Physics – Understanding the universe, or why things work
“Plug and chug”: how not to approach physics!
Students often believe that physics is a difficult science, far removed from their everyday experiences. But every time you throw a ball, look in the mirror, listen to your iPod or flip a light switch, you apply basic laws of physics. Physics deals with such things as mechanics (force, motion, energy), sound, heat, light and electricity. Studied in an engaged and hands-on fashion, physics can be fun.
For many students, physics is a journey into a new and challenging realm of thinking. Physics is a problem solving discipline – it entails learning a set of basic physical laws and then solving problems through the application of formulas and models which embody those laws.
Students often run into trouble when they rely on rote memorization of laws and formulas and engage in “plug and chug” problem solving without really understanding the underlying physical principles. When a student who relies on memorization, but lacks a deeper understanding, encounters a test question in a form different from what he or she studied, the student may be at a loss as to how to proceed.
When tutoring physics, I help students see the underlying principles and connecting themes. A student who truly understands the underlying principles can use that knowledge to solve unfamiliar problems. Armed with that deeper understanding, the student knows not just formulas, but why they work and when to apply each one. If you understand where the equations came from, you no longer need to memorize all of the different permutations – you can derive them yourself.
I teach my students effective problem solving strategies. What is the problem about? What data has the student been given, and what simple diagram can be drawn to model the situation? What is the student being asked to find, and which principles and equations apply here? Once these questions are answered, any problem can be quickly and accurately solved.
A student’s attitude towards problem solving is a big factor in their success or failure in physics. Problem solving is an important and very learnable skill, and it can be done with confidence. With practice and support, both inside the classroom and in tutoring, you can master Newton’s laws, build up momentum and conquer physics (and even enjoy doing so!).
As a physics tutor I offer individual and small group instruction at all levels, from remedial to accelerated. Tutoring physics, other sciences, study skills tutor in Sudbury, Wayland, Weston, Lincoln, Concord, Framingham, Natick and surrounding area since 2002.