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


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50 minutes ago, Not_a_Number said:

Any suggestions for me?

My experience is that in addition to learning the concepts and applying them by doing a ton of problems, you have to want to find the connections, find the simplicity in the complexity, be driven to thinking about it a whole lot.  Like in the shower, while driving, when you wake up in the middle of the night, in addition to the actual study time. 

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He wanted to start physics at 12, but hadn't taken calculus. So regentrude recommend Knight's College Physics, which he quite liked. But it is a very fat book, so he got throught it all in about three

I completely disagree with this--and I have a degree in biochemistry and worked as a scientist in a lab for 10 years.   Lab work, hands on work, whatever you want to call it, is the LEAST importa

I love this, lewelma. 🙂 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 o

7 minutes ago, Not_a_Number said:

Serious question: how many of the freshman and sophomore are "general" classes? I went to school in Canada, and we basically had NO requirements that made us well-rounded. I just jumped into the math and did that 😛 . I got to what would be a graduate course in the US pretty quick. 

The problem is the math, not the gen eds. You can't do anything in physics without calculus. 
1st semester: they can't take any physics, just chemistry. calc 1.
2nd semester, they can take mechanics and calc 2.
3rd, they can take e&m and calc 3, which is not ideal since it would be better if they already had calc 3 for e&m, but that would delay graduation too much.
4th Modern 1, Eectronics lab, Diff Eq, Math for Physicists

So there are gen eds, but they just fill the schedule until the kids are caught up in math to do upper level physics.

 

Edited by regentrude
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Just now, EKS said:

My experience is that in addition to learning the concepts and applying them by doing a ton of problems, you have to want to find the connections, find the simplicity in the complexity, be driven to thinking about it a whole lot.  Like in the shower, while driving, when you wake up in the middle of the night, in addition to the actual study time. 

This is kind of why I'm posting. My experience has been that I can really help find those connections and those "clear models" for people in math. Just letting kids stew over hard problems doesn't always do the trick. 

I did a LOT of the "thinking about it in the shower" thing when I studied math. And I can say that there were some things I learned really well, and some that I didn't. For some thing, it was too easy to go back to what I already understood well. For other things, I simply didn't know the "right" way to think about it. It felt like wandering around in a fog. 

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1 minute ago, regentrude said:

The problem is the math, not the gen eds. You can't do anything in physics without calculus. 
1st semester: they can't take any physics, just chemistry. calc 1.
2nd semester, they can take mechanics and calc 2.
3rd, they can take e&m and calc 3, which is not ideal since it would be better if they already had calc 3 for e&m, but that would delay graduation too much.
4th Modern 1, Eectronics lab, Diff Eq, Math for Physicists

So there are gen eds, but they just fill the schedule until the kids are caught up in math to do upper level physics.

Ah OK. That's good news for me. I mean, I need a reminder on the later calculuses, but I've taken them and that wouldn't take super long since my background is obviously more than sufficient. 

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I've even taken some differential equations... again, in a pretty half-hearted way, but I did get halfway to an Applied Math degree before deciding that this wasn't compatible with graduating in 3 years. 

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14 minutes ago, Not_a_Number said:

Serious question: how many of the freshman and sophomore are "general" classes? I went to school in Canada, and we basically had NO requirements that made us well-rounded. I just jumped into the math and did that 😛 . I got to what would be a graduate course in the US pretty quick. 

I don't know how much quantum and thermo you need, but my son's physics major looked like this:

Year 1: Fall: Mechanics. Spring: EM

Year 2: Fall: Wave, Relativity. January term: Mechanics 2 (see below*) 

                    Spring: Quantum Mechanics 1, Experimental Physics,

Year 3: Fall: Quantum Mechanics 2, Statistical Physics 1, elective (Quantum Computing)

                         Spring: Quantum Mechanics 3, Statistical Physics 2

The bold ones cascade, so you have to do them in order. So you need somewhere between 2 and 3 years of content that must be done sequentially to have enough to switch to chemistry.  You would also need some statistical physics because it includes all the content on Thermo.  Not sure if it is 1 or 2 classes. 

*I thought that this description for Mechanics 2 was interesting. They are suggesting advanced mechanics is required for quantum mechanics. This is a required 1 month long intensive class (worth a half class) "Mechanics 2: A broad, theoretical treatment of classical mechanics, useful in its own right for treating complex dynamical problems, but essential to understanding the foundations of quantum mechanics and statistical physics. Generalized coordinates, Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formulations, canonical transformations, and Poisson brackets. Applications to continuous media. The relativistic Lagrangian and Maxwell's equations."

--------------

Also, I do believe that all these classes are available for free on EdX. 

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24 minutes ago, Not_a_Number said:

I did a LOT of the "thinking about it in the shower" thing when I studied math. And I can say that there were some things I learned really well, and some that I didn't. For some thing, it was too easy to go back to what I already understood well. For other things, I simply didn't know the "right" way to think about it. It felt like wandering around in a fog. 

I'm talking about in addition to using good resources and having experts to talk to (or taking a class).

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1 minute ago, EKS said:

I'm talking about in addition to using good resources and having experts to talk to (or taking a class).

Where do I find the experts? 😛 I don't want to get another degree, I don't think -- I have far too many projects to take the time for that. 

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6 minutes ago, lewelma said:

Also, I do believe that all these classes are available for free on EdX. 

Hmm, good point. But knowing myself, I will probably need some kicks in the rear to motivate myself. It's possible I'll find some natural motivation, though. 

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1 hour ago, lewelma said:

I don't know how much quantum and thermo you need, but my son's physics major looked like this:

Year 1: Fall: Mechanics. Spring: EM

Year 2: Fall: Wave, Relativity. January term: Mechanics 2 (see below*) 

                    Spring: Quantum Mechanics 1, Experimental Physics,

Year 3: Fall: Quantum Mechanics 2, Statistical Physics 1, elective (Quantum Computing)

                         Spring: Quantum Mechanics 3, Statistical Physics 2

The bold ones cascade, so you have to do them in order. So you need somewhere between 2 and 3 years of content that must be done sequentially to have enough to switch to chemistry.  You would also need some statistical physics because it includes all the content on Thermo.  Not sure if it is 1 or 2 classes. 

*I thought that this description for Mechanics 2 was interesting. They are suggesting advanced mechanics is required for quantum mechanics. This is a required 1 month long intensive class (worth a half class) "Mechanics 2: A broad, theoretical treatment of classical mechanics, useful in its own right for treating complex dynamical problems, but essential to understanding the foundations of quantum mechanics and statistical physics. Generalized coordinates, Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formulations, canonical transformations, and Poisson brackets. Applications to continuous media. The relativistic Lagrangian and Maxwell's equations."

