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Teaching advice needed!

  1. Jan 1, 2006 #1
    Hello everyone,

    I have a problem with my students (introductory physics students) who are from different colleges (science, computer science, nursing, medical....). They always ask "why should we study physics?" or "why is physics important for us?". Unfortunately, I couldn't convince them that it is important. Can someone help me?

    We have a big problem with them since ,unfortunately, the education level of schools is low in my country. So, in order to reach the standard level at university, they must work harder! The problem is that they are getting disappointed because of their bad marks since there's a big gap between their level and the level we want them to reach. I believe that a frustrated person will not do anything. So, how can I encourage them to work?!

    I'm a new teacher. I've discussed this problem a lot with the doctors in our department. Some of them think that students must hold the responsibility but I think this is not fair because it is not their fault! There should be a sort of help from us without affecting the education level. Some other careless teachers think that we should put easy questions and let them pass without caring about did they reach the standard level or not.

    I don't agree with both. But actually don't know what to do! My suggested solutions:
    Doing extra tutorials with them.
    Doing fun activities in order to let them love physics and consequently they possess the motive for the study.

    What do you think? Hope to have your advices.

    If someone knows forums for physics teachers or useful resources I would be thankful.

    Thank you
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2006
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 1, 2006 #2


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    That is the eternal question in many courses!

    I tell my students flat out that it is entirely possible to go through life without knowing anything from this course or that. However, if they want to remain at the mercy of others as a substitute for critical thinking and problem solving skills then they will be at a profound disadvantage. This includes more than just the workplace. It also extends to social matters such as how will your tax money be spent? When the government wants to start up a new multi-billion dollar program will you simply settle for the lobbyists' word that the program makes sense or will you want to decide for yourself? Will they decide how to spend your money or will you have a say in it?

    There is also a cultural side to the issue. I think it is important to have some exposure to and appreciation of the greatest ideas and thinking to have come from the human intellect and how these ideas have changed the course of history. Ignorance may be bliss but knowledge is much more exciting.

    I suggest doing a Google search on "why do we have to learn this" (keep the quotes!) to see how widespread the dilemma is and to learn what others are thinking and doing about it.
  4. Jan 1, 2006 #3


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    I think there's reasons why they have to take the course, and reasons why they should want to take the course.
    Physics is not fundamental to every major, so i wouldn't try to argue that it is. However it's a general requirement because it helps develop abilities like critical thinking, observation, problem solving... etc which, in my opinion, are critical to any major.
    As for the reasons why they should want to take a physics course, there's tons of them, but of course no one has to agree with those.
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2006
  5. Jan 1, 2006 #4

    Math Is Hard

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    In the summers here, the university I work for offers a crash prep course in basics of chemistry, just to get students ready for the year-long introductory chemistry series that begins in the fall. The series is for pre-med/health sciences majors, and previously, many students were trying to enter it without any high school chemistry background. They ended up dropping like flies.

    The summer prep class seems to help get many of the students up to speed. It's been successful enough that it is now a pre-requisite for those who have not had high school chemistry. I wonder if something like that could be offered to prepare students for physics?
  6. Jan 1, 2006 #5
    For students that study science, Physics is a must as it is the foundational science. The basic explanation for why things happen in Chemistry for example, depends on a knowledge of the physical description of the atom as well as the behavior of electrons, thermodynamics, etc. all of which are topics delt with primarily in Physics. Biology (cellular) depends on a knowledge of Chemistry which depends on a knowledge of Physics. That is the microscopic, then when you look at the macroscopic and you still see a large dependence on Physics. Our knowledge of what is below the crust (Geology) and what is beyond the earth (Astronomy) is almost entirely based on physical principles. For example, we use the Doppler effect to determine how far planets are away from us and we use the idea of refraction to determine that there are different layers below the crust of the earth. The list goes on and on.

    Do you *need* to study it? No. Does this make it any easier to learn? No. But explaining it's importance is not too difficult, without a knowledge of physics you will only be scratching the surface of what science is.

