Falling in Love with Physics

Falling in Love with Physics

For those who have experienced it, the hour of the awakening of the passion for knowledge is the most memorable one of a lifetime.                                               —  Colin Wilson

When I was in High School, my teacher for chemistry and physics was totally incompetent and he was out sick more than he was there. We never even did any experiments. So, when I got to college, I was nervous about taking either subject, assuming other students would know so much more than I did. Twenty years later, working on a Master’s Degree in Biology, I had to take the dreaded physics class. It wasn’t a hard class. It was Physics for Non-majors.

Little girl on a see-sawI went to speak to the professor before classes began. I explained that I’d learned things like the simple problems with levers: Mass x  distance on one side must equal mass x distance on the other side in order to balance. This explains why the heavier child sits close to the fulcrum of a see-saw while the lighter child must sit further away.

I confessed that, although I knew it was true and I could do the problems, I had no idea why the distance should make a difference. It didn’t make sense.

The professor nodded. “That’s wonderful,” he said with a smile. “You know more than most physics students. They don’t know any more than you do, but they have no idea  there is something more that they don’t understand. You will do very well in this class, I’m sure.”

This class was wonderful. Every class began with a demonstration or experiment. In every class, we struggled with the questions of why these things happened. And, to my amazement, I feel in love with Physics.

I’d been in love with Biology since I was a toddler. The first book I ever bought was The World of Plant Life. It was a book for adults and I was only 9 or 10 years old. I saved up my allowance and did chores for months to pay for my book. My favorite Christmas present was a microscope, not one sold for children, but one meant to be used in a classroom. I was in about 7th grade and bought books about the tiny creatures that I was finding in pond water. I was learning more on my own than I learned in school.

But Physics? That had never been my sort of thing and now, because it was so exciting to understand things in new ways, to discover that I could understand why things worked … I fell in love with physics. I took more classes and they really were hard. I had to re-take Calculus (not for credit) because I’d forgotten everything in twenty years. I took enough physics to get my certification to teach Physics as well as Biology and Math.

And still I continued to learn more. I found books on having fun with physics. Then, in another wonderful class, we studied the physics of toys. And to my surprise, my understanding of how toys would behave in a weightless situation were better than the ideas of the more experienced physics teachers. Perhaps because I was more interested in WHY, rather than just knowing how to solve problems.

The first Physics classes I taught were summer classes for gifted kids in grades 4-8. They let me teach a class called “Fun with Physics.” What a wonderful way to prepare me for teaching High School Physics… and for making that class fun too. But when you find a subject that you really love, you want others to understand how wonderful it is.

My wish for every student is that you fall in love with at least one of your subjects  – that you love it enough to continue your study independently, and that you find ways to share your love of that subject with others.

Fall in love. The single most powerful thing you can do to
foster learning is to fall in love with what you’re learning.                     — Ronald Gross in Peak Learning p. 67

You might also be interested in reading    Independent Learning

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