How to Ace Physics Class (Even If You’re Not Ace Physics)
Let me give an example in the real world. Once my class worked on the principle of momentum, which provides a relationship between the net force of an object and the change in force of the object. (Momentum is a product of bulk and speed.) This is a very applicable principle and is used in many different ways.
A student came into my office to ask a question about the change in motivation for a 1-kilo ball that was hitting the wall. They want to know: If the ball travels horizontally with a speed of 5 meters per second and then explodes again with the same speed in the other direction, what is the change in speed? Is it zero? It is not zero because momentum is a vector and for vectors, direction matters. (If you are interested, the change in energy in this case is 10 kg * m / s in the direction of the final velocity.)
During this conversation with the student, I saw that the problem they were facing was not in the momentum principle. The problem is their understanding of the idea of vectors. I know that, I can go back to class and present some quick questions about vectors to see where the rest of the students stand on this idea, and give them an update if there are still those who need help. This ends the feedback loop of learning.
But wait! There is an added bonus for asking questions. If your professor explains something to you, they may give you the benefit of hesitation in marking tests and assignments. If the professor finds out you’ve struggled with the material and makes a good effort to figure it out, they may feel a little responsible for any mistakes you’ve made and may not be as brutal grade. Yes, I know I said that scores aren’t the most important – that’s why it’s a “bonus.”
Working with other Students
One of the hard things about learning during a pandemic is that online courses make it difficult for students to collaborate. This is because working with others is part of the learning process. It can be a challenge to figure things out on your own.
Working with other students you will know that you are not alone and that you are not special. It’s easiest to go to a classroom and think to yourself, ”Oh wow I really don’t understand. Everyone has a partner, but not me. I’m really not here.“
Ambot what? Everyone may be as lost as you. Everyone thinks that the rest of the class is completely controlling the material. But when you find out that everyone is in the same boat, you can start to feel better in your position and start making real learning gains.
So, if possible, start meeting other students and working with them outside of class. If you can, try to find them in the real world-but if you can’t, online discussions are much better than non-discussions. No matter what, don’t just create a study group that shares letters and answers homework questions. Create a real learning community. Sharing ideas. Do the work together. Explain things and let others understand you. (Here’s a secret: You know a lot more when you teach. So go out there and teach.)
In the end, you can still make friends. That’s not a bad thing, is it?
Use the Textbook
Pretty much every course has a must -have book – maybe even two. Those books can be very expensive, but they can also be very useful. Unfortunately, I have seen some students use the book in the wrong way. They started the writing class. When they get to homework, the first thing they do is open the book and hunt for an equation that can solve some specific problem. It’s like homework is a lock and the bookcase is a box of keys. Sometimes this strategy can give you an answer to a specific problem, but it doesn’t always help you understand the underlying material.
However, I like to think of the book as a “pre-lecture.” Read the relevant chapter occasionally ago the class. You may not fully understand all the ideas, but it really helps to expose things before they are discussed in person. As you read, take notes. Write down the same things that make sense and the things that are not clear. That will prepare you to ask the class and help you map out the key ideas (even if you don’t yet fully understand them).