What they call "Mechanics 2" is what in many other places is called "Classical mechanics" or "theoretical mechanics", and yes, covering quantum absolutely requires an understanding of the Hamiltonian formalism. The entire Schroedinger equation is based on the Hamiltonian. And you also need it for Stat Mech.

At your DS' school which is a top selective one, they can rightly expect that all incoming freshmen have enough calculus for intro mechanics in their first semester. At my uni which is a state school, only about half the freshmen even place into calculus 1 for their first semester.

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Just now, regentrude said:

At your DS' school which is a top selective one, they can rightly expect that all incoming freshmen have enough calculus for intro mechanics in their first semester. At my uni which is a state school, only about half the freshmen even place into calculus 1 for their first semester.

And having taught a similar class, I would guess that only a small fraction of those who place into calculus actually know it by the end of the semester 😉

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I wonder, Not_a_number, if you might need to clarify your goals a bit.  If you actually want to be enough of an expert to teach your kids chemistry and physics, you are going to need to have a lot of time to do the work. I don't think there is a shortcut here. But you could also co-learn with your kids, which is what I did. Am I an expert like Regentrude or Dicentra? Definitely NO, but I am good enough to give my kids a firm foundation.  You could also have enthusiasm like 8filltheheart to encourage your kids to pursue their passions by using other experts and resources. 

My goals: I am relearning chemistry and physics in a deeper way in preparation for next year when I start my masters in Environmental Geology.  Because this is an applied field (I want to clean up rivers and soil), I need a broad knowledge base.  I need Chemistry, Physics, Ecology (this one I have!), Geology, and even some Engineering. I need to learn chemistry but not from its physics foundations in quantum mechanics because if I took that approach, I would not have time for all the other stuff I have to learn. 

Basically, you need to be clear on your goals and realistic if they are achievable. Going at chemistry by first doing an undergrad degree in physics could be super fun, but it will take some time and motivation. 🙂

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Just now, lewelma said:

I wonder, Not_a_number, if you might need to clarify your goals a bit.  If you actually want to be enough of an expert to teach your kids chemistry and physics, you are going to need to have a lot of time to do the work. I don't think there is a shortcut here. But you could also co-learn with your kids, which is what I did. Am I an expert like Regentrude or Dicentra? Definitely NO, but I am good enough to give my kids a firm foundation.  You could also have enthusiasm like 8filltheheart to encourage your kids to pursue their passions by using other experts and resources. 

My goals: I am relearning chemistry and physics in a deeper way in preparation for next year when I start my masters in Environmental Geology.  Because this is an applied field (I want to clean up rivers and soil), I need a broad knowledge base.  I need Chemistry, Physics, Ecology (this one I have!), Geology, and even some Engineering. I need to learn chemistry but not from its physics foundations in quantum mechanics because if I took that approach, I would not have time for all the other stuff I have to learn. 

Basically, you need to be clear on your goals and realistic if they are achievable. Going at chemistry by first doing an undergrad degree in physics could be super fun, but it will take some time and motivation. 🙂

Honestly, I'm pretty sure this thread will help clarify my goals! I don't know what I want. And even if I knew what I wanted, I won't have time in the next few years to do it. I have a contract to translate another book from Russian to English. I'm busy teaching my kids. I really want to start working on a math app and accompanying textbook. We might have another kid. 

But I really like gathering information ahead of time, and this is giving me a lot of information that I will be able to synthesize at some point. It's just how my brain works 🙂 . I'm a planner. 

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4 hours ago, Not_a_Number said:
4 hours ago, lewelma said:

You can't learn it linearly. What you need to know now, you won't learn til later.

Why do you HAVE to learn it like that?

Not all college teach chemistry in that order but the programs that finish not start with general chemistry demand a APchem of 4/5, or they did when I applied.

I meet and talked to a friend that got in to one of those programs. He  stated that he know the how and why of the faith statements of chemistry that could be proved with undergrad classes. However he had to know the faith statements and how to use them to get into the program. His better knowledge and understanding of the faith statements didn't help in teaching basic chemistry.

As for the general ed at US college that is because they believe that these classes will teach us to think, to give students a broad knowledge base and fund departments of the college.

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1 minute ago, LadyLemon said:

Not all college teach chemistry in that order but the programs that finish not start with general chemistry demand a APchem of 4/5, or they did when I applied.

I meet and talked to a friend that got in to one of those programs. He  stated that he know the how and why of the faith statements of chemistry that could be proved with undergrad classes. However he had to know the faith statements and how to use them to get into the program. His better knowledge and understanding of the faith statements didn't help in teaching basic chemistry.

As for the general ed at US college that is because they believe that these classes will teach us to think, to give students a broad knowledge base and fund departments of the college.

Yeah, I'm not against general ed. I was just trying to figure out how many actual physics courses there were. I know that without the general ed requirements in Canada, I got a lot more math done. 

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48 minutes ago, Not_a_Number said:

Yeah, I'm not against general ed. I was just trying to figure out how many actual physics courses there were. I know that without the general ed requirements in Canada, I got a lot more math done. 

You would have loved my son's school for math. He has only 4 required math classes for a math major - univariate calc, multivar calc, diff eq and linear algebra. But all of those you can take a test to place out of, which he did. After that, he took two junior-level classes, and then switched to grad- level classes his freshman year. If he thought he could do the work, they would let him take the class. He took one grad class that had 5 prereqs that he did not have. haha. 

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1 minute ago, lewelma said:

You would have loved my son's school for math. He has only 4 required math classes for a math major - univariate calc, multivar calc, diff eq and linear algebra. But all of those you can take a test to place out of, which he did. After that, he took two junior-level classes, and then switched to grad- level classes his freshman year. If he thought he could do the work, they would let him take the class. He took one grad class that had 5 prereqs that he did not have. haha. 

Yeah, I did stuff like this in my college. Honestly, I don't know that I benefited from it -- some things I should have taken later after more exposure! I expect your son is more sensible than I was about his choices 🙂 . 

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1 hour ago, lewelma said:

My goals: I am relearning chemistry and physics in a deeper way in preparation for next year when I start my masters in Environmental Geology.  Because this is an applied field (I want to clean up rivers and soil), I need a broad knowledge base.  I need Chemistry, Physics, Ecology (this one I have!), Geology, and even some Engineering. I need to learn chemistry but not from its physics foundations in quantum mechanics because if I took that approach, I would not have time for all the other stuff I have to learn. 

I use my high school chemistry for the environmental engineering portion of my civil engineering degree program. Engineering geology did use up quite a bit of middle/high school physical geography knowledge.

