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What would you do if you wanted to learn physics and chemistry properly?


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I took physics (mechanics) in high school and again in college; I also took chemistry in high school. However, despite being a mathematician and being science-minded, I really can't pretend that I understand these sciences properly. I have no intuition for them. I barely remember a few disjointed formulas. I certainly can't use them to interpret the world. 

What would you do if you wanted to get a real intuition for the sciences? My mathematical background is obviously sufficient, so that's not the issue. I also don't want to figure out how to chug out answers using formulas... I'd like to integrate any formulas I learn into a flexible understanding that sticks around. 

Any thoughts or ideas? I'd like to get ready before I can teach DD8. Right now, we're just reading things together, and I'm getting by using the fact that I know some stuff and I know how science works. I think that's going to work less well pretty soon, though. 

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You might find MEP’s A level Mechanics class interesting because it’s coming from a math angle.

I saw this book today from Norton that looks promising: ChemConnections; also several of the science books in Open textbooks seem to be for those seeking a general introduction.

(Two of the three suggestions are free downloads, so you can take a look while waiting for something better.)

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3 minutes ago, stripe said:

You might find MEP’s A level Mechanics class interesting because it’s coming from a math angle.

I saw this book today from Norton that looks promising: ChemConnections; also several of the science books in Open textbooks seem to be for those seeking a general introduction.

(Two of the three suggestions are free downloads, so you can take a look while waiting for something better.)

I don’t think I want a general introduction. I’ve had one. I want to learn to think more like a scientist.

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I am learning some science in middle-life. Math was always easy for me. If you're a former whiz then you might have the same feeling as me about freshman math textbooks, Stewart Calculus or whatever: that they're really ponderous and repetitive and don't teach any developments since the 1700s. "Read a calculus textbook" doesn't sound like good advice for learning math.

I think I bounced off of science a few times because I assumed, not too consciously, that the 101 textbooks were the same kind of waste of time. I found out very late and very bashfully that it's not true.

I learned a lot last year from the Griffiths books on E&M and QM, reading them as though I were a student again. My favorite book right now is "Campbell's Biology," I think a very standard textbook for college biology but I have no idea how college students can give it the attention it deserves in a semester. It's very dense and up-to-date and rich.

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1 hour ago, UHP said:

I am learning some science in middle-life. Math was always easy for me. If you're a former whiz then you might have the same feeling as me about freshman math textbooks, Stewart Calculus or whatever: that they're really ponderous and repetitive and don't teach any developments since the 1700s. "Read a calculus textbook" doesn't sound like good advice for learning math.

I don't like calculus textbooks much, no. But mostly because they don't build intuitions 😉

 

1 hour ago, UHP said:

I think I bounced off of science a few times because I assumed, not too consciously, that the 101 textbooks were the same kind of waste of time. I found out very late and very bashfully that it's not true.

I've definitely taken things like Physics 101 and I didn't find that it gave me any intuition. I don't remember any of it. I mean, that's false, I have random disjointed formulas floating around my head, like 1/2 mv^2 being kinetic energy and mv being momentum, and F = ma and whatnot, and force vectors at a stationary object adding up to a zero vector... it's not like I remember nothing. But it's in no way cohesive or useful in my life. 

 

1 hour ago, UHP said:

I learned a lot last year from the Griffiths books on E&M and QM, reading them as though I were a student again. 

Cool. Did you read them and do the problem sets? Do you feel like you can now actually use the science? 

 

1 hour ago, UHP said:

My favorite book right now is "Campbell's Biology," I think a very standard textbook for college biology but I have no idea how college students can give it the attention it deserves in a semester. It's very dense and up-to-date and rich.

Thanks!! I have no experience with trying to learn biology, so it's possible textbooks would work for me. 

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2 hours ago, Not_a_Number said:

I don’t think I want a general introduction. I’ve had one. I want to learn to think more like a scientist.

Theyre not all typical intro texts, so that’s why I shared them. Oh well.

Edited by stripe
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1 hour ago, Not_a_Number said:

Do you feel like you can now actually use the science? 

Not many opportunities in the day-to-day! I've used it as food for thought only. And I guess it has been good background for more reading, but if you ask me what's the point of all that I won't be able to tell you.

As far as food for thought goes, or being able to follow the news about mammoth DNA, or being able to show it off once in a while, learning a little bit about biology has been more rewarding than learning a little bit about magnetism or quantum theory.

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What is your goal exactly? What do you mean by " use the science"? To do what?

