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Insights So I Am Your Intro Physics Instructor - Comments

  1. Aug 12, 2014 #1
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2016
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 21, 2014 #2
    Thank you! I teach at the high school level, and most of my students will not be science majors. Quite often, when the going gets rough, their counselor will counsel them to drop the class so as not to affect their GPA. Often this is actually encouraged by college admissions officers who will tell a potential business major they don't "need" physics.
    I have said some similar things you have written in your essay to my students, but you have elegantly and thoughtfully described why all students "need" physics. I especially like "OK students - remember that F=ma and we are done with semester 1" example.
  4. Aug 23, 2016 #3
    Great for first year physics students to read before classes start!
  5. Aug 23, 2016 #4


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    Believe it or not. I once got at a relatively high speed (~ 170 km/h) into a one-sided aquaplaning. My only thought has been: don't apply additional forces, i.e. neither steer nor brake, simply sail through by inertia. I even softened my grip on the wheel a little. Beside a real huge shock, nothing else happened. (It's amazing how intensive life becomes when you're all of a sudden full of adrenalin.)

    Or to put it the other way around: those who slept in their basic physic courses appear in the newspapers on Monday mornings, which report on their meeting with a tree on their way home from a disco to impress some girls. (This happens on such a regular basis, esp. in autumn, that I always wonder why so few among those affected recognize this pattern.)
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2016
  6. Aug 23, 2016 #5
    I wish I had Zapper for an intro physics professor. the one i got is pretty blase about teaching, so it looks like it's learning from the book for me lol.
  7. Aug 23, 2016 #6
    Artillery experts are people too.
  8. Aug 23, 2016 #7
    lol I shoud have written blasé.
  9. Aug 26, 2016 #8


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    There was no belittling of artillery people there.

    Anyway, your objection to this reminds me of this!:-p

    Sorry...couldn't resist!:biggrin:
  10. Aug 26, 2016 #9
    Great memory.

    My point was more that broadened application and importance of the skills learned in solving prototypical physics should not diminish the original importance and relevance of those problems.

    There was a time when artillery (and projectile motion more generally) were on the forefront of physics.

    Important questions remain, and if we (physicists) leave too much real science as a mop up operation to the engineers, they tend to put too much faith in the equations and stop asking the important questions like "how accurate is that?" and "does that equation apply under these conditions?"
  11. Sep 12, 2016 #10
    Societal attitudes towards education are, of course, changing. It's important that we remain aware of how these changes have affected students. For example, 15 years of "no child left behind" and the like have left many students with the embedded notion that teaching is the only factor, or at least the only significant factor, that accounts for learning. Consequently, if there's no learning going on in the mind of the student, it's the teacher's fault.

    Lest you label me a curmudgeon, I will tell you that I very much enjoy teaching college-level introductory physics and that I have a significant number of students who have that all-important combination of a willingness to learn, the ability to learn, and who do the work.

    My point is simply this. For students who believe that it's up to the teacher to do their learning for them, motivational speeches that focus on the importance of learning physics will unfortunately tend to reinforce that belief. The message they receive is that this teacher is willing to work very hard to get me to learn. Let's hope he comes through for me.
  12. Sep 12, 2016 #11


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    But this is exactly why I wrote this:

    One can only lead a horse to water. The art of successfully leading that horse to water, and to make the horse realize that it needs to drink, is what an educator does.

  13. Sep 12, 2016 #12
    I understand. Mine is a cautionary note. Many of these students will interpret what you wrote to mean that YOU are taking on the responsibility of making those things happen. And if they don't happen, it's your fault.

    Consider for example a conversation you might have with a student who has done poorly on your first test. You remind him of the advice you gave him ...

    His response will be that he tried to do that but it didn't work. In his mind he will be thinking that the blame falls on you for this, not him. Yes, he didn't study properly. Yes, he lacks the skills to succeed. But despite all that, it is YOU who is supposed to be teaching him. Either you failed or your test was too hard. You are a bad teacher.

    Now, why would he think that way instead of the way you told him to think? It could be that in his K-12 experiences the blame always fell on the teachers. He will need to learn your lesson the hard way. That's all I'm saying here. It's just a cautionary note to (especially new) teachers about their own expectations.

    (Note that in my example it's possible that the student is clever enough to know exactly what's going on, and he is actually playing you. In that case it makes no difference. His lesson is that he can no longer get away with kind of a con. He is what some people call the "con artist". He's smart enough to do well in school, but instead he procrastinates and plays the angles. It's best to just pretend you're not on to him, because if you do let on you're just giving him an excuse to argue. You know you're dealing with a con artist when you feel the need to draw a flow chart in order to follow his convoluted arguments and if-then scenarios.)

    Again, I want to impress upon you that I'm really not a curmudgeon. Most of my students are not con artists. Some of them work hard and deserve my guidance, even if they aren't passing the course. I really do enjoy teaching and find it very rewarding. I will admit, though, that dealing with the difficult student is often a challenge to my well-being.
  14. Sep 12, 2016 #13


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    I don't believe that has ever happened to me, or at least, not that I'm aware of. I have had students who think they are "entitled" to things, but not the extent that they blamed me for their failures, mainly because if I'm such a bad instructor, how come there are students in the same class getting A's AND enjoying/understand the material rather well?

    As an instructor, I'm no longer surprised to see my end-of-course review, because in the same class, some students will say that I'm a god-send, while others will say that I'm the devil incarnate. There is absolutely nothing one can do to please everyone. So on this particular issue, I have never encounter what you described as a problem, even as a minor one. The whole point of this introduction is to lay out expectations for both sides.

    I will also say that students with the attitude that you describe will crash-and-burn not just in my class, but also in others. So maybe this is part of their growing up process, that eventually, and hopefully, they'll realize that the problem isn't other people, but it is them. But then again, looking at the political nastiness that has been going on during this election year, maybe these people never did grow out of that.

  15. Sep 26, 2016 #14


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    For me an intro to physics course is just the down-payment for understanding the truly magical stuff like Landau Mechanics.

    I sometimes think a good high school physics course followed by Landau might be a good path for the better students - certainly philosophy types for which it would likely be a revelation. They simply do not understand physics.

  16. Sep 26, 2016 #15
    True enough. But I always remember that for most students in my class, the course they are in NOW is the last physics course they will ever take.
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