Where I am currently living, the developers had to clear out a thick layer of soil because of preexisting contamination before building.

e.g.

”The RAP proposes removal of approximately 90,000 cubic yards of contaminated soils contaminated with arsenic, lead, pesticides, trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene would be excavated and disposed and/or reused off site in accordance with applicable requirements to achieve residential or commercial cleanup levels consistent with the planned development”

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44 minutes ago, lewelma said:

Well, Geology sits right on top of them all.  I can't wait to start.  I. just. have. to. Finish. with. homeschooling! 9 months to go.....

Geology is needed for earthquake geotechnical engineering. Have fun (below quoted is something you have experience with)

https://fl-nzgs-media.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/2016/06/Earthquake-Geotechnical-Module-1-Overview-2016.pdf

"geotechnical professionals increasingly rely on computer software to carry out analysis and design including liquefaction assessments, slope stability assessments, foundation design, and advanced numerical modelling using finite element and finite difference methods. the benefits include increased productivity and, when used properly, useful additional insights from parametric studies and rapid prototyping.however, users need to have a sound understanding of the analysis methods being implemented within each software package including the inherent limitations and uncertainties of each, otherwise the results may be misleading and potentially dangerous. the quality and reliability of the outputs directly depends on the quality of the inputs – mainly soil parameters that are intrinsically variable and difficult to measure. uncertainties in both input parameters and output results should be considered by use of parametric and sensitivity studies, and by use of multiple analysis methods or models. it remains the professional responsibility of the user to interpret and validate the results based on expertise and engineering judgement."

 

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On 3/3/2021 at 1:18 PM, lewelma said:

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.

Yes to all! 🙂  Chemistry is the weirdest of the main sciences and the most difficult parts of intro bio and intro physics courses are usually where those subjects interact/cross-over into chemistry (biochemistry and quantum mechanics).  It's like chemistry doesn't WANT to be understood. 😜

On 3/3/2021 at 1:28 PM, lewelma said:

I have Chemistry 10th edition by Chang.  How does it differ from the textbook you linked to above?

Chang's "Chemistry" book is his book written for AP Chemistry students.  "General Chemistry" is his book written for college students (non-major).  The two books are similar but "Chemistry" is a bigger book with more topics covered and a bit more depth in some common topics.  I really like Chang's books for both Honors Chem and AP Chem. 🙂  I think you'll like his clean writing style.

11 hours ago, Not_a_Number said:

I've been meaning to tag you on this thread and totally spaced on your username! So thank you for chiming in. 

I'm no good at all with listening to lectures, whether pre-recorded or not. I just don't enjoy it and don't learn well that way. Do you think that's a better guide than trying to make one's way through a book? 

I have to say that I've found interactive learning the best thing, too... I'm just not sure I'd get that from lectures. 

I think you could slog your way through a textbook without an expert guide but I also think you'd miss a lot of the connections (which, if I'm understanding you, is what you're after).  If students are going to use my pre-recorded lectures properly, it would be as interactive as one could get without having a one-on-one personal chem tutor sitting by their side. 🙂  You scan the chapter in the textbook first and then sit down with the lecture video, lecture handouts (or blank paper) and pen and calculator in hand.  You listen to the recorded lecture, taking notes all the while, and pause the lecture anytime you need to mull something over.  You can also back the lecture up if you need to listen to something again.  After I go over the theory (usually the first half of each lecture), I then work examples.  The student should pause the lecture after I've explained the question, try to work the example themselves, and then un-pause to watch me work it to check their work against mine.  If they got it wrong, pause again to figure out why.  Back up and watch again if needed.  Continue on doing that for each lecture.  I completely agree - just sitting and watching/listening to a lecture on chemistry (or pretty much any science) without interacting like I described above is probably: (a) boring as heck and (b) not going to help the student really LEARN the subject.  Active listening is always going to give better learning than passive listening.

11 hours ago, Not_a_Number said:

@Dicentra: I'm going to quote you from the other thread: 

 

"If 50.0g of hydrogen reacts with 40.0g of oxygen, what mass of water can be produced?

Without knowledge of moles, stoichiometry, limiting reactants, common diatomic elements, and combination reactions, there is no way this problem can be solved.  I can often tell an “intuition” type of student because they will tell me 90.0g of water can be produced – seems logical. 😉 There is no way that this problem can be "intuited" without knowledge of the chemistry concepts involved."

 

That's not the kind of intuition I mean. I mean internalizing the models well enough that they become intuitive. I don't mean "using your intuition from the rest of your life to figure it out." 

One can learn a LOT of formulas without internalizing any mental models at all. I know this from years of teaching math and having had this outcome. That's what I worry about: not forming a useful model no matter how many problems I work.

Ah - gotcha.  You learn the models from learning the theory and making connections between the ideas.  As to how you do that, I think having an expert guide is the most effective and efficient way of achieving that goal.

11 hours ago, regentrude said:

The benefit of lectures in addition to a textbook is that you have an instructor who emphasizes what is important, summarizes the info, addresses common misconceptions. 
Textbooks are huge, and it is not feasible or necessary for a student to learn every detail that is in the book. The instructor's guidance makes the process more efficient.
To get the maximum benefit of lectures, one would have at least skimmed the textbook sections beforehand, take notes during lecture, work through every example alongside the instructor, and then go back, review the notes while working on problems. If you're interested on physics lectures, send me a pm.

Yes, yes, yes. 🙂

8 hours ago, Not_a_Number said:

Why do you HAVE to learn it like that?

Because as Regentrude says below - the "beginning" of chemistry (i.e. the atom) is probably the most complicated and abstract topic in chemistry.  If we were to begin chemistry instruction with quantum mechanics, we'd never be able to teach any chemistry in high school.  Which would be a darn shame. 😉 🙂

8 hours ago, regentrude said:

most of the interesting physics does not allow macro observation; that is possible pretty much only in mechanics. We don't see electric and magnetic fields, and come quantum physics, nothing can be "seen" anymore. 
One could just wait with chemistry and treat it as what it is: an application of quantum physics plus thermodynamics 🙂 Which means, quantum physics and thermo must be understood first. We're kind of doing chemistry backwards, by starting from all the empirical stuff. 