Physics intuition builds by using physics over time. It won't form from reading a textbook or taking an intro class; it comes through problem solving. Just like a feeling and intuition for, say, calculus or diff eq arises as the result of many, many different problems you have worked through.

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8 hours ago, Not_a_Number said:

I don't like calculus textbooks much, no. But mostly because they don't build intuitions 😉 

But once you apply the calculus in physics, an intuition develops. Vector calculus makes a lot if sense once you connect it with electromagneyism and see what div and curl actually  DO.

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11 minutes ago, regentrude said:

What is your goal exactly? What do you mean by " use the science"? To do what?

I want to feel comfortable reasoning using the science day to day, like I do with math. Is that clear or not really?

 

11 minutes ago, regentrude said:

Physics intuition builds by using physics over time. It won't form from reading a textbook or taking an intro class; it comes through problem solving. Just like a feeling and intuition for, say, calculus or diff eq arises as the result of many, many different problems you have worked through.

That’s certainly my experience with math. But is physics exactly the same, or does it have to be integrated with physical intuition?

 

10 minutes ago, regentrude said:

But once you apply the calculus in physics, an intuition develops. Vector calculus makes a lot if sense once you connect it with electromagneyism and see what div and curl actually  DO.

Well, I believe that, but I never did that! I have a very good feel for basic differential and integral calculus, but not really for vector calculus. I remember thinking it was cool and interesting in college, but I never wound up finishing my applied math degree, so the skills are definitely lost.

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5 minutes ago, Not_a_Number said:

I want to feel comfortable reasoning using the science day to day, like I do with math. Is that clear or not really?

 

That’s certainly my experience with math. But is physics exactly the same, or does it have to be integrated with physical intuition?

The physical intuition develops through problem solving. I don't know any other way. That's why "conceptual" physics doesn't accomplish anything.

I am still not sure what you mean by using science reasoning *day to day*. To do what exactly? Understanding daily phenomena? Explaining why the sky is blue, why microwaves don't work on dry food, why astronauts are weightless? Sorry if I  appear dense here. 

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1 minute ago, regentrude said:

The physical intuition develops through problem solving. I don't know any other way. That's why "conceptual" physics doesn't accomplish anything.

I was a serious math Olympiad person, lol. I’m all for problem solving. It doesn’t scare me. I just want to do the right stuff to learn it. 

 

1 minute ago, regentrude said:

I am still not sure what you mean by using science reasoning *day to day*. To do what exactly? Understanding daily phenomena? Explaining why the sky is blue, why microwaves don't work on dry food, why astronauts are weightless? Sorry if I  appear dense here. 

Yes, that kind of stuff, although my physics is good enough that I can use it for those things... or at least if I don’t remember it and look it up, I’d be able to spot a nonsense explanation.

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4 minutes ago, regentrude said:

The physical intuition develops through problem solving. I don't know any other way. That's why "conceptual" physics doesn't accomplish anything.

One of my IMO teammates also made it onto the physics Olympiad team... I certainly knew people who were excellent at both math and physics problem solving. I never was, though. I learned it for tests and then forgot it 😕.

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I think I know what you mean about math intuition. Maybe I also know what you mean about physics intuition, though I have much less personal experience of it. But I am not sure "getting an intuitive feel" is a good way to approach science outside of some narrow areas. There are a lot of facts in science that can be told in plain language in a few words. They could have been proved by a brilliant experiment or by 2000 hours work in the desert looking for fossils, but they might have contradicted many people's intuition at the time.

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6 minutes ago, UHP said:

I think I know what you mean about math intuition. Maybe I also know what you mean about physics intuition, though I have much less personal experience of it. But I am not sure "getting an intuitive feel" is a good way to approach science outside of some narrow areas. There are a lot of facts in science that can be told in plain language in a few words. They could have been proved by a brilliant experiment or by 2000 hours work in the desert looking for fossils, but they might have contradicted many people's intuition at the time.

I don’t mean that I don’t want to be able to solve problems. I want to be able to solve problems but also to understand how it fits into some sort of overarching mental model.

I know from having taught lots of math that just getting kids to solve problems doesn’t always give them a good intuition for the objects they are working with. You can calculate MANY derivatives without ever getting a sense for what a derivative IS. That’s how I feel about physics — I’ve done plenty of calculations, but it never connected to a good mental model, so I didn’t retain the ideas or the ability to solve problems.

