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Why does Physics have to be so hard?

  1. Apr 12, 2009 #1
    I'm going to be doing a little venting in this thread so if you don't want to hear about it, click the back button.

    I'm in my second year of school right now. I'm in Physics 2 which is just basic calc based physics (second semester). I am in awe at how hard this class is. I'm sure most of you reading this are probably laughing which is why I'm venting...

    Why does Physics have to be so hard to learn? I'm not sure if it's just this class or what, but it's almost as if they want me to derive the equations to use. I'll read the chapter 3 or 4 times and go back to the question. I start thinking about it, and realize that the entire chapter never covered this. The ONLY way I'm surviving in this class is from the tests... and even then I have to study my *** off. It's ridiculous really. After each homework assignment is due, the professor posts up the answers to the homework assignment from last week. The only way I can actually understand the question and how it is done is through looking at his solutions. After seeing how he comes up with solutions (to some, not all) I'm just astonished at how he came up with them.

    So then I have about a week to study the homework solutions (about 3 weeks worth of homework) so that I can understand it for the test. And even then, SOME OF THE ANSWERS ON THE HOMEWORK DON'T MATCH THE ANSWERS IN THE BOOK. WHAT THE HELL? I confront the professor about this and he basically gives me a blank stare... "ohh.. well let me fix that". It's extremely aggravating to say the least.

    Why must they make you jump through hoops to solve an equation that can be solved EASILY if you have the right knowledge? Do they think that I'll learn more if it's harder for me to grasp? Some of you may say that this is just part of the experience, but I must concur. I really feel like this class is a waste of time when the professor won't even help me out. I'll ask him a question about a problem, and he'll tell me about the problem and work it out to where I was stuck at. Then he just stops and acts like I should know what to do next. WHAT? I don't understand whey the professor doesn't go over examples that are at least SIMILAR to the ones in the homework. It seems like it's just a repetition of the book in class.

    Sure, the professors wants me to think for myself. I WILL AFTER I KNOW WHAT TO DO. I really think that it's just this class in the school I'm at which is the problem.. I'll make an analogy... this is how I perceive this class.. Let's say the professor is going over how to do addition. The professor will give an example of adding two apples to three apples and you get five apples... Then for the homework, he will ask a bunch of multiplication and division problems. WHY DOESN'T HE JUST SHOW ME HOW TO DO THE MULTIPLICATION AND DIVISION?

    I'm going to go pull my hair out.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 12, 2009 #2
    Would you like some cheese?
  4. Apr 12, 2009 #3


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    Well, we don't have much to go on, but hopefully one understands the equations. Is 2nd semester EM, Thermodynamics, Fluids, some relativity and nuclear?

    Ultimately, we were supposed to understand the terms in an equations, and from some basic theory, we had to apply general equations to more complex problems.

    By the time we studied partial differential equations we were supposed to derive them from basic principals. The idea was to understand the physics by deriving the equations, and then applying them.
  5. Apr 12, 2009 #4

    Ivan Seeking

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    You are being taught to solve problems; not how to go through the mechanics of writing solutions. Other countries have different approaches, but in the US we seek to maximize suffering.

    Just consider it a mind expanding experience. You will be better for having done it.
  6. Apr 12, 2009 #5
    If you can't prove it you don't understand it.
  7. Apr 12, 2009 #6
    Some teachers are demented is all. When I was in college there was a German Teacher who was notorious for mumbling. It was impossible to follow her in class. Hints that she might not be enunciating well enough to be understood seemed only to baffle her.

    A friend of mine recently took a mythology class. Egyptian Mythology was briefly gone over, then the bulk of the classes focused on Greek Mythology. To everyone's outrage and bafflement the midterm consisted 90% of questions on Egyptian Mythology and no one got a passing grade. The teacher offered them the appeasement of lowering how much he would count the test toward their final grade, as if they still deserved some penalty for not being prepared for such a bait and switch. Had the test been primarily on Greek Mythology they would probably all have passed. I have no idea what the point of such a thing could be.
  8. Apr 12, 2009 #7
    Maybe you're just not studying efficiently. Do you strive to understand why and how equations are derived? You should try to come away from the reading with insight into how the things that you're reading about work.
  9. Apr 12, 2009 #8
    yeah, I don't the professor doesn't know the material nor doesn't each it well, but almost everything he does is theory. No examples. Is this really how most Physics classes are?
  10. Apr 12, 2009 #9


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    It's possible that there is a correlation with baldness and physics, but then again ... Einstein was no baldy, just a receding hairline, ... or else that's all he could easily reach?
  11. Apr 12, 2009 #10
    I have no idea how most physics classes are taught. All I know is that once in a while you run into a teacher whose methods seem authentically demented.
  12. Apr 12, 2009 #11
    If it were easy, everyone would get to do it. And where's the joy in that?

