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The physics of X craze.

  1. Jun 21, 2016 #1
    I see a trend in 'the physics of.... " the idea I believe is to motivate students to see the relevance of physics to the real world in a cool context.

    Tutoring some students educated this way I identify a lack of transferability of the basic concepts. Eg the student might know a lot about the physics of a baseball but can not transfer it to another context even tho the physics is identical.

    It seems bass ackwards, thoughts as a pedagogical approach?
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  3. Jun 21, 2016 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    Hard to call it a craze, given that Bob Adair's "The Physics of Baseball" was written a quarter century ago.
  4. Jun 21, 2016 #3


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    But is this restricted only to this type of learning? I see students not being able to transfer the same concept elsewhere all the time. Case in point, the kinematical equations for linear and rotational motion. The fact that the form of the equation for rotational motion is practically identical to the linear motion (which they had learned) makes it no more easier than as if they're seeing it for the very first time.

    Right now, many of my students are struggling to solve the simple motion of a charged particle in a uniform electric field. This is AFTER I told them that this is no different than the projectile motion in a uniform gravitational field that they had done already in an earlier course.

    Things are not going to change just because you're approaching it differently.

  5. Jun 21, 2016 #4

    Andy Resnick

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    This is a common challenge with multiple underlying causes. One cause is 'words are symbols for ideas and not the ideas themselves': students have been trained to view concepts are rigid, unchanging entities with a single correct significance, as in "I thought 'P' was momentum, now you are telling me it's pressure!" Another underlying cause is that the student's intellectual development, specifically the capacity for abstract reasoning, is not sufficiently developed. Many students require specific, concrete, examples worked out in painful detail and even then are often distracted by 'unimportant' details.

    So, I would challenge your assertion that the student knows 'a lot about the physics of baseball'- more likely, they have memorized a bunch of disconnected facts and definitions.

    There's no quick fix for these problems- only time and effort. Repetition can help (not presenting the same problem over and over, but using the same set of concepts in multiple contexts) over an extended period of time. Another approach is to guide the student until they see that the "physics is identical" by forcing them to operate under "idea first, name after" rules.
  6. Jun 22, 2016 #5
    I think this summarises the problem (together with Andy's post which expands some more on this).

    If you as a tutor can get the point that the physics of e.g. the kinematic equations linear resp. rotational motion are mostly the same across you're already doing a good job. If you get the student to the point that they automatically think of other situations that are essentially the same you've done a great job.
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