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1 hour ago, Not_a_Number said:

I know from having taught lots of math that just getting kids to solve problems doesn’t always give them a good intuition for the objects they are working with. You can calculate MANY derivatives without ever getting a sense for what a derivative IS. That’s how I feel about physics — I’ve done plenty of calculations, but it never connected to a good mental model, so I didn’t retain the ideas or the ability to solve problems.

but without the problem solving, with just talking without doing, they don't understand the concepts either.

When I say physics problem solving, I don't mean plug and chug. That's how a lot of physics is taught and it's useless. My students come from high school  with the impression that physics is this grab bag of equations from which you have to pick the right one.
It is rather easy to develop intuition for the things we can experience directly - that's why every physics sequence starts with mechanics - but to develop an understanding of invisible things like electric fields, problems are the only way. And to develop an intuition for quantum mechanics which is totally abstract and counter anything we know from daily life, it takes a LOT of time and problem solving to get what my DH calls an "abstract intuition".

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5 minutes ago, regentrude said:

but without the problem solving, with just talking without doing, they don't understand the concepts either.

Obviously. You do need to solve problems. But I also knew kids who did plenty of problems and still missed the point. They weren't the right problems. They didn't use the right parts of their brains. 

 

5 minutes ago, regentrude said:

When I say physics problem solving, I don't mean plug and chug. That's how a lot of physics is taught and it's useless. My students come from high school  with the impression that physics is this grab bag of equations from which you have to pick the right one.

Yes, I agree that it's useless. I was basically taught it like that, and I know that I didn't get a good education in the concepts. Hence the very fragmented understanding I now have. 

 

5 minutes ago, regentrude said:

It is rather easy to develop intuition for the things we can experience directly - that's why every physics sequence starts with mechanics - but to develop an understanding of invisible things like electric fields, problems are the only way. And to develop an intuition for quantum mechanics which is totally abstract and counter anything we know from daily life, it takes a LOT of time and problem solving to get what my DH calls an "abstract intuition".

I think I'd be decent learning at things that are totally abstract, because I imagine learning it isn't much different from learning abstract math. But I'd like to start with mechanics and other things I can actually experience. 

So, I'm all for solving problems, but I'd like to solve the right problems, if you know what I mean. Where does one get started? WHICH problems does one do? Where do I go? 

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1 hour ago, Not_a_Number said:

So, I'm all for solving problems, but I'd like to solve the right problems, if you know what I mean. Where does one get started? WHICH problems does one do? Where do I go? 

Any GOOD instructor will select "the right" problems: those that illustrate precisely the concept they want to teach.
I do not see a short cut to true physics intuition through reading popular science books. I think one needs to start from the basics and actually take the sequence of courses/work through the sequence of textbooks. With your background and math understanding, a speed-through would be feasible.

There are simple concepts that are often misunderstood. Right now, I teach about circuits, and the concept that current is like water and flows through the wires like water through pipes and what goes in must come out, but that voltage is like elevation on a mountain and just *is* and doesn't flow is terribly hard for many students. I don't know how one masters such - seemingly simple - concepts without applying them in worked out and conceptual problems repeatedly. Just me telling them that this is so will not make them understand it; they will try to memorize and then forget.

There are a lot of such things. To take a parallel from calculus: they are taught that the derivative is zero when a function has a local extremum, but I see in physics how hard it is for them to translate that into "oh, the vertical velocity is zero when the object has reached the highest point " - which is exactly what they learned, dy_sub_y/dt=0 where y is max, but they do not know that this is that. In my experience, it takes multiple exposures to such concepts to be internalized ....after using a derivative in physics, they will eventually realized what a derivative actually is, not just how to calculate one by applying a set of memorized rules. (And a good calculus instructor would build in this type of applications to achieve that level of understanding, if they were given the time.)

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6 minutes ago, Roadrunner said:

Well, the Epstein book is all problem solving. 

Nah, not really, at least not what we would call "problem solving" in a physics course. A lot of conceptual discussion, very little actual math.
In my experience, these kinds of questions are extremely useful to supplement after the student has practiced problem solving. Conceptual understanding is cemented through working problems, but a conceptual approach alone does not produce the same level of understanding. At least that is mine, and my colleagues', experience from decades of teaching introductory physics.
 

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30 minutes ago, regentrude said:

Any GOOD instructor will select "the right" problems: those that illustrate precisely the concept they want to teach.
I do not see a short cut to true physics intuition through reading popular science books. I think one needs to start from the basics and actually take the sequence of courses/work through the sequence of textbooks. With your background and math understanding, a speed-through would be feasible.

OK. That's fine, that's what I expect. Where would I find a good sequence? There were many classes I took in college where I didn't internalize the ideas, even though I got excellent grades. I'd like to invest the effort to actually master the subjects. 