(I think @Dicentra and I had several discussions about that 🙂

Very true - where chemistry intersects physics (E/M, quantum mechanics) is where physics gets weird (but extremely interesting :)).  I was probably just thinking of kinematics when I was thinking of "seeing" physics. 🙂  And yes - we've had some good discussions about this.  I'm just coming up to the 3/4 point in my Honors Chem course with my students and we're doing dynamic equilibrium.  It's finally the point in the course where I can tie together thermodynamics, kinetics, and that idea of most chemical reactions existing in a state of equilibrium (as opposed to having a start/middle/end type of linear progression which is what is "looks" like most reactions are doing).  And this idea starts to explain all kinds of things like solubility, strong/weak acids and bases, percent yield - all things that we did months ago but couldn't really be explained well until now.  It's taken until almost the last quarter of the course for me to be able to make those connections for the students.  And they're pretty abstract connections so it might not even sink in for them right away.  They may need to take another chem course before all the disparate pieces start to come together.

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1 hour ago, lewelma said:

Well, Geology sits right on top of them all.  I can't wait to start.  I. just. have. to. Finish. with. homeschooling! 9 months to go.....

I LOVE geology.  The few spots I had for electives while studying chemistry were filled with geology courses. 🙂  You're going to have such fun!!!

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5 hours ago, Dicentra said:

And they're pretty abstract connections so it might not even sink in for them right away.  They may need to take another chem course before all the disparate pieces start to come together.

See, I kind of don’t want that. I see this effect with math learning all the time — you don’t retain the outer layer of the learning. You just get the stuff that’s reinforced enough times. And that’s not how I teach DD8, because I don’t find it efficient.

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I think that one of the hardest things about the sciences, or at least my favorite of the sciences (biology) is that trying to get started is like trying to eat an oversized sandwich - there's no good way to take the first bite because it's going to be messy and uncomfortable.  In my memory, physics and chemistry were taught somewhat formulaicly because that's all that most of us needed to know to move on to what we were really interested in.  To have a true understanding of all of the underlying material would be time-prohibitive.  For a couple of examples, when students learn about photosynthesis the first thing that they learn is about an electron getting excited and then energy being harvested to be used to generate a proton gradient, then the electron becomes re-excited and is used to reduce NADP+ to NADPH.  The reduction is easily enough explained, although redox reactions are chemistry, but the high-energy electron falling to a lower energy state is much more of a physics problem.  At times I've asked some physicist friends if they could explain it better because almost every biology book uses the same words and they said that it would take a lot more physics knowledge than I'd have from my 2 semesters of college physics.  But, nobody has enough time to take 2 or more years of physics before they learn about something as basic as photosynthesis...so we just give students a hand-waving explanation and tell them that if that's what piques their interest, take more physics.  But, students are able to get a decent understanding of the rest of the process - proton gradients, the Calvin cycle - without more phyics.

The same seems to be true of the metaphase checkpoint.  Chromosomes line up and there seems to be some mechanism that makes sure that the chromosomes are attached to spindle fibers on both sides.  The last time I read about it, the hypothesis seemed to be some sort of mechanism that sensed tension, which is physics-y, although it's possible that it's somehow sensed through somehow counting proteins bound to the centromere - there seem to be counting mechanisms in telomere maintence, too.  

The only way that I ever found to learn new information was to pick a starting point and then read or listen to lectures, but either way I had to do it with pencil in hand.  Once I had a bunch of information, I'd need to go back and organize it somehow.  Sometimes I'd use categories (there seem to be 4 kinds of transport) and sometimes I'd use flowcharts (let's lay out all of the steps that occur in protein synthesis).  Once I'd done that with discrete topics, I'd go back and relate them to each other.  I'd make those bubble diagrams where I'd have topic names linked to other topic names with arrows, and then I'd have a full corresponding page of notes for each topic.  I actually think that what I bring to my students is a way to help them organize the material, because in biology the volume of content is like drinking from a firehose.  We have a running joke in class - we've talked about 4 ways...I bet you can predict what's going to happen next.  Yes, I'm going to make a table! 🙂   I actually had one student tell me that what they didn't like about biology was that they didn't feel like they could ever completely master something.  They could easily master what they needed to know for my class, but there was always another level that they didn't know.  But, in the end some of it is actually unknown so it's nothing specific to that student.  And, even for the parts that are known, nobody knows all of them.  I mean, somebody who knows and understands what is known about chromatin modifications has put in years of work and knows that there is still a ton unknown.  They would probably have specialized in chromatin modifications as they relate to transcription, DNA repair, telomeres, or centromeres and they might be conversant on the other topics but would still need to do work if they had to teach those topics at an upper undergrad level or if their research drifted in those directions. 

It seems to me that the biggest thing that we got from the introductory classes was the same thing that we were supposed to get from the 30+ seminars that we were expected to attend each year of grad school - an vague knowledge that those other topics existed so that if we could relate our research to them, we knew that they were there.  And, as a teacher, those readings and seminars about topics that I didn't really care enough about to understand in detail have been invaluable.  They give me interesting application 'hooks' for new topics, and they give me ideas for possible topics in the seminar class that I teach.  But,  then have to go back and do a lot of work to guide discussion around them.  I can teach a lot of things off the top of my head, but the seminar class involves a lot of research and re-reading because there's just too much - I can't keep something that I last worked with 2 years ago in my head, and there's not time for a review of all topics every few months.  

 

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3 minutes ago, Clemsondana said:

The only way that I ever found to learn new information was to pick a starting point and then read or listen to lectures, but either way I had to do it with pencil in hand.  Once I had a bunch of information, I'd need to go back and organize it somehow.

I’m really no good at listening to lectures, but I do like reading books. But I think the benefit of expert guidance is that someone organizes it for you. 

When I think about the times I’ve learned math best it has been in the following situations:

a) My math teacher grandma taught me systematically. So that’s expert guidance.

b) I spent a LOT of time using the basic material to solve hard questions that then cemented the more basic knowledge.

c) I saw the same material over and over again until it was intuitive.

I feel like b) and c) were both effective enough but terribly inefficient. I think a) is good, but requires a teacher who is very engaged with both one’s understanding of the concepts and with the concepts themselves.

I wonder if there is such a thing as problems one can work through for sciences to start off less deeply and work deeper in? I really like problems for learning, because they force me to engage. But they have to be the right problems, because otherwise one can easily focus on the wrong thing. At least, that’s the case in math. I’m definitely extrapolating here, and maybe that’s all wrong. (I know programming has been similar for me, but that’s very mathy.)

I clearly don’t know exactly what I want, lol. I’ve gotten much more mindful of how to teach math effectively, and that has made me wonder about other subjects, I guess. Some of the failures of math teaching that I try to avoid are very much like my own interactions with certain science subjects. Like, it never made a coherent SUBJECT in my head. It was just a bunch of disjointed... stuff. And I’m sure that just like with math, if I’d continued with the sequence, it would have reinforced the earlier concepts... but I do wonder if that’s the efficient way to do it.

