Failure is Necessary for Growth

Time for a little mental health rant…

We all want our children to be the best they can be, to feel good about themselves, and to reach their potential. Part of this process, however, involves learning to fail productively — understanding and experiencing what it’s like to fall short, knowing that sick feeling in your gut is uncomfortable but necessary, and disliking that feeling enough to do something about it and try again.

I sure hope I’m wrong, but I feel like many of the changes I’m seeing in the way we as a society deal with children is sending the wrong message. These changes are made with the best of intentions — we don’t want anyone to feel left out, and we don’t want children to experience the pain of failure — but we as adults who know better need to recognize that these uncomfortable experiences are important to building up confidence, self esteem, and independence. Kudos that aren’t truly earned don’t teach a child to work hard, they teach a child that showing up is enough.

I’m not saying little ones need to be beaten into submission, or that I should always crush my kid in a game of Connect Four — but I do think they need to learn that they can’t win every time, otherwise there’s no impetus to improve. They won’t always get picked first to be on a team, there will be days when they are left out of activities their friends get to experience, and there will be events when they’ll leave the field and not be the winner of the event. This is OK, it’s an opportunity learn the importance of giving your all, of preparing as fully as possible, and the value of sportsmanship, both on top and at the bottom of the podium.

I think it’s also important for our kids to understand what makes us proud and what is disappointing. Sportsmanship is important, but it’s also important to realize that decisions leading up to events contribute to the success or failure of that event. As a teacher I observe students who work their tail off and struggle for a middling grade… and I try to instill a sense of pride in that work and that grade. I also have students who slack off and are naturally talented enough to earn A’s. I try to explain to these students that they are not reaching their potential, and I don’t find that acceptable. There will be times when our kids may try and try and try, but never reach the level of success that they desire. Recently I’ve dealt with repeated instances of academic dishonesty, from students who are taking shortcuts in their classes, and aren’t recognizing the connection between their integrity, work ethic, and results.

True self esteem and confidence comes from understanding that you can go to bed every night with no regrets, having given your all, not from an external source such as a trophy or a piece of paper with a letter on it. And not meeting every goal just tells you that you’ve set aggressive goals. If you reach every one of your goals, you’re not reaching high enough.

I don’t think it’s valuable to get into specifics, as you can find “opportunity for improvement” in so many of the things we do and say with our kids, from the toddlers to the older young-at-heart — in our homes, in our schools, and in our activities. But I would ask, if some of this does resonate with you, to take a step back and look at what changes you can make, or ways you can support and reinforce those who are instilling these old-fashioned values. And don’t be afraid to speak up every now and then and question what you see occurring.

Just because someone thinks it’ll make everyone feel better, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. And just like our mothers taught us, popular opinion doesn’t mean it’s the right opinion. Remember the old adage “if all your friends jumped off a bridge would you jump off too?” It’s time for all of us to start thinking for ourselves.

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.