 

30 minutes ago, regentrude said:

There are simple concepts that are often misunderstood. Right now, I teach about circuits, and the concept that current is like water and flows through the wires like water through pipes and what goes in must come out, but that voltage is like elevation on a mountain and just *is* and doesn't flow is terribly hard for many students. I don't know how one masters such - seemingly simple - concepts without applying them in worked out and conceptual problems repeatedly. Just me telling them that this is so will not make them understand it; they will try to memorize and then forget.

Yep. I agree. But as usual, I can't pick my OWN conceptual problems. I'd need to figure out a way to expose myself to conceptual problems picked by an expert. What would be a good way to do that? 

 

30 minutes ago, regentrude said:

There are a lot of such things. To take a parallel from calculus: they are taught that the derivative is zero when a function has a local extremum, but I see in physics how hard it is for them to translate that into "oh, the vertical velocity is zero when the object has reached the highest point " - which is exactly what they learned, dy_sub_y/dt=0 where y is max, but they do not know that this is that. In my experience, it takes multiple exposures to such concepts to be internalized ....after using a derivative in physics, they will eventually realized what a derivative actually is, not just how to calculate one by applying a set of memorized rules. (And a good calculus instructor would build in this type of applications to achieve that level of understanding, if they were given the time.)

I can teach a kid why setting the derivative to 0 works very well the first time, but it's definitely a different approach to how we were supposed to teach calculus. That's actually exactly what I'm saying -- the longer I've been teaching (and it's been a while), the more I've diverged from the usual path of mathematics instruction, and the more effective a teacher I've become. So I'm curious if anyone knows how I could invest my efforts fruitfully and well. 

I had kids who would try to learn calculus by reading the book over and over again. If they missed a problem, they'd read the solution very carefully and they'd THINK they understood it. This took them hours. It was terribly inefficient. I couldn't convince them that the way to work problems was to start with the book closed and to think hard, and to only open the book if they absolutely had to (and then to get one hint and close it again.) 

I don't want to accidentally wind up in a mode where I spend tons of hours and get very poor returns, like they did. 

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10 minutes ago, regentrude said:

Conceptual understanding is cemented through working problems, but a conceptual approach alone does not produce the same level of understanding. At least that is mine, and my colleagues', experience from decades of teaching introductory physics.

I've had the best results in math with work that was conceptual and numerical at the same time. 

However, I've also had good luck with assigning work where the visuals were primary and the numbers were secondary... but the problems were still precise, so to speak. This works very well both for calculus and trigonometry and high school linear algebra, which is where I've tried it. 

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I think you need to figure out how you learn best. Are you a hands-on learner? Do you need a book or is a lecture enough? ... 

(I had a student who was in my  anatomy class where I was using Ellen McHenry's anatomy and physiology curriculum which relies heavily on drawing. He said that he learned and understood chemistry more from those six weeks than from a year of chemistry. Obviously, the drawing was his mode of learning.)

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2 minutes ago, lmrich said:

I think you need to figure out how you learn best. Are you a hands-on learner? Do you need a book or is a lecture enough? ... 

Hmmmm. I prefer a book, I think. Mostly, I want a collection of problems that'll actually build intuitions for me. 

 

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I've been working on my physics for 3 years now, trying to do exactly what you are talking about doing.  I have found that *doing* problems like Regentrude mentioned is key, but then you have to do them in a way that is different than when you were younger.  You need to *think* about the relationships between the variables. You need to know these relationships so well, that you don't have to look up the formula because it is obvious. You have NOT memorized the formulas, rather you deeply understand the relationships so the formula is no longer even a formula, it just becomes knowledge.  Then after doing lots of text book problems, you then need to get problems that are everyday life problems.  Pick a topic and delve deep.  I spent a full month trying to understand why the Indian Ocean Tsunami reflected, refracted, etc based on where the land was, the depth of the shelf, the length of the shelf, etc. And this got me into fluid dynamics which was fascinating. I then studied what caused the failure in the Mecando well in the Gulf of Mexico. After that I went after how a quantum computer works. Next project for me is going to be what caused the Northeast grid failure in 2003.  These projects take me a long time to research and then integrate my basic physics knowledge into.  This is how I am building intuition. By going after bigger topics, I am forced to integrate bitsy textbook knowledge into a whole. 

Basically, I needed to move beyond plug and chug, and choose to *learn* the relationships and how to apply them to both textbook problems and everyday life. It has been a very rewarding project. 