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35 minutes ago, Not_a_Number said:

 

I clearly don’t know exactly what I want, lol. I’ve gotten much more mindful of how to teach math effectively, and that has made me wonder about other subjects, I guess. Some of the failures of math teaching that I try to avoid are very much like my own interactions with certain science subjects. Like, it never made a coherent SUBJECT in my head. It was just a bunch of disjointed... stuff. And I’m sure that just like with math, if I’d continued with the sequence, it would have reinforced the earlier concepts... but I do wonder if that’s the efficient way to do it.

Biology is a little weird because other than genetics there aren't many problems that students can answer early on.  But, I do feel like it's often taught as a disjointed set of facts.  What I try to do is turn it into stories.  What needs to happen to make a protein?  Well, first the cell needs to know what protein to make.  Then it needs to make the mRNA that will encode the protein.  How does it know which mRNA to make, and what is the process for transcribing it?  It's very logical if students think of it that way.  But, there is still a ton of information to know and ultimately to link it together into something that sticks is a lot of work.  Like, I've re-learned the basics of the immune system many times but have never committed it to long-term memory.  I could, if I was willing to put in the work.  I think the upcoming year's bio 2 class is likely to have an interest in some details of the immune system so we may spend a few weeks on it, and if we do then this may be the year that I finally make the good chart and spend enough time with it that it stays put in my brain.  But, I'm not sure that will be enough.  The cell parts and DNA-related material...I spent a year of undergrad research, 5 years of grad school, and 2-3 years of postdoc marinating in different parts of that material.  A few weeks of prep are likely to put me in better shape than I was in before, and maybe I'll make a good set of notes that I can keep going back to, which will be useful. In my experience, textbooks aren't good at turning material into a story.  I credit the professor who taught metabolism in college - one day he was lecturing and said for us to put our pencils down and listen and think...what would logically make sense if you had too much of a particular product?  Where would you shut it down?  Great...and what would you use?  And that's what cells do...quit memorizing and start thinking (although it's really 'now that you've memorized this, you can think about it).  It's what I try to do with material as I learn it because we think in stories, flowcharts, and comparisons but stink at memorizing random stuff.  

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8 hours ago, Not_a_Number said:

See, I kind of don’t want that. I see this effect with math learning all the time — you don’t retain the outer layer of the learning. You just get the stuff that’s reinforced enough times. And that’s not how I teach DD8, because I don’t find it efficient.

I did say "may need to take another course". 🙂  It's certainly possible that a student will "get" all the connections the first time around.  The best way to have the greatest possibility of that happening in chemistry is have an expert guide along with well written materials (and for the student to be well into the formal operational stage of reasoning - that's VITAL for understanding the abstract nature of chemistry).  If the written materials (whether that be a traditional textbook or something else) contained explanations of all the connections to be made between concepts, then I suppose you wouldn't need the expert guide.  I've not yet come across any one resource, though, that I felt had that.  If there was, I suppose it would put me out of a job. 😉

4 hours ago, Not_a_Number said:

I’m really no good at listening to lectures, but I do like reading books. But I think the benefit of expert guidance is that someone organizes it for you. 

When I think about the times I’ve learned math best it has been in the following situations:

a) My math teacher grandma taught me systematically. So that’s expert guidance.

b) I spent a LOT of time using the basic material to solve hard questions that then cemented the more basic knowledge.

c) I saw the same material over and over again until it was intuitive.

I feel like b) and c) were both effective enough but terribly inefficient. I think a) is good, but requires a teacher who is very engaged with both one’s understanding of the concepts and with the concepts themselves.

I wonder if there is such a thing as problems one can work through for sciences to start off less deeply and work deeper in? I really like problems for learning, because they force me to engage. But they have to be the right problems, because otherwise one can easily focus on the wrong thing. At least, that’s the case in math. I’m definitely extrapolating here, and maybe that’s all wrong. (I know programming has been similar for me, but that’s very mathy.)

I clearly don’t know exactly what I want, lol. I’ve gotten much more mindful of how to teach math effectively, and that has made me wonder about other subjects, I guess. Some of the failures of math teaching that I try to avoid are very much like my own interactions with certain science subjects. Like, it never made a coherent SUBJECT in my head. It was just a bunch of disjointed... stuff. And I’m sure that just like with math, if I’d continued with the sequence, it would have reinforced the earlier concepts... but I do wonder if that’s the efficient way to do it.

To the bold - not in chemistry (in my opinion :)).  I think you might be looking for something that doesn't exist. 🙂  You can't learn chemistry by solely doing problems - there's too much non-math content that needs to be learned before you can begin the mathematical aspects of chemistry.  If by "problems", you're including non-math questions, then I think you're talking about learning a subject through Socratic questioning.  You absolutely need an expert guide to learn by that method.  I think that's probably the method your grandmother used to teach you math, yes?  And the method you're using with your daughter?  It's possible to teach chemistry exclusively through Socratic questioning but because it's not time-effective or feasible for use with a whole classroom of students (who are all at different levels and stages), I don't know of a curriculum or resource that's been developed for purchase that would do that.  You would need to hire a tutor (à la the kind of tutor that wealthy families would have hired for their sons to be taught at home - an expert in the subject who would be dedicated to teaching you one-on-one). 🙂

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8 minutes ago, Dicentra said:

To the bold - not in chemistry (in my opinion :)).  I think you might be looking for something that doesn't exist. 🙂  You can't learn chemistry by solely doing problems - there's too much non-math content that needs to be learned before you can begin the mathematical aspects of chemistry.  If by "problems", you're including non-math questions, then I think you're talking about learning a subject through Socratic questioning. 

I am including non-math questions. I would also guess that your definition of what is a “math question” is narrower than mine, though.

 

9 minutes ago, Dicentra said:

You absolutely need an expert guide to learn by that method.  I think that's probably the method your grandmother used to teach you math, yes?  And the method you're using with your daughter?

Yes, I do that. Although I’ve actually been relatively successful at adapting that for whole classrooms. UT Austin had a whole Moore Method (which has been renamed since Moore was apparently an appalling man) thing about it.

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1 minute ago, Not_a_Number said:

I am including non-math questions. I would also guess that your definition of what is a “math question” is narrower than mine, though.

 

Yes, I do that. Although I’ve actually been relatively successful at adapting that for whole classrooms. UT Austin had a whole Moore Method (which has been renamed since Moore was apparently an appalling man) thing about it.

I definitely use some Socratic questioning when teaching. 🙂  When I was going through my ed courses to become a teacher, there was a lot of interest and talk about using the discovery method and Socratic questioning to teach chemistry as opposed to the "sage on the stage" method of traditional lectures.  I think an experienced teacher will use a multitude of methods depending on the topic, time constraints, and the students they have in front of them.

