maybe I can slowly get to speed.
  7. Nov 13, 2008 #6
    Well, I have to hand it to you. You certainly sound like a dedicated teacher and one who loves his subject. Keep up the good work is all I can say!

    What I would suggest to address your current problem is to get a calculus based high school physics text and start reading that. Usually, they explain the calculus as they go along, so you should be able to follow it. Otherwise, post some questions to the forum, that's what it's for.

    I also had a big problem with student discipline since it was a required course and the students didn't want to be there and could not see the relevance to their subject areas (engineering, medicine and pharmacy). So, about 1/3 of every teaching hour was devoted to getting them to be quiet. Very frustrating for me. The mature age students are the best. They know why they are there. You are lucky to be teaching in an environment where the course is elective so you get students who actually want to be there. That's the ideal situation.
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