50 Learning Goals For Physics Students

What are the “big items” I want my students to take away from my class from each year?  It’s a big question… of course I want them to do a great job on their exams and understand our course content, but I realize that a vast majority of them will forget a majority of physics concepts shortly after leaving the classroom.  What are the enduring understandings and learnings that really matter? Here’s a list of my top 50. What key learnings are missing or overvalued?

  1. Learn to teach yourself.
  2. Think critically.
  3. Appreciate the beauty and patterns in the world.
  4. Be confident in your ability to attack an unfamiliar problem.
  5. Utilize the scientific method.
  6. Learn how to use a spreadsheet.
  7. Act like a professional
  8. Work productively in diverse groups.
  9. The universe is big.
  10. We aren’t.
  11. Trigonometry is useful.
  12. Calculus is just slopes and areas.
  13. Forces come in pairs.
  14. Doing work transfers energy.
  15. Ohms Law V=IR.
  16. Examine skeptically.
  17. Use a word processor.
  18. Learn to recognize what you don’t know (metacognition).
  19. Learn how to teach.
  20. Use and understand the metric system.
  21. Love learning.
  22. Be passionate about something.
  23. Estimate using orders of magnitude.
  24. Work productively, even when your team includes idiots.
  25. Forces cause accelerations.
  26. Mass/energy is always conserved.
  27. Waves transfer energy.
  28. Learn to create and analyze graphs.
  29. Use the Internet as a learning resource.
  30. Write coherently.
  31. Learn to study productively and efficiently.
  32. Velocity and acceleration are not the same thing.
  33. Learn from your mistakes.
  34. Draw and use free body diagrams.
  35. Gravity is an attractional force between masses.
  36. Momentum is conserved in any closed system.
  37. Understand the difference between electrical current and electrical potential.
  38. Transfer theoretical concepts to practical applications.
  39. Read and understand a technical text.
  40. Power is the rate at which you do work.
  41. Charge cannot be created or destroyed.
  42. Isaac Newton revolutionized our understanding of the world.
  43. Objects changing direction are accelerating.
  44. Reflect on your performance, and adjust your future habits accordingly.
  45. Horizontal and vertical motion are independent.
  46. Apply problem-solving methodologies in unfamiliar contexts.
  47. Learn to create and present effectively using Powerpoint.
  48. Take responsibility for your own learning.
  49. In the absence of air resistance, all objects fall at the same rate.
  50. There is nothing you cannot accomplish if you set your heart and mind to it.

The Five Most Helpful Things to Remember From HS Physics

BY SPECIAL GUEST WRITER: Brendan HansonBrendanHanson

My name is Brendan Hanson. I took Mr. Fullerton’s AP-B Physics course as a junior at Irondequoit High School. Now, I am a first year student at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). I am studying mechanical engineering and loving it. But I have had a lot of help from my previous physics class with Mr. Fullerton. I am here to share with you the five most important things I have walked away from his class with (thus far, they may change as I take more and more physics classes in college).

  1. Newton’s Laws.  These basic fundamentals of physics are extremely important to know.  They are useful in that they help to make sure you are doing the problem correctly.  If you use the wrong law, you will become attached to an inclined plane that is wrapped helically around an axis (in other words: screwed).
  2. Kinematics Equations for Projectiles.  When studying physics in college, you usually start out with basic kinematics.  This includes projectiles and circular motion and kinetic energy versus potential energy.  Having learned a lot of kinematics in high school physics, the problems that I work on in college have been much easier for me than my friends who have little or no experience with physics.  So remember your kinematics equations; they are some of the most useful equations you will learn.
  3. Free Body Diagrams.  Learning how to draw free body diagrams (FBDs) is essential to success in physics.  Draw your FBDs correctly, your answer will probably be correct.  But if you mess up the drawing, there is no chance for a correct answer when dealing with forces on an object.  Learning how to draw these early on in high school is a big help for when you have to do it in college.  So pay attention when it comes to Free Body Diagrams.
  4. Significant Figures. I hate to tell you this, but significant figures are important.  I disagree with them and I am sure you do as well, but trust me, college professors use them to no end and have no trouble taking points off when you neglect to use them on homework or tests.  So just keep them in mind and use them every once in a while.
  5. Basic Trigonometry.  Trigonometry is probably the most useful math I have learned.  It just keeps showing up in every math-based class I have taken.  Therefore, it is imperative that you learn the basic functions that are used in trig.  It just makes things so much easier if you don’t have re-learn it in college.  Trig comes in handy when dealing with projectiles, forces and work in your physics classes.

Coming out of physics in high school knowing those things has made my college physics class so much easier.  So if you wish to take physics in college, or have to take it, then you should definitely keep these five things in mind as you take this class in high school.