Leaving That High School Psychology

The Transition From High School


For the last few years, I have taught a Physics course for first year engineers, called Physics 1003. It is an introductory physics course on mechanics, and is calculus based. It is in the first term of the academic year, and, for the majority of the students, it is one of the first courses they ever experience at University. Some years, I have given many of the students their first ever lecture. Naturally, I try to make it a good one. I also try to prepare them for the rest of their University career. This means managing that difficult transition between High School and University.

A quote from Rate My Professors about Physics 1003

Rate My Professors is a site where students can leave anonymous comments about their Professors. There are enormous problems with this site, but it does have occasional gems such as this:

“Energetic lectures, I sleep in a lot of lectures but rarely his. Workload for phys1003 was huge. He makes sure that everyone leaves the high school psychology and gets prepared for uni. Theres a lotta stuff (sic) you need for the course, from online assignments to solving a problem for every lecture. But, he’s very understanding.”


This is one of my favourite comments. It is very perceptive. I’ll work through these comments.

Energetic Lectures

The classes are at 2.35 pm in the afternoon. You will probably already have had a full set of classes or labs in the morning. So we have to have a class where there is plenty going on. Activities will include marking a set problem done by another student, and providing constructive criticism, listening to small lecture chunks of ten minutes or so, and answering clicker questions, including discussions with your neighbours. These are designed to keep you motivated for the classroom period. It will absolutely not be me talking for 75 or 80 minutes. Average attention span for anyone is no more than ten minutes, so we have to mix up the learning activities.

Workload for Phys1003 was huge

The scope of the course is huge (the whole of Newtonian mechanics, dynamics and thermodynamics, plus use of both differential and integral calculus). There’s a lot to do. I’ve put a great deal of thought into which activities are important both for the needs of the course, your needs in the rest of the engineering program, and (most importantly) as a foundation for life-long learning. You won’t stop learning when you get your degree, and you need to be able to educate yourself for continuing professional development and growth. I make no apologies for setting those tasks. I also commit to supporting you when you need help with those tasks.

You will also notice that many of the tasks contribute to your final grade, but none of them has a large contribution, so if you do not get a good mark on an individual piece of work, or question, it does not significantly affect your work. Being able to analyse failure and being able to learn from failure are important skills for any student, and obviously very important for engineers.

High School Psychology

The class has several hundred students in it. I cannot possibly monitor individual performance and police your work habits. You should realise that at University, nobody will nag you to hand in work. You may get a general email reminder. It is your responsibility to deliver the set work on time, in good order and to a high standard. You will also find that you must start to develop your self-study habits as soon as possible. I will give out problem sets and solutions for you to work through, so that you can practice your problem-solving skills. I do not monitor whether you have done them. You have to develop the self-discipline needed to work through these during the term. There will be lots of scheduling conflicts and times with heavy workloads. You have to manage this yourself. Remember that individual professors in your program do not coordinate their assignments with each other. You can certainly ask for an assignment extension, if you reach a point where there are clearly too many things going on. You have to ask me for this.

There’a a Lotta Stuff You Need

Oh, yes. There really is. If you want a degree, in any subject, that’s always true. In this course, it comes down to solving problems using clear methodologies. And that means practice.

But He’s Very Understanding

Yes he is. Really. But, if you need help, you need to ask. Don’t hesitate to ask.