Ah, semester has started, and with it comes the grind of studying for the big test, where callow highschoolers finally get to see if they can make it in the big leagues.
Here we see them in lecture:
Yes, football players go to lectures.
About football, as well as whatever other subjects they are taking.
The coach gets up there, talks about football and shit, and they all listen, and nod, and maybe take some notes, and check their cool pics on facebook, and text their friends, and nap… afterwards they go their separate ways back to their rooms and vegetate.
Then, y’know, they have a test, a practicum we’d call it, where they go out and do some football, show what they can do, properly proctored of course.
If they’re real swots, maybe they read the “playbook” the night before, or at least the parts they think will come up in the game, you know, try to figure out what “plays” the coach will call on them to show them during the test.
I mean there are way more plays in the lectures and book than could actually show up during the game, so focus on the ones that coach is likely to actually call.
But that is more or less what many physics students think they can do for a 30-45 lecture physics class – show up to lectures, take some notes, maybe read things over the night before, and then they are surprised and angry when they do badly in the test.
Now think about what football players actually do as part of their preparation to play.
First of all, they have to have general physical fitness – by itself that is not sufficient to play good football, but it is necessary. They have to have strength, speed, endurance, co-ordination, as a minimum. For some positions you need other general physical skills like catching or kicking.
For physics, the equivalent is mathematics – you need the mathematical training to begin doing physics, your arithmetic, algebra, geometry and calculus. You may also need other mathematical skills, like statistics or group theory, depending on what sort of physics you end up doing.
But, sitting through lectures and reading the book will still not let you play football at the college level, even if your general maths fitness level is excellent.
You need to workout on your own, do homework where you practise your skills; you also need labs, where you run through the plays – actually doing the physics rather than hearing about it and reading about it.
But even that is not enough – you need to get some fellow physicists together and run through elements of the plays both with someone guiding you in structured sessions (coach, assistant, other player), and by getting some friends together and working through things together on your own.
To really do well though, even that is not enough, you have to like football, and incorporate it into your life: watch football, watch other college games, watch the pro football games, play football video games, and talk football with your friends.
Analyse how others play and find their errors, and what they do well.
Then you will do well in physics.
Seriously: we will no more do better educating physicists by changing lecture pedagogy than the football team would improve by having players break into small group discussion sessions during team meetings – not that that doesn’t help, a little bit, rather the main problems are the other off the field issues.
To do well you need the fitness – the mathematics to apply to physics; you need the repetition of homework, working through the concepts and tasks; you need the labs, where you actually do physics; you need to do work beyond the minimum assigned, where you set yourself tasks; most of all you need to interact with the other players, where you talk over the lecture, go over the book interactively, talk about the homework problems, the tests, the labs, and what else is going on in physics in the world.
The lecture provides the framework, it outlines the playbook, shows you some examples of what you are going to face, discusses the general concept and coaching philosophy – but it is not the primary means for delivering the detailed knowledge needed to actually do physics, to pass the test, that comes from repetition, hard work, and learning.