 

Edited by lewelma
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Just now, lewelma said:

I've been working on my physics for 3 years now, trying to do exactly what you are talking about doing.  I have found that *doing* problems like Regentrude mentioned is key, but then you have to do them in a way that is different than when you were younger.  You need to *think* about the relationships between the variables. You need to know these relationships so well, that you don't have to look up the formula because it is obvious. You have NOT memorized the formulas, rather you deeply understand the relationships so the formula is no longer even a formula, it just becomes knowledge.  Then after doing lots of text book problems, you then need to get problems that are everyday life problems.  Pick a topic and delve deep.  I spent a full month trying to understand why the Indian Ocean Tsunami reflected, refracted, etc based on where the land was, the depth of the shelf, the length of the shelf, etc. And this got me into fluid dynamics which was fascinating. I then studied what caused the failure in the Mecando well in the Gulf of Mexico. After that I went after how a quantum computer works. Next project for me is going to be what caused the Northeast grid failure in 2003.  These projects take me a long time to research and then integrate my basic physics knowledge into.  This is how I am building intuition.

Basically, I needed to move beyond plug and chug, and choose to *learn* the relationships and how to apply them to both textbook problems and everyday life. It has been a very rewarding project. 

Yes... that sounds like a good way to go. I was hoping someone put together something that connects the dots a bit. I do know how to connect the dots for myself, but I'm quite busy 😞 . But it sounds like a good project at some point. 

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Just now, Not_a_Number said:

Yes... that sounds like a good way to go. I was hoping someone put together something that connects the dots a bit. I do know how to connect the dots for myself, but I'm quite busy 😞 . But it sounds like a good project at some point. 

Nope. You will not find what you are looking for. In my experience, people either just get physics or they get through it with plug and chug.  There are very few people who got through it, who then want to actually build up to a higher level of understanding. In fact, I have never met any who struggled as much as me who were then still willing to try try try again.

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1 minute ago, lewelma said:

Nope. You will not find what you are looking for. In my experience, people either just get physics or they get through it with plug and chug.  There are very few people who got through it, who then want to actually build up to a higher level of understanding. In fact, I have never met any who struggled as much as me who were then still willing to try try try again.

I didn't have any trouble with physics, but I just never bothered to really understand it. I certainly have taken math classes where I did the minimal amount, too, and as a result, I don't understand those parts of math and never really did 😛 . 

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3 hours ago, Not_a_Number said:

I didn't have any trouble with physics, but I just never bothered to really understand it. 

From my point of view, you did have trouble to with physics because in the end you didn't understand it. Why not? That is the question you need to ask yourself, and only then will you find the best path forward to meet your goals. 

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5 hours ago, lewelma said:

From my point of view, you did have trouble to with physics because in the end you didn't understand it. Why not? That is the question you need to ask yourself, and only then will you find the best path forward to meet your goals. 

Because I didn’t care. I wanted to be left alone to do my math contests. 

I don’t think there’s a deeper reason. I’m very binge-y and tend to only be able to focus on one major project at a time. In high school, that was Olympiad prep. I spent all my time in school doing that and did minimal work on other stuff. 

That’s why I’m so jealous of your older kid’s high school experience 😉 . There wasn’t enough time in a day for me to do the hours of math I wanted to, get good grades, and also learn anything else properly. I didn’t do the arduous work of truly understanding the other conceptual subjects. 

I don’t even know that I’m sorry, to be honest. An IMO gold medal buys a lot of stuff. I haven’t needed to regret my singular focus much. But... as a result, I don’t know the sciences very well.

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6 hours ago, Not_a_Number said:

Because I didn’t care. I wanted to be left alone to do my math contests. 

I don’t think there’s a deeper reason. I’m very binge-y and tend to only be able to focus on one major project at a time. In high school, that was Olympiad prep. I spent all my time in school doing that and did minimal work on other stuff. 

That’s why I’m so jealous of your older kid’s high school experience 😉 . There wasn’t enough time in a day for me to do the hours of math I wanted to, get good grades, and also learn anything else properly. I didn’t do the arduous work of truly understanding the other conceptual subjects. 

I don’t even know that I’m sorry, to be honest. An IMO gold medal buys a lot of stuff. I haven’t needed to regret my singular focus much. But... as a result, I don’t know the sciences very well.

Well then, your solution is easy. Go get which ever textbook Regentrude recommends and work your way through it with the focus of caring to actually learn the content. I don't think there are any shortcuts here.

And yes, I am also deeply grateful that we had the resources to give my son what he needed. 

