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What does it always seem like

  1. Nov 5, 2007 #1
    Every question in the physics homework help section is always asked about the algebra, not the physics? Are schools just that messed up that is seems that most math programs are horrible for high schools? It's kind of pathetic in our schools that people can grasp the concepts but not the ability to solve equations...
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  3. Nov 5, 2007 #2


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    There does seem to be a disconnect between mathematics and sciences in high school and perhaps even the lower level university courses. Somehow students are supposed to figure out the connection without any assistance from the academics involved. That's the way it was 30+ years ago for me, and apparently, it's still that way today.

    I think my high school calculus teacher had very little interaction with the physics teacher who was at the other end of the building!

    I've been reading Peter Woit's book and it mentions a divergence between mathematicians and physicists, which is pretty much what I encountered at unversity when I started. However, some schools do apparently have good cross-communication between math and physics, and occasionally, I've heard about a mathematician going to physics or vice versa.
  4. Nov 5, 2007 #3

    I've noticed that also. It reminds me of the old expression: "being on the same page". It appears that in many situations their algebra skills are not on the same page as the physics.

    Those seeking help frequently have an equation that must be made into a variation before they can use it to solve the problem. Many simply don't seem to be able to do it.

    I wonder if a lot of this comes about because young people are relying too heavily on memorizing equations? It is almost as if when they get to a problem that is not exactly like the sample in the book, they get lost.

    The most frequent comment I see is: "I don't know where to start"
  5. Nov 5, 2007 #4


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    It was that way for me too. Our high school physics teacher expected us to know calculus, and didn't teach us how to do any of it, yet most of us were still taking trig. On the other hand, when I took calculus the following year, I really enjoyed it so much more as each lesson triggered another "Aha" moment of "That's what we were doing last year in physics!" I'm surprised I even passed my high school physics class considering I needed to know calculus I hadn't yet taken. :bugeye: I thought I hated physics, when in reality, I just hated the way it was taught at an inappropriate level for my math background. There was a huge disconnect between what the physics teacher thought we had as prerequisites, what the math curriculum was actually teaching, and what the course description was that the guidance counselors were following when telling us what courses to take.
  6. Nov 6, 2007 #5


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    I took physics concurrently with Calculus during my senior year of high school. In 11th we had done algebra, trigonometry and some analysis/analytical geometry. My school was on a trimester system and a normal load was 4/4/4, but my senior year, but I did 5/5/5 since the Calculus class was expanded to cover more material.

    However, the Calculus class was essentially independent of Chemsitry and Physics, even though we began using derivates and doing first order ODE's. The Calculus and Chemistry teachers were good friends, and they did talk since their classrooms were nearby, but the physics teacher I had was at the other end of a long building (like a city block) in a school with over 3000 students. The year before, the school had had a different physics teacher who was a PhD from Caltech! A friend took the class and said he was great. My friend and I had experience with that teacher during a physics class, which was part of summer program at a local university. That teacher was great! But he left to take a research job at an oil company. :frown: Great for him! Terrible for me.

    What I have learned here at PF is the whole thing with topology and differential geometry, neither of which I was exposed to during high school or early years at university. I certainly did ODE/PDE's, multivariable calculus, linear analysis, complex analysis, and related topics, but somehow this wasn't all tied together in the ways that I've found at PF. Somehow the student is supposed to figure it out or perhaps just stumble across it some day.
  7. Nov 6, 2007 #6
    My background is in mathematics only. I did take the Physics 101 survey course and Modern Physics as an undergrad, but that's it. For the past few years I have been reading physics books and find that I can follow along at a reasonable pace (I define reasonable pace as the pace I happen to be going at the moment). The parts that slow me down the most are when the author justifies the math with some physical reasoning. I fall of a cliff when that happens.
  8. Nov 6, 2007 #7
    funny--none of my three schools (junior and high) that I went to offered calculus, and the high school physics didn't have any calculus in it---big differences in locations and times, it seems
  9. Nov 6, 2007 #8
    This is what I'm experiencing right now in my university, basically. I pretty much "bombed" on the first trimester of physics (Classic Kinematics) due to lack of Calculus I knowledge and understanding. The courses were pretty much out of synchrony: while the Physics teachers were already requiring knowledge on derivatives/differentiation and integration methods from the classroom, we were still REVIEWING properties of functions, logarithms, domains, images...to start learning what, LIMITS?

    Should've left Kinematics behind in the first trimester, to do later after I was done with Calculus I. Now I'm doing Kinematics again (with a much better understanding of the use of Calculus in Physics, of course), and I see a bunch of new students all confused with the lack of synchro between Calculus and Physics, just like me. Guess students have to figure all of it by themselves it seems, it's not different anywhere else.
  10. Nov 6, 2007 #9


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    Yeah - that's another thing that frustrated me. Different schools had very different programs - even in the same district.

    I went to one high school for 10th grade, then we moved, so I went to another high school for 11th and 12th. The difference was incredible. The second high school had AP level Calculus, Chemistry and Physics, and in fact I took two years of chemistry with the second year being essentially college level (with chemical synthesis and qualitative analysis). I ended up placing out of my freshmen year math, physics and chem courses at university, so I effectively started as a sophomore.

    My friends who went to the other high school had no Calculus (but only up to analytical geometry or pre-calculus), one year of chemistry (with essentially no lab experience - the teacher did all the chemistry experiments as demonstrations), and a crappy physics class.

    When I was teaching at university, freshmen students had a wide range of experience - some with calculus and others having had up through 2 years of algebra with trig.

    And it still seems that way today more than 30 years later. IMO the US Dept of Education and the various states have utterly failed to provide consistent education programs. There have essentially been no improvements since I left high school - and that is so stupid!
  11. Nov 6, 2007 #10
    When I took calculus in college (first quarter there), from what wasn't told about its usefulness in high school, I didn't see (or know) the importance of it. Low on cash, I didn't buy the book (it was I think $85)--looking back, I guess I was lucky to get a C+-----I didn't take any more math after that.
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