Photo by Gabrielle Henderson
Originally Posted On: https://brads-class.com/hs-physics/a-high-school-physics-tutor-may-not-work/
- When parents look for a physics tutor, the goal is for their student to understand physics. Students goal is to complete an assignment. Parents and students believe that tutoring provides what they want because it works for biology and chemistry. Physics requires understanding.
- In physics, there is often many different ways to get to the same goal. Teachers teach students physics logic in such a way that a tutor may not be able to teach it the same way.
- Understanding Dynamics and Kinematics, developing a routine with the same tutor and taking a high school physics prep course can help with physics tutoring.
Why physics tutoring may not work
Parents vs students goal
When parents look for a physics tutor, the goal is for their student to understand physics. Students goal is to complete an assignment. Parents and students believe that tutoring provides what they want because it works for biology and chemistry.
But, high school physics is a junior level course for a reason. Biology teaches memorization. Chemistry is a combination of memorization and math. Physics requires math, reading, writing and logic. Physics needs the foundational thinking taught in biology and chemistry. And, it builds on the skills taught in the other foundational classes. Let’s take an example.
Newton’s second law states that Force = mass x acceleration. This is memorization. If force is constant, than mass and acceleration are inversely related. In other words, as the value of mass increases, the value of acceleration must decrease. This is a mathematical relationship and could be learned by using numbers only. If one has the same amount of force, a bike (less mass) will have a higher acceleration than a car (more mass). This is the concept part. So far, a physics tutor would be able to teach these principles.
However, force can be one or more forces which can be added, subtracted, or made into a right triangle based on the individual situation. Knowing how to do one problem does not mean another problem can be solved. Here is where the breakdown occurs. The next problem could have one or more forces not in the previous problem. The forces can have different mathematical operations based on the individual situation. Each problem could be different. Tutoring can not cover every situation. So, finishing an assignment does not guarantee understanding.
I’ve been teaching for over 9 years and I design my test and quizzes different each year. The exams are original meaning no other teacher has them. I teach my students physics logic in such a way that a tutor may not be able to teach it the same way.
In physics, there is often many different ways to get to the same goal. If I want to go to Los Angeles from Las Vegas, the final direction will be west, but there are an infinite amount of paths. What makes sense to one driver may not make sense to another. It does not mean the logic is wrong, it means the logic is different. But no matter the logic, the destination is the same.
Physics teachers all get to the same goal, but the logic is different. I am skilled in the way I do it, however, there is a small percentage of students who have difficulty seeing it the way I do. That is why distance learning is great because students can get different points of view. The different points of view also makes physics tutoring harder.
Outside of school hours, I have also done physics tutoring. Schools in Las Vegas start in the beginning of August. Typically, requests for tutoring start to come in during October. That means high school physics students have learned Dynamics and Kinematics and had 2-3 months in class. They are already behind. In my classroom, I see the struggle and frustration students have with these topics. If they fall behind here and seek tutoring, the ideal situation would be to review everything.
But, the most common tutoring session is 1 hour long, once or twice a week. That is enough time to complete assignments, but NOT long enough for understanding.
To compound the effects, the concepts taught in Dynamics and Kinematics are used the ENTIRE year. So a student who does not have a strong foundation will struggle in each of the next topics. As a physics tutor, I must use valuable time reteaching the concepts for each topic. Then, I must teach the new topic also. This method has limited success.
How to make physics tutoring work
Know Dynamics and Kinematics
The starting place for understanding physics is Dynamics (Newton’s Laws and Free Body Diagrams) and Kinematics (graphing and analysis of data). Take the time to clear up any misconceptions in these two topics.
As an aside, I often gets students placed in my class after I have taught these topics. That is not a good situation for either the teacher or the student.
Develop a routine with the same tutor
Schedule the same time with the same tutor and develop a weekly routine. I have tutored students who are jumping around to different physics tutors, and that does not work. A student should understand the logic used by the tutor. Ideally, it should match the physics teacher also, but that may not be possible. Make sure the tutor is teaching concepts and not only math.
Prepare for the course
The most effective method to learn physics is to take a high school physics preparation course. This method actually works in most courses. In college, I would read the chapter before the lecture. That way, the information was already in my mind and I could concentrate on what confused me. The lecture was where I clarified what I did not know with specific questions.
Physics understanding is a cumulative process. A low stress, distance learning course gives students the time they need to learn at their own pace. Also, the information gets put into the subconscious mind where the information grows naturally. When it comes time to use the information, it will seem more familiar to the student.
Finally, a student will not have other obligations that usually come in a school year. With the proper focus, it will take a fraction of the time to learn physics without the normal school distractions. The fact is a student that is continually frustrated and confused will lose motivation and confidence in themselves. That will prevent learning in any topic.