Curious - what's your definition of a "math question"?  Just wondering how your definition differs from what you think mine is. 🙂

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23 minutes ago, Dicentra said:

I definitely use some Socratic questioning when teaching. 🙂  When I was going through my ed courses to become a teacher, there was a lot of interest and talk about using the discovery method and Socratic questioning to teach chemistry as opposed to the "sage on the stage" method of traditional lectures.  I think an experienced teacher will use a multitude of methods depending on the topic, time constraints, and the students they have in front of them.

I agree there! 🙂 

 

23 minutes ago, Dicentra said:

Curious - what's your definition of a "math question"?  Just wondering how your definition differs from what you think mine is. 🙂

I'm not sure I can come up with a straightforward definition! Can you? I'm curious what yours would be. 

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1 hour ago, Not_a_Number said:

I agree there! 🙂 

 

I'm not sure I can come up with a straightforward definition! Can you? I'm curious what yours would be. 

I'm more curious what your definition is - or what you thought mine is. 🙂  I'm only a chemist, not a mathematician.  Your definition (or thoughts on a definition) will probably be far more illuminating than mine would be. 🙂

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6 minutes ago, Dicentra said:

I'm more curious what your definition is - or what you thought mine is. 🙂  I'm only a chemist, not a mathematician.  Your definition (or thoughts on a definition) will probably be far more illuminating than mine would be. 🙂

I would guess that you think a math problem (at least in the context of chemistry) involves arithmetic or a simple equation involving algebra. But I'd love to know if I'm correct or not. I may have vastly oversimplified your mental model, and if I have, I apologize! 

I think of a math problem as anything you can do a in a closed logical system without any observations, basically. I've been messing with Olympiad combinatorics questions recently, since I've been teaching a Zoom class on them, and here's a representative question:

 

A mail carrier delivers mail to the nineteen houses on the east side of Elm Street. The carrier notes that no two adjacent houses ever get mail on the same day, but that there are never more than two houses in a row that get no mail on the same day. How many different patterns of mail delivery are possible? 

 

So, that's a math problem, but there are very few numbers in it. That's pretty typical. 

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I would have considered that a math problem.  When I think of sections of science being non-mathy, it's things that you just need to learn, like naming conventions in chemistry (or biology for that matter...so many sugars..).  At one time I could trace the path of every electron in a glucose molecule and tell you where it went during glycolysis.  I don't remember that level of detail now, but what I do remember is that the process is so exactly proscribed that it is possible to know where every single hydrogen goes (and, there's also an organism that is like that in development - the fate of every single cell is known, and the final organism always as the same number of cells!).  I remember being overwhelmed at my first academic conference because I was listening to seminars and trying to remember what all of these proteins did and what the names were in the different species...it takes ages to make it so thoroughly known that you can have a conversation about it.  It's knowing concepts like why ice expands when most other things shrink.  Some of them are simple and some blow your mind and are completely counterintuitive, but you can't talk about any of it without knowing all the stuff.  I think to develop any intuition about it, you just have to know massive amounts of stuff to understand the hows and whys and exceptions.  And, sorry @Dicentra and @regentrude that I keep going with bio concepts that I'm thinking apply to the other sciences...my memories of physics and chemistry are too fuzzy to be productive because at this point I mostly remember the bits related to biology. 

Physics and chemistry were much more mathy, by any definition, in that they had problems that could be solved, although that wasn't the only thing that we did.  In bio we couldn't do a whole lot for a couple of years.  Then they started putting data in front of us and asking us to interpret it, or asking what the best way to figure out the role of protein X was.  

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Here is a 'mathy' type question my son had last year on his exam. It requires problem solving like your question did.

Unknown W is a straight-chain organic molecule with the molecular formula C4H6OCl2.// Unknown W shows the following properties and reactions. 1) it does not exist as enantiomers. 2) it produces steamy fumes with water. 3) it reacts with excess of ammonia to form product X. Product X turns damp litmus paper blue. // Product X undergoes acidic hydrolysis to produce product Y. Bubbles are released when product Y reacts with sodium carbonate solution. //Draw the structural formulae for the organic molecules W, X, Y. 

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Here is my son's research report on Plastics. The goals was to understand the chemistry behind the different kinds, how they were produced, how they can be improved, how they can be recycled, etc. He did another one on Soap vs Detergent, and my older boy did one on Fracking which was way more complex. Kind of long, but I thought it might give you a feel for what is possible that is not in a standard high school program in the USA.

 

deleted. 🙂

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22 minutes ago, Clemsondana said:

At one time I could trace the path of every electron in a glucose molecule and tell you where it went during glycolysis. 

Once I thought I would like to do this with a molecular model kit, but they're expensive.

I got one and it came with enough material, barely, to make one glucose molecule, which has been sitting on my bookshelf for almost a year. I'm not sure that I stuck it together correctly.

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3 hours ago, Not_a_Number said:

I would guess that you think a math problem (at least in the context of chemistry) involves arithmetic or a simple equation involving algebra. But I'd love to know if I'm correct or not. I may have vastly oversimplified your mental model, and if I have, I apologize! 

I think of a math problem as anything you can do a in a closed logical system without any observations, basically. I've been messing with Olympiad combinatorics questions recently, since I've been teaching a Zoom class on them, and here's a representative question:

 

A mail carrier delivers mail to the nineteen houses on the east side of Elm Street. The carrier notes that no two adjacent houses ever get mail on the same day, but that there are never more than two houses in a row that get no mail on the same day. How many different patterns of mail delivery are possible? 

 

So, that's a math problem, but there are very few numbers in it. That's pretty typical. 

Ah - I understand. 🙂

Let me ask you this - how do you feel about chemistry as a discipline?  How do you feel about it as a subject to learn?

1 hour ago, Clemsondana said:

I would have considered that a math problem.  When I think of sections of science being non-mathy, it's things that you just need to learn, like naming conventions in chemistry (or biology for that matter...so many sugars..).  At one time I could trace the path of every electron in a glucose molecule and tell you where it went during glycolysis.  I don't remember that level of detail now, but what I do remember is that the process is so exactly proscribed that it is possible to know where every single hydrogen goes (and, there's also an organism that is like that in development - the fate of every single cell is known, and the final organism always as the same number of cells!).  I remember being overwhelmed at my first academic conference because I was listening to seminars and trying to remember what all of these proteins did and what the names were in the different species...it takes ages to make it so thoroughly known that you can have a conversation about it.  It's knowing concepts like why ice expands when most other things shrink.  Some of them are simple and some blow your mind and are completely counterintuitive, but you can't talk about any of it without knowing all the stuff.  I think to develop any intuition about it, you just have to know massive amounts of stuff to understand the hows and whys and exceptions.  And, sorry @Dicentra and @regentrude that I keep going with bio concepts that I'm thinking apply to the other sciences...my memories of physics and chemistry are too fuzzy to be productive because at this point I mostly remember the bits related to biology. 

