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What should I know going into Honors Physics?

So, you’ve decided to take Honors Physics. I’m so excited for you! You probably already know that it’s going to be challenging, and you might be a little nervous since you don’t know what to expect yet. What should you know before you get there?

You should know that you learn by making mistakes. You get better by practicing what you can’t do, not by rehashing what you can do. Your brain actually changes as you think hard and work through a problem (especially when you are correcting an error). Be ready to make, then fix, a lot of mistakes. Everyone else is making them, too, even if they aren’t telling you about it.

You should know that you can’t coast your way to an excellent physics understanding. If you’re taking Honors Physics, you might be the kid in your math class who never has to try very hard. You might not have ever seen a math problem where you couldn’t see every step in your head before starting. This class is going to be different. You’ll probably have times when you think it is too hard for you or that you aren’t smart enough to do it. “Smart enough” is irrelevant. Better is “patient enough.” When you ask for help, ask for better strategies for practicing. Practice makes better, eventually.

You should know that you’re going to work hard, it’s not always going to be fun, and you’re going to be more proud of what you did in this class than you can imagine right now. You’re going to learn A LOT. In fact, you’re going to change the way you understand the world in very significant and measurable ways. The beautiful things around you will come into better focus and become even more beautiful.

Sure, it can’t hurt to know how to use a protractor, understand sine and cosine, and be able to manipulate an algebraic equation. Those are small, though. The big idea is to know that your brain is growing and changing as you practice difficult things. You are an amazing and capable machine. Success is not easy, but it is possible. And succeeding at something so difficult, learning so much, is a wonderful and legal high. So go: get confused, fail a little (or a lot), get frustrated, and fight your way to some well-earned myelin wrapping your neurons giving you fabulous physics mastery.

Meta Note: This post is in response to a request. Okay, not a request per se, but the title was a search term that led someone to this blog. I’m choosing to view those searches as requests. I will keep selecting some of the best “suggestions” and work them into prose here.

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About Kelly O'Shea

I teach high school kids physics at an independent day school in NYC. Less homework, more thinking. Follow @kellyoshea

Discussion

15 thoughts on “What should I know going into Honors Physics?

  1. Kelly,
    This is totally awesome. Mind if I borrow it for my students?

    Posted by John Burk | July 13, 2011, 9:12 AM
  2. Funny, I was just looking at mine the other day. I can’t wait to write the post called “The Real Bieber” or “Optimistic Old Man” or “Buffalo Facts for Kids” or “What do I do when I enter Applebee’s.” THESE ARE NOT MADE UP.

    Also, now I’ve got something to do during summer school: find weird combinations of words and do a google search that leads me to your blog. A couple of successes already! You can consider those “requests.”

    Posted by sarcasymptote | July 13, 2011, 9:23 AM
    • Hey, I’m up for a challenge. You have to work hard to be successful!

      Posted by Kelly O'Shea | July 13, 2011, 9:25 AM
    • Also, the ones you mention seem like legitimate searches (if not for your blog). These are my favorite on mine so far:

      machines involve physics that can help a lot of students
      conservation of energy models for kids to do
      b capm (Seriously, that wasn’t a typo? Someone searched that and clicked my blog?)
      word for “leaving things to the last second”
      what does “g” stand for? do you think it is an acceleration, a force, a velocity or something else?
      to determine the weight of an object by constructing of a vector diagram of the forces acting on the object experiment
      site situation which is physics is apply
      purpose of standards based grading cartoon
      physics blog not always
      make mistake purposely

      Almost every search that was used more than twice involves some variation of my name. So apparently people are looking for me.

      Posted by Kelly O'Shea | July 13, 2011, 9:36 AM
      • Oh yeah, I’ve had some bizarre ones too. I also like to think how many pages someone looked through before clicking on mine when typing something like “stuff harmonica.” I just looked up that one, and I didn’t show up in the first 10 pages.
        I want to meet the person who searched “vuvuzela bernoulli.”
        Also:
        -brew asymptote error?
        -“are you kidding me dan meyer”
        -man face
        -face guy
        -flavor flav track suit
        -flavor flav vector
        -flavor flav hair
        -applebees serves horse meat
        -when i heard the lost from austronuts
        -physics homework shit

        Posted by sarcasymptote | July 13, 2011, 9:55 AM
      • Some of those look like questions that might have been on a physics test. When I gave an “open internet” test, lots of my students thought that typing the questions into Google was the way to “find” (not figure out) answers.

        Posted by jsb16 | July 13, 2011, 10:21 AM
  3. love this, especially the part about smart enough vs. patient enough. great lessons for everyone in any subject

    Posted by Bowman Dickson | July 13, 2011, 7:55 PM
  4. I love this! Is it okay if I use it with my classes? I usually wait till they get very frustrated, on a homework set. And then we work out several difficult problems in groups in class and eventually someone says, “I feel so smart!” I usually reply you are smart, and point out that they wouldn’t get that feeling unless they they worked very hard at a problem. If all the problems were easy, this class would be very, very boring.

    Posted by Chija Skala Bauer | July 15, 2011, 12:34 PM
  5. Very nice blog. Enjoy reading through it, and has some great pointers that I will remember :)

    Posted by Greg | July 19, 2011, 3:41 PM
  6. I have been teaching physics through Modeling Instruction for four years now, and love reading your blog. I just read this excerpt to my honors physics students prior to taking their first test of the year. Yesterday I used your “whiteboarding mistakes” technique, and it turned out beautifully! Thank you for your wisdom and insight.

    Posted by L.F.Ciany | September 25, 2014, 9:59 AM

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