05/13/2011 | Cindy Bianucci
Is Physics Too Hard for You to Teach?
Science is an amazing discipline. I am an engineer and I love math and physics, so when I accepted the invitation to teach physics at our co-op, it was a no-brainer. Sure! I’m excited!
Now if you don’t love math or science, well, that’s another story. However, as one who teaches children like yours, in these academic areas it’s not only your personal skills that should determine whether you should teach it or not. Other qualities of your personality come into play here.
Fabulous textbooks designed for “non-math” homeschooling parents are available. They are written to you, and for you, and they make it possible to teach math and science. They offer easy access to help with online explanations and 1-800 help lines. Now, that still doesn’t make it easy. You still will need to learn the concepts, work fairly well with your child, and take on what I would consider to be a significant challenge. If you don’t have the time, inclination, or mental capacity, you should find another physics teacher for your child. However, if you are a driven type and you like a challenge, you should take it on. Only you can determine your own capabilities and tendencies. Evaluate your past schooling behaviors, and decide whether or not you can add this to your agenda.
Now, as far as your child goes, he must be mature enough in the areas of discipline, responsibility, and perseverance to work through what will surely be a tough course. If he does not demonstrate maturity in at least two of these three areas, you may want to wait a year. A lot of information, definitions, concepts, and formulas have to be memorized, and not only must they be memorized, but then they must be manipulated and applied to different concepts. It’s a really grueling mental workout, to say the least. Physics is like algebra and trigonometry with logic and mystery-solving all wrapped into one.
Additionally, the student should have successfully completed these three courses: Algebra, Algebra II, and Trigonometry. The greater his level of mastery in these courses, the more successful he will be in the Physics course. It pains me to see students understand concepts on tests and set up the problems correctly with the proper equations, only to miss the answer because of an algebraic error. Don’t set your student up for failure; make sure he has a strong foundation to build on.
If you decide you are not up to the task, there are options. First, you may have the option to contract with a local community college or private school. Online courses with live teachers who will teach it to your student for you are available as well. And if you are blessed to have a nearby homeschool co-op that offers a Physics course, you can choose that route, which is probably the least expensive choice. Typically, co-op classes or online courses schedule weekly sessions and are considered supplemental to your at-home instruction. Thoroughly evaluate each option, including how much at-home instruction is necessary, and then make the best choice for your situation.
The Time Factor
Because a high schooler is preparing to work independently as a college student, I expect my high school students to complete work on their own, and I hold them accountable. It’s your job to track their work, verify their understanding based on their scores, and to facilitate the course plan, or syllabus. Diligently monitor your student’s progress, especially at the beginning. This is the type of course in which falling behind in the beginning will likely mean failure in the end.
Consider doing the labs alongside your student. As I see it, this is one of your most important jobs. This is a fun part of the course. Don’t ever skip or merely read through the labs. I am all too familiar with the temptation to skip labs. Yes, it takes a lot of effort to gather the materials, perform the lab, and then decipher what concepts are to be learned, but I cannot stress enough how critical it is to make this extra effort. Labs provide a refreshing break from the mental challenges the course presents, and they help solidify concepts in a visual, tangible way that reading or working problems on paper cannot.
If your student takes the class somewhere else, be sure to ask the instructor if your student will be required to do the labs. If students are not required to do them, you need to know this going in, so that you can prepare to do the labs at home with your student. Do not skip labs.
What Can the Student Do Independently?
To successfully understand physics concepts, your student will have to read the concepts, write out the problems, get them wrong, review the material and figure out what he did wrong, and then make corrections. Repetition is key. This must be independent work; you cannot help him with this, or else he will not “get it.” You will—but he will not. Most kids will let you figure it out and then say, “Oh, yeah. Okay!” But . . . it will not stick. It sticks only if they go through that brain process themselves. You are there to guide them, keep them on task, and then assist when something is really stumping them.
What this doesn’t look like is reading the chapter, going through the practice problems, looking at the answers to make sure you got them right, and if not, copying down the answer so that it looks good on your page, and then, after an hour, closing the book and calling it a week. Physics is a science, and it’s hard. I mean, it’s not like other courses. It’s really hard!
However, with devotion and discipline driving you to make sure you spend your daily, and I stress, daily, time on the material, along with the willingness to practice repetition, then you’ll probably find your child saying: “What’s the big deal? This isn’t so hard.”
You? Teach physics? Of course!
Copyright, 2011. Used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, Spring 2011.