Physics and chemistry were much more mathy, by any definition, in that they had problems that could be solved, although that wasn't the only thing that we did.  In bio we couldn't do a whole lot for a couple of years.  Then they started putting data in front of us and asking us to interpret it, or asking what the best way to figure out the role of protein X was.  

But they're all related - that's one of the most beautiful parts of science! 🙂  I love that we have a biologist, a chemist, a physicist, and some geologists and engineers all coming together to discuss science and science education.  It makes my brain so very, very happy. 🙂

45 minutes ago, lewelma said:

Here is a 'mathy' type question my son had last year on his exam. It requires problem solving like your question did.

Unknown W is a straight-chain organic molecule with the molecular formula C4H6OCl2.// Unknown W shows the following properties and reactions. 1) it does not exist as enantiomers. 2) it produces steamy fumes with water. 3) it reacts with excess of ammonia to form product X. Product X turns damp litmus paper blue. // Product X undergoes acidic hydrolysis to produce product Y. Bubbles are released when product Y reacts with sodium carbonate solution. //Draw the structural formulae for the organic molecules W, X, Y. 

I. LOVE. THIS. QUESTION. 🙂  I did a quick think and a quick sketch and I think I have the identities for W, X, and Y.

W must be an acid chloride:

image.thumb.png.71d4201904fb4c6a2b9f2067ad5c2fe6.png

X would be an amide:

image.thumb.png.9b55b6c409a7d928f0878c77fa5b42b0.png

And Y would be the carboxylic acid:

image.thumb.png.bd452b156bb4acd0a20ebdf328875ea8.png

Organic chemistry is such a beautiful, beautiful subject.  It's just all intricate little puzzles to solve. 🙂

(I hope I'm right on the identities of the molecules.  I'll need to eat my hat if I'm not. ;))

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1 hour ago, Dicentra said:

Organic chemistry is such a beautiful, beautiful subject.  It's just all intricate little puzzles to solve. 

🙂

We LOVED orgo. So much fun!

Have you ever looked at the NZ national chemistry exams?  They are very high end. There are 3 exams taken in a 3 hour period - equilibrium, thermo, orgo. To get a high grade, students typically take only 2 so they get 1.5 hours per exam. When you look at what is required for full points for any essay questions you will see why!  2020 exam answers are not yet posted.

https://www.nzqa.govt.nz/ncea/assessment/search.do?query=Chemistry&view=exams&level=03

very detailed answers are here (called assessment schedules)

https://www.nzqa.govt.nz/ncea/assessment/search.do?query=Chemistry&view=reports&level=03

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1 hour ago, Dicentra said:

 I love that we have a biologist, a chemist, a physicist, and some geologists and engineers all coming together to discuss science and science education.  It makes my brain so very, very happy. 

🙂

I was thinking the same thing! My PhD is in Biology, but I am retraining in Geology so am becoming b.r.o.a.d.e.r.  So much science to learn!

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2 hours ago, Dicentra said:

Ah - I understand. 🙂

Let me ask you this - how do you feel about chemistry as a discipline?  How do you feel about it as a subject to learn?

I don’t know it. I don’t feel much of anything. I’m interested in learning it and how to do so effectively. 

I’m really not sure that my opinion as an ignorant person is relevant. 

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3 hours ago, Clemsondana said:

I would have considered that a math problem.  When I think of sections of science being non-mathy, it's things that you just need to learn, like naming conventions in chemistry (or biology for that matter...so many sugars..).

Well, of course it’s a math problem. It’s from a math contest. The point is that you can construct models for lots of things, though. 

Anyway, I’ve certainly internalized plenty of non-rigorous stuff over the last decade... it just hasn’t been in school subjects. I’m good at synthesizing information in general.

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1 hour ago, lewelma said:

We LOVED orgo. So much fun!

Have you ever looked at the NZ national chemistry exams?  They are very high end. There are 3 exams taken in a 3 hour period - equilibrium, thermo, orgo. To get a high grade, students typically take only 2 so they get 1.5 hours per exam. When you look at what is required for full points for any essay questions you will see why!  2020 exam answers are not yet posted.

https://www.nzqa.govt.nz/ncea/assessment/search.do?query=Chemistry&view=exams&level=03

very detailed answers are here (called assessment schedules)

https://www.nzqa.govt.nz/ncea/assessment/search.do?query=Chemistry&view=reports&level=03

Thank you for the links, lewelma!!  There are some fantastic questions on those exams - I would love to be teaching a course that preps students for those!!

1 hour ago, lewelma said:

I was thinking the same thing! My PhD is in Biology, but I am retraining in Geology so am becoming b.r.o.a.d.e.r.  So much science to learn!

I've been digging into botany lately.  And the chemistry of art compounds.  SO MUCH TO LEARN!!!! 😄

9 minutes ago, Not_a_Number said:

I don’t know it. I don’t feel much of anything. I’m interested in learning it and how to do so effectively. 

I’m really not sure that my opinion as an ignorant person is relevant. 

It is relevant - at least, I think it is. 🙂  As a learner, it's always important to understand why we're learning something and how we feel about learning it.

So if I'm understanding you correctly, you want the most effective and efficient way to learn chemistry and physics that will give you enough of a background to teach those subjects to your daughter.  You dislike learning by watching (even actively watching) lecture videos.  You prefer to learn by working problems.  You prefer to learn by reading.  You prefer to learn through Socratic questioning by an expert.  If I put all of that together, you're best bet is to take a good intro textbook for the subject, read each chapter and have someone assist in guiding you through the materials, and then work all the problems at the end of each chapter to reinforce the learning and to help you to internalize the material.  The challenge questions at the end of the chapters in Chang "General Chemistry" are very good for helping the student to make connections.  If you want the expert guide to go along with the textbook, you'll need to hire a chemistry tutor.  You can do the same with a good intro physics textbook and a physics tutor.  That, to me, would be the most effective and efficient way for you to go about it within the guidelines of how you like to learn. 🙂

What do you think of that idea?

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1 hour ago, Dicentra said:

Thank you for the links, lewelma!!  There are some fantastic questions on those exams - I would love to be teaching a course that preps students for those!!

Well, you are making me feel good!  I did think that they ask really good questions and expect a high level of knowledge, but it is nice to have you confirm my impression. These questions have challenged both me and my children and we are no slackards. Interesting that I've gotten both my kids through these exams at the 'excellence' level, but I still don't feel like I totally have it.  I just need to review, review, review. 

