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A-level physics without maths A-level

Discussion in 'Science' started by robyn147, Sep 14, 2011.

  1. I've posted this on maths as well. I tutor a bright boy who lacks confidence. He got A* in physics and an A in maths at GCSE. He is doing 3 sciences and maths at A-level and would like to do physics at university. However, he says he finds maths too hard (after a week) and wants to drop it. Thing is - he's doing physics which has a lot of maths in it.
    Is it sensible to do physics without maths? Do universities expect a physicist to have maths A-level? (I think I know the answer). Any advice would be welcome.
     
  2. Anonymous

    Anonymous New commenter

    I've posted this on maths as well. I tutor a bright boy who lacks confidence. He got A* in physics and an A in maths at GCSE. He is doing 3 sciences and maths at A-level and would like to do physics at university. However, he says he finds maths too hard (after a week) and wants to drop it. Thing is - he's doing physics which has a lot of maths in it.
    Is it sensible to do physics without maths? Do universities expect a physicist to have maths A-level? (I think I know the answer). Any advice would be welcome.
     
  3. Most physics students find maths helpful and interesting, and it usually helps to clarify their understanding. Some physics teachers do a lot of "explaining" via mathematical derivations and illustrations.
    However, a few years ago I had a group in which 3 students gained A at A2: one did Double Maths, one did Single Maths, one only had GCSE Maths - she went on to Cambridge to read Science. Things may have changed, but don't rely on anecdote and expectation.
     
  4. TCSC47

    TCSC47 Lead commenter

    I have taught physics A level to students who did not take A level maths but it was not very successfull. Whilst possible, I certainly don't think it is sensible.
    Maths is the language of science (and other things of course!) so the student who resists communicating in maths has to be taught in a different way from the rest of the class.
    It has been a common moan from pretty much all of the HE physics and engineering lecturers I have known, about the