My Physics Teacher, So Far

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I am currently taking Electricity & Magnetism (E&M) and I have never quite taken a class like this one. My professor teaches in a very different way and it is both a bit intimidating, but truly effective.

To respect his privacy, I will not include his name, but my E&M teacher is truly one of a kind. Whereas many professors vary from being completely uninvolved to being almost like parent-like, this professor teaches in a way that is, at this point in my life, novel.

First off, he restricts us from using calculators and reference sheets on quizzes, tests, you name it. Why might he do such an awful thing you may ask? To prepare us for the inevitable standardized tests we will likely have to take when we move along into university as whatever our majors demand of us (as you can assume, I am at a community college).

This means he allows us to round up as much as we like to in order to work our way around the problem, so complicated decimal numbers can be abbreviated and pretty much treated as whole numbers that are easy to use while maintaining the appropriate order of magnitude. For example, rather than writing down the entire format for scientific notation, he uses a personal abbreviation (which he encourages we use as well) of scientific notation to simplify things.

This is that notation:

order-of-magnitude

This is basically saying, 1×10^2 or 1E2. It is a really useful system and, if you are stuck using normal scientific notation, I recommend switching to something like this, as it makes more intuitive sense, especially when changing the order of magnitude around in a problem alongside its base value. Again, though: this is all what I assume to be his. He could have easily seen this from somewhere else, so if you manage to know where, please leave a comment. I would love to know.

He stresses that Physics is not Calculus. The mathematical operations we use to get around a problem is not worthy of the majority of points assigned to an assignment. Instead, he looks for conceptual understanding, like what equation we ought to use. For example, merely putting down the correct equation that is needed to be used and, of course, trying to use it will result in a 17/20 right off the back. The rest of the points come from proper Calculus and the correct result.

Now, do not assume that I like his class because of the apparent easy A’s he seems to give out. He does focus on the hardest examples—the ones that would take you hours and hours to do—so that we actually progress rather than mindlessly focus on trivial problems that could be solved by anyone given any of the equations.

Given that we have to rely on our memory, which he says “is more impressive than you realize“, his teaching methods helps us associate equations to situations and determine what we need and what we do not need, which is vital to those who are going into a field that involves this kind of stuff.

The semester had just started and only a few weeks in and we just finished up Zener Voltage Regulators and Basic Transistors, whereas the other classes are just finishing up Gauss’ Law. We are making some serious progress and, in my honest opinion, this will only help us get more of a competitive edge among other students.

There are plenty of things I could say about this professor, but the list would just go on and on. So, I will leave with just one remark:

It truly does not matter what professor you have, many are bound to a textbook or to their own educational stratagem. What really matters is your tenacity to both learn and, as my E&M professor is clearly showing us, to keep moving forward.

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