And now it is time for the next textbook! What do you recommend?

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Not_a_number, one of the things that I do sometimes is start with well-designed, high-level exams.  I get the questions, get a feel for where I am headed, and then try to work to answer the different questions with any resources I have available. It might take me 10 hours to be able to answer a high level question, but it makes me feel like I am headed somewhere rather than just learning distinct little bits in a subject like chemistry. It helps to make a cohesive whole. This approach requires a basic background in chem that you probably have -- how is an atom structure, how does that affect bonding, how is the periodic table organized, etc. 

So for redox, the question I had is below. My goal was to build understanding with the full big picture question in front of me. Perhaps this would help you to make sure you see the forest and not just the trees. 

-------

This was a closed book test my son took that was about 4 hours long. (There is a diagram that is not copying in....) An electrochemical cell is set up using a platinum and copper electrodes and dilute solutions of potassium dichromate and copper nitrate. As the reaction proceeds the orange solution becomes green and the blue solution deepens in colour. One electrode becomes thinner. If a voltmeter is connected to the wires a voltage is recorded. Electrolytic Two carbon electrodes are inserted into an aqueous solution of copper bromide. The electrodes are joined by wires to a battery As the reaction proceeds, the green blue solution fades and a reddish orange liquid is seen at one electrode and the other electrode gets coated in an orange/brown solid. Write a report explaining why the reaction in the electrolytic cell is non-spontaneous and requires energy to be supplied, whereas the reaction in the electrochemical cell is spontaneous.

In your report: • link observations to species involved in the reactions • identify the oxidant and the reductant as well as the oxidation and reduction reactions and justify these by referring to oxidation number changes and loss or gain of electrons • write balanced half and full oxidation-reduction equations • elaborate on the oxidation-reduction processes. Your answer should include links between observations, equations and calculations • calculate cell potentials and compare relative strength of oxidants using data provided to predict spontaneity of reaction 

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7 hours ago, Dicentra said:

It is relevant - at least, I think it is. 🙂  As a learner, it's always important to understand why we're learning something and how we feel about learning it.

You're probably right about that! Thanks for helping me brainstorm. 

 

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So if I'm understanding you correctly, you want the most effective and efficient way to learn chemistry and physics that will give you enough of a background to teach those subjects to your daughter.

Honestly, it's partially for that and partially that I'd like to know them. I'm very science-minded and the fact that I don't know these things is just unfortunate and limiting. 

 

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You dislike learning by watching (even actively watching) lecture videos.

I'm not writing off lectures, exactly. They just don't feel motivating to me. It's possible that lectures fit in somewhere in my learning, though. 

 

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You prefer to learn by working problems.

That, definitely. 

 

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You prefer to learn by reading.  You prefer to learn through Socratic questioning by an expert.

I prefer to TEACH through Socratic questioning by me, lol. I haven't been taught in this way as an adult. I think it's an excellent model if one can find an expert who is going to be patient with one's level of understanding and also have insights about how to communicate ideas. However, I'm not sure I'd know how to find such an expert. I haven't found that most math tutors are like that, so I don't expect that it's easy to find in other areas, either. And unlike in math, I'd have no idea how to check someone's expertise. 

 

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If I put all of that together, you're best bet is to take a good intro textbook for the subject, read each chapter and have someone assist in guiding you through the materials, and then work all the problems at the end of each chapter to reinforce the learning and to help you to internalize the material.  The challenge questions at the end of the chapters in Chang "General Chemistry" are very good for helping the student to make connections.  If you want the expert guide to go along with the textbook, you'll need to hire a chemistry tutor.  You can do the same with a good intro physics textbook and a physics tutor.  That, to me, would be the most effective and efficient way for you to go about it within the guidelines of how you like to learn. 🙂

What do you think of that idea?

I think it might be the right idea if I can't think of anything else. However, having spent a lot of time teaching math, I'm deeply skeptical of the material in a textbook being arranged in the order that helps the student most -- that's not been true for any math textbook I've seen. At least in math textbooks, I find that there's more of an emphasis on linear, logical ordering than attention to how to have the kids build up intuitions and then organize their thinking. I can probably organize my own thinking using a textbook if need be, but I worry about the feeling of "wandering around in a fog" that I remember having in math classes where I didn't really fully understand the material. 

I will also admit to not loving the idea of a tutor as an adult. I'm used to not being told what to do anymore, you know? 😉 I will grant that this is a juvenile reason for concern, but I do feel it. And looking back, the things I've learned back I've mostly taught myself -- I've been autodidactic for quite a long time. 

 

6 hours ago, lewelma said:

Not_a_number, one of the things that I do sometimes is start with well-designed, high-level exams.  I get the questions, get a feel for where I am headed, and then try to work to answer the different questions with any resources I have available. It might take me 10 hours to be able to answer a high level question, but it makes me feel like I am headed somewhere rather than just learning distinct little bits in a subject like chemistry. It helps to make a cohesive whole. This approach requires a basic background in chem that you probably have -- how is an atom structure, how does that affect bonding, how is the periodic table organized, etc. 

Hmmmmmm. OK, that is an interesting idea. I do have a basic background in chemistry, although even that needs refreshing... but I've certainly learned all these things at some point and even the bits I've forgotten will feel familiar if I look them up. 

What would be the right level to start with if one was going to do something like that? I think a truly high level question would be overwhelming starting from as little as I know. On the other hand, I could maybe just Google things or look them up in a textbook... still, I might like it to take less than a month to figure out 😉 . 

This is closer to how I've learned things I've learned well in my life, although looking back, it also wasn't EFFICIENT. On the other hand, it provided internal motivation, an overview of the subject, and it stuck. 

Edited by Not_a_Number
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6 hours ago, Not_a_Number said:

What would be the right level to start with if one was going to do something like that?

Well you could start with the exams I posted above. Get the textbook Dicentra recommended and work backwards by hunting down what you need to answer the questions. 

But you can also do this for bigger questions in chemistry. Go figure out how fracking works. This was a major undertaking for me and brought together all sorts of chemistry content into a holistic understanding. For chemistry I have also done batteries, soap/detergent, and plastics. You could get a different question for each of the different areas of chemistry. Batteries is Redox. Soap and plastics is organic. Fracking is mostly precipitation (but way way more complex because of the varying pressure as you go down). Ocean acidification is Acid/Base. If you want to learn on your own by solving problems, these are big problems. You could do lots of little problems (like the organic one I gave above), but you are unlikely to build a holistic understanding on the first go.

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