    Seriously, as a Physics 2 student myself, I feel your pain. I've found it helps to buy or borrow from the library book along the lines of what you're learning in class. Sometimes reading the same thing worded a bit differently helps to cement it in my mind and make the concept clearer.
  13. Apr 12, 2009 #12
    Can't blame your professors for your own failure in understanding the material.

    I think the best option for you is to stop blaming others for not able to understand the material and try to develop habits of learning material without professors help/spoon feeding. I am not sure how successful one can be if s/he keeps on relying on others..
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2009
  14. Apr 12, 2009 #13
    Because he thinks better of you ?
  15. Apr 12, 2009 #14

    This was in no way meant to blame ANYONE! I know it looks like I'm blaming my professor, but all I was trying to say was that I think the class could be a little easier with a different teaching method. However, I just started this thread as a way for me to vent.. not blaming anyone. I'm sure I'll get through school just fine.
  16. Apr 12, 2009 #15

    Ivan Seeking

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    I think the point that you're missing is that the goal is not to make the class easier. Who are you to say what might be the best teaching method?
  17. Apr 12, 2009 #16
    I never said I knew what the best teaching method would be, but I can tell you that offering examples and not pure conception would help most students understand the material a little better. You can't argue with that, can you? I mean just like it math... you do a bunch of different problems so that you can start to do any problem thrown at you. Just because you understand how to do the math, the experience of actually performing problems is where you actually learn the material.
  18. Apr 12, 2009 #17
    I don't know about that, we are social beings. Mankind has made it this far by passing down knowledge from generation to generation. This wouldn't be possible if the educators couldn't teach for crap, and the OP is probably experiencing this.
  19. Apr 12, 2009 #18
    How do you know how well the teacher teaches. Are you in said class?
  20. Apr 13, 2009 #19
    If it were easy, nobody would pay you to do it.
  21. Apr 13, 2009 #20
    Let's just stop teaching physics at all and leave it to people who can figure it all out for themselves from scratch. Sink or swim!
  22. Apr 13, 2009 #21
    I don't think "concur" means what you think it means. Maybe the problem is not that your class is too hard, but that poor language skills make it difficult for you to understand?
  23. Apr 13, 2009 #22
    The professors teaching style may not match your particular learning requirements and he only has a limited time to devote to individual students.There are different strategies you can try.
    Badger him.If he fobs you off with an answer that is not detailed enough then ask for clarification.Do it in a nice way so that you do not become a pest and do not take up too much time.
    Get together more with your fellow students and discuss the work.Peer discussion groups can be very productive.
    I think that one of the most important things is to get a thorough understanding of the basic principles so take a look at the different books that are available.
  24. Apr 13, 2009 #23
    I wouldn't know that obviously, and aswell as the OP's capabilities, but that's why I said probably. I stated the possibility based on his last paragraph from the main post.
  25. Apr 13, 2009 #24
    Well, depends on whether you are going to major in physics, the answer would be a bit different.
    If this is basically the last physics course that you would be taking, then screw it! It is probably more time efficient to A's all the other classes and just have a mediocre grade for this class. At the end, you aren't a physics major anyway, right?
    If you are planning to major in physics, then you probably want to put some effort into this. I think what you said is pretty normal. At least for me, I needed to climb over the steep learning curve at some point, and believe it or not, things after that would be so much easier: both reading textbooks and listening to lectures.
    So don't be scared off. Don't think that it is a waste of time studying right now. The more time you spend right now, the less time you will need to spend in the future.
    And although many people gave suggestions on studying, I would like to put my tips: don't READ, DO it. That is to say, don't just simply read the textbook, try to do all the derivation by your hand, and reproduce those derivation by yourself. And I mean write them down. You might think that it is redundant, but I figure out that it is one of the best ways to learn things. And you might get stuck at some points that you've never thought of.
    And about the "if they want me to derive the equations to use," one of the things I like about physics (and math for that matter) is that most of the time, one could work from definition. For instance, to exaggerate it a bit, the first half of the 1st semester physics is all about F = ma. The only difference is that you have different boundary conditions.
    And indeed, there are just some professor that aren't good at teaching. I am not saying that they are not a good prof or things like that, in fact, they are probably very intelligent. It is probably just that they aren't that good at expressing their ideas and logic.
    At the end, I want to say, Physics is hard. Personally I don't think that there is any genius that could get A's, or perfectly understand physics without putting effort into it. And no one is born with physics intuition/insight. The intuition comes from hard working, building up your own intuition. And I think that physics is hard for you right now is because you are in the process of building your own intuition. Things will get better.
    Good luck!
  26. Apr 13, 2009 #25
    Just one more thing, here is some informal statistic, although no way to prove anything, which shows that your case is not abnormal.
    During my first semester intro physics, our professor would ask us how many hours that we spend on hw per week. And the average is around 15,16 hours.
    Personally I think it is a bit exaggerating. But nonetheless, I think it shows that physics is time consuming.
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