    The basic problem that I have found with physics isn't the physics per say...but the math associated with it. Unless you come in with a really sound mathematical background (few students do, including myself when I took introductory physics) a struggle with the math is practically a given. One of the possible reasons this may be such a problem is that many of the "conventions" still being passed down in physics teaching are outdated compared to how kids are being taught mathematics in modern classrooms. For example, this whole business about algebraic rearranging of symbols without plugging in any numbers until the last step is confusing to beginning students and needless in the age of calculators. It was originally set up this way so that you make as few calculations as possible because people back then were using a slide rule and hand calculations, etc. and didn't have the time to do each calculation as a "step" individually for each problem. Calculators have made it so that you CAN do it the easier to understand way, and regular math classes have switched over to do the math this way...but not Physics. However, it is up to the Physics teaching community if they want to reexamine how the subject is taught. It is my understanding that it is a quite common thing for beginning students to get frustrated and produce low scores in introductory Physics.
  7. Jan 1, 2006 #6
    I'm only a high school student, but from the little experiences I have physics, I just think physics is weird. For example, given a question, I would have trouble figuring out what I can do with the given information to make it into something I can plug into a formula. And directions of forces is so confusing. I still have trouble figuring out in springs, what is Fx, is it -kx, or is it just kx, and how does that relate to Fg.... Physics is really confusing for me.
    I get question right on tests now and then... but I never really really get the concepts.
  8. Jan 1, 2006 #7
    You can view the physical world and deal with it, but what good is that if you don't understand how it works?

    I believe understanding fundamentals of physics is useful when you come across a problem that someone else can't solve because

    a) they aren't there
    b) you can't afford to hire someone

    Not only are these some simple things, however, when asked by someone to explain something, you sell yourself short if you choose not to be able to answer just about any question that comes with a certain science.

    How does a PC oscilloscope work? (For computer science and electricians)
    How does this work? Why does it do that?

    Sure we can think abstractly about certain things, yet if we are limited by not knowing just about everything to the finest detail, we won't be able to figure out something when a complex problem comes about.

    Sure, physics isn't an absolute must in many situations and I find it is for the more advanced fields.

    Physics is needed in computer science and electronics.
    Biophysics could be useful in nursing when a doctor is not available, however these super nurses are usually rare and not found. It's always helpful to have an intelligent nurse when a doctor is not around.

    To be able to answer someone else's question when needed the most, i figure. Other than that, physics come into play when you are doing activities in a particular field.

    When doing certain physics, understanding how time comes into play with reactions is always helpful.

    I'd also like to say that I learn quickly by being able to associate things with one another. Learning physics, even conceptual, gives someone the understanding of how things work and can be associated to for understanding.
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2006
  9. Jan 3, 2006 #8


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    What about calculous? That has no real implications in everyday life, of the ones, it is infeasible.
  10. Jan 3, 2006 #9
    Well, I'm no teacher just a lowly student so my advice isn't going to be particularily profound of anything but here is what I've found.

    Let me first start off my saying I'm not a fan of physics, I respect it and think it's very very useful I just don't particularily enjoy it. When I first went into my university physics class I was not happy to be there at all, but decided to make the best of it. Now it turns out I ended up with an amazing professor, I just loved the guy. He went out of his way and beyond to make sure everyone understood the concepts. He took his own free time one night each week and dedicated it to a tutorial session where he encouraged everyone in his class to come ask questions, discuss principals, go over any problems. He also made an effort to give us a reason for what we were doing, such as showing us some of the physics behind how an MP3 player works...ect. My organic chem prof also did this and let me tell you it makes the class a hell of a lot more interesting when you can actually see the real world applications of what you are learning. So perhaps you could take some time even if its just 10 minutes one class a week, and go over how physics affects your students lives and how it ties in with other professions...ect. Another cool thing my physics prof did to get our attention, which I will remember for the rest of my life, was read an excerpt from the chronicals of Narnia......at first we just thought oh fun a story no work...and then he put the book down and explained to us how that passage had just perfectly shown on of Newtons laws at work. That was a great class. So basically after all that gibberish I just typed out I agree with your two suggestions of extra tutorials and fun activities.....they really seem to work.....and I know that in my case it really helped the information to stick.
  11. Jan 5, 2006 #10
    How about this one:

    If we were unaware of gravity, and I was trying to get closer to you, I would try a numerous of things to get there: jumping, crawling with arms,... (let your imagination run). Now, there was a man who noticed that apples always fall down. And the surface of the earth looks flat in a small area (reference frame, I'm not sure whether this is a correct translation). Combine gravity and the surface, and you can walk.
  12. Jan 5, 2006 #11
    Yes, scorpa, I agree that showing real examples of how these things work is the best to inspire interest into people.
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