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4 minutes ago, lewelma said:

Well then, your solution is easy. Go get which ever textbook Regentrude recommends and work your way through it with the focus of caring to actually learn the content. I don't think there are any shortcuts here.

And yes, I am also deeply grateful that we had the resources to give my son what he needed. 

Right. I’m just trying to get a recommendation for a good program. I’ve seen far too many calculus students put in the hours without much progress. Basically, I need some expert guidance.

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8 minutes ago, Not_a_Number said:

Right. I’m just trying to get a recommendation for a good program. I’ve seen far too many calculus students put in the hours without much progress. Basically, I need some expert guidance.

Excellent. Then ask Regentrude. Given that you have the capability and the motivation to *learn* the content, rather than just tick the box, you will develop the intuition you desire if you put in the work. 

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My experience is similar but also different from yours. I took a year-long, Calculus-based Physics at Duke with the Engineers who were taking an Engineering class that worked synergistically with physics (a class I was not taking because I was a Biology major). In contrast to the other students, I had never taken high school physics, so I was really dumped in the deep end. But I did the work, studied for hours upon hours, and got one of the top grades in the class.  But even with all this struggle and time and an A in the class, I did not actually learn the content.  I have come to believe that it was just moving too fast for it to sink in, given that I would not be working with the content moving forward like the Engineers did.  I hated the class, but needed the mark, so I made it happen. But then nothing stuck.  This time through I am focused on *learning* the content, going on rabbit trails to answer my questions because I actually have the time. Connecting disparate subfields to build a more creative and rich understanding.  I am now starting to see physics everywhere I look, and am starting to ask the right questions.  But this takes time and motivation. It is the journey you need, not the outcome. Thinking like a scientist is all about wandering in the dark, asking questions, and looking for answers. So by linking my textbook learning to life around me and issues/problems facing the world, I am building intuition. Slow and steady.

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Chemistry is about understanding content not mathy problems. Yes there are some problems but all the basics for chemistry is at Algebra 1.

I like the hodders edu cie chemistry as&a2 9781510480230 please note this book is a two year text but and pretty lower on problems to be done however it is about the concepts of chemistry. Taking a look at the IG level book may be helpful first. Please note I taught chemistry at the IG, AS and A2 at a private school.

Chemistry is a subject where tons of hands on helps in learning but chemistry also has a fair amount of memorization and things that must be taken as fact even though you can not prove them what you learn about them.

A bad view view here on chemistry and a real intuition for chemistry. I don't know if real intuition is a thing in chemistry, yes we learn the rules and how to use them. 

Like learning that CoCl2 turns from white to pink with water but not other liquids turning from an anhydrous to hydrated salt. Learning this is best done via of a hands on activity with adding CoCl2 to a range of liquids see what happened and talking about it not memorizing it from the book.

 

Wanting to learn science from a book with out the hands on makes it harder. There is a reason for chemistry modeling set and labs.

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5 minutes ago, LadyLemon said:

Wanting to learn science from a book with out the hands on makes it harder. There is a reason for chemistry modeling set and labs.

You know, you can just TELL ME to do labs instead of implying that I am going about it wrong...

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38 minutes ago, Not_a_Number said:

You know, you can just TELL ME to do labs instead of implying that I am going about it wrong...

Well, I don't like Chem labs much as they don't help me with understanding the content. They can, however, help me remember the content because I have seen something occur which helps me put it to memory. But you can do this with youtube videos.

The problem with chemistry (that is not as true with physics) is that it is really NOT linear as you learn it.  There is a lot of stuff you have to accept on faith early on that then you will understand the reasons behind many courses later. It is also a synthesis subject, so you just have to memorize a butt ton of content, to then be able to synthesize into a whole and answer complex questions.  I find it way more interesting than physics, but it is a completely different type of learning. 

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2 minutes ago, lewelma said:

Well, I don't like Chem labs much as they don't help me with understanding the content. They can, however, help me remember the content because I have seen something occur which helps me put it to memory. But you can do this with youtube videos.

The problem with chemistry (that is not as true with physics) is that it is really NOT linear as you learn it.  There is a lot of stuff you have to accept on faith early on that then you will understand the reasons behind many courses later. It is also a synthesis subject, so you just have to memorize a butt ton of content, to then be able to synthesize into a whole and answer complex questions.  I find it way more interesting than physics, but it is a completely different type of learning. 

Yeah, see, this is good stuff 😛 . I need to know stuff like that. 

I'm really mostly looking for expert opinions on HOW to learn these effectively. I have many shortcuts that I've learned over the years for math, and a decent number of shortcuts for writing, but I don't have any for physics and chemistry. So, math is often best to internalize from definitions and using a mix of conceptual and numerical questions, and despite my love for hard problems, I don't think they are what's needed to master any branch of mathematics. I don't happen to know the most efficient path for physics and chemistry learning, and I'm hoping to hear from more experts. 

Edited by Not_a_Number
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1 hour ago, Not_a_Number said:

You know, you can just TELL ME to do labs instead of implying that I am going about it wrong...

Sorry

I am very slow to give the advise to do labs to learn chemistry after giving the advise to do a learn chemistry by lab book which is well reviewed but I hadn't used and watching it fail. I also at the private school saw students fail to learn with a different chemistry teacher that taught 100% chalk and talk with lots of memorization including things that don't need to be memorized like a formulas for moving moles, gram and g/mol without understanding.

As such I don't know if more lab would help. I don't know any magic/best way to learn chemistry.  I do believe that 0 lab doesn't seen to help. I thing that lewelma idea of youtubing the labs in your book would be a great plan.

I was trying to point out that chemistry is not intuitive, by doing I know CoCl2  turns pink but I could not answer about the color a different cobalt salt turns with out doing it, beside it would most likely not be white. I also can't tell you why CoCl2 turns pink only that it does.

lewelma put it tons better in that chemistry is filled with faith statements. I remember in a 400's class having to design a lab to find out how many atoms are in a mole, something you have to take on faith your first term of chemistry, by the way no one in the class designed a working lab to test that. 

The reason I suggest the book above. I suggested it, due to it not focusing on how we got to current chemistry theory (theory history that is confusing, spending days learning about plum pudding model to learn it is wrong. Waste of time that doesn't help in learning chemistry) but the content is very well covered for basic chemistry at about the AP level. Some topic more than AP and others less. My three biggest problems with the book that it starts fast thinking that you already know the basics of atom, elements, ions and compounds so covers them very fast. Second it doesn't have a lot of practice problems. Third that it doesn't cover gas laws much something that is a big part of high school chemistry in America.

 

Sorry again. I don't know how you are going about learning chemistry so can't say if it is great way, which it may be. I was trying to point out why I don't think that intuition is a good way to talk about chemistry. Chemistry model set are used a lot in organic chemistry due to poor abilities to see 3D shapes from drawings and drawing your 2D drawings.

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35 minutes ago, LadyLemon said:

Sorry again. I don't know how you are going about learning chemistry so can't say if it is great way, which it may be. I was trying to point out why I don't think that intuition is a good way to talk about chemistry. Chemistry model set are used a lot in organic chemistry due to poor abilities to see 3D shapes from drawings and drawing your 2D drawings.

Not learning it at all right now. Planning ahead and trying to get input. As I said, I'm science-minded and mathy but relatively ignorant in the sciences. 

Any suggestions help! I will synthesize. I'm good at that. 

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9 hours ago, lewelma said:

Excellent. Then ask Regentrude. Given that you have the capability and the motivation to *learn* the content, rather than just tick the box, you will develop the intuition you desire if you put in the work. 

asking @regentrude! Could you recommend a good text or sequence of texts?

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11 hours ago, lewelma said:

My experience is similar but also different from yours. I took a year-long, Calculus-based Physics at Duke with the Engineers who were taking an Engineering class that worked synergistically with physics (a class I was not taking because I was a Biology major). In contrast to the other students, I had never taken high school physics, so I was really dumped in the deep end. But I did the work, studied for hours upon hours, and got one of the top grades in the class.  But even with all this struggle and time and an A in the class, I did not actually learn the content.  I have come to believe that it was just moving too fast for it to sink in, given that I would not be working with the content moving forward like the Engineers did.  I hated the class, but needed the mark, so I made it happen. But then nothing stuck.  This time through I am focused on *learning* the content, going on rabbit trails to answer my questions because I actually have the time. Connecting disparate subfields to build a more creative and rich understanding.  I am now starting to see physics everywhere I look, and am starting to ask the right questions.  But this takes time and motivation. It is the journey you need, not the outcome. Thinking like a scientist is all about wandering in the dark, asking questions, and looking for answers. So by linking my textbook learning to life around me and issues/problems facing the world, I am building intuition. Slow and steady.

I love this, lewelma. 🙂

10 hours ago, lewelma said:

Well, I don't like Chem labs much as they don't help me with understanding the content. They can, however, help me remember the content because I have seen something occur which helps me put it to memory. But you can do this with youtube videos.

The problem with chemistry (that is not as true with physics) is that it is really NOT linear as you learn it.  There is a lot of stuff you have to accept on faith early on that then you will understand the reasons behind many courses later. It is also a synthesis subject, so you just have to memorize a butt ton of content, to then be able to synthesize into a whole and answer complex questions.  I find it way more interesting than physics, but it is a completely different type of learning. 

You are so very wise, lewelma, and you've said (more eloquently than I could) what I was coming here to type out. 🙂

Chemistry is a whole different beast than math or physics.  I was talking a bit about students struggling when they try to "intuit" chemistry here:

 

and then again here:

When I teach chemistry, I try to give my students the "why" behind everything that I can.  And lewelma is so right - chemistry can't be taught linearly like physics can.  There just isn't a good starting point where I won't have to occasionally say "You just have to believe me for right now.  We'll talk about why this particular thing works the way it does later on when you have more background knowledge."  If you want to get a good grounding in chemistry, @Not_a_Number, so that you can connect the math with the theory I think you'll need to have an expert to guide you through. 🙂  @regentrude talked about having an expert instructor being able to provide you with the right problems at the right time - I think that's very important.

I think the textbook that I use for my Honor Chem course is a really good book - it's "General Chemistry: The Essential Concepts" by Raymond Chang.

https://www.amazon.com/General-Chemistry-Raymond-Chang-Dr/dp/0073402753/ref=dp_ob_title_bk

I think, though, that it would be helpful for you to have someone guide you through the book and give you all the extra details and connections that the book may gloss over. 🙂  At the risk of promoting my own courses here (which I do try very hard not to do - I try to keep it to asking folks about things like split streams or course labeling issues, etc.), you might want to take a look at my parent-graded version of Honors Chem.  You'd have access to all my pre-recorded video lectures, assignments, test, and exams (along with worked answer keys) for 1 year.  You could use all of that material to help to guide you through the Chang textbook.

I agree with lewelma - chemistry labs are NOT going to be a good way for you to learn chemistry. 🙂  Chem labs (unless they are very carefully chosen and a lot of work is put in by the instructor to help students to make theory/lab connections) often make chemistry MORE confusing for students.  What you see happening during a chemical reaction (the "macro" level) is very often NOT what is happening at the atomic/molecular level - the concept of equilibrium is a very typical example of this.  I have complicated feelings about chemistry labs for high school level chemistry. 😉 🙂

If you have any chemistry questions, Not_a_Number, I'd be happy to answer them for you. 🙂

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11 hours ago, Dicentra said:

You are so very wise, lewelma, 

Thanks for the kind words. I've been quite busy over the past 2 years relearning all my physics and chemistry knowledge from 20+ years ago because I'm going to be retraining in environmental geology starting next year when my youngest goes off to uni. Because of this, I am personally aware of how science learning works and how it differs between subjects.  I pay attention to what my brain does so that I can explain *how* to learn better to the students I tutor.

So I was thinking a bit more on Not_a_number's goal of developing intuition in physics and chemistry, and I'm thinking that you can't develop intuition in chemistry like you can in physics.  In physics, you as a human on earth have experienced the forces you are now studying in physics; but in chemistry, you have only experienced the macro world, and that macro world has very little to do with the chemical world, which is why historically chemistry was SO much later to develop as a scientific field than physics.  So when I look around me now, I see forces everywhere. My mechanics and wave knowledge are now used everyday to appreciate the world around me. My EM knowledge is more focused on what I see in my house, or what I read about in the news concerning the grid. Some world stuff, like in earth science, but mostly technology for me. My modern physics knowledge is mostly just textbook with few opportunities to use it in real life, but I do use it to help me in chemistry and to help me understand my older boy when he is talking.  🙂

But for chemistry, I am not exactly developing intuition. I think that is the wrong word. I sometimes can say if I mix these two chemical together I will get xxx. Or if I want to clean xxx, I should use xxx chemical. But I don't actually experience a whole lot of chemistry in my everyday life. It is more of a hidden science I think.  I use it to understand how industrial processes work - so how the aluminum smelter works and why it uses one third of ALL of NZ's power. I can use chemistry to understand why searching for a better battery is so difficult and so important. I even did a massive project on Fracking, where my older boy and myself read the chemical engineering literature to explain why you add each chemical to the well. But these things are not *intuition*. I wonder if intuition is about things you can see and experience, and we don't see and experience chemistry, only the macro scale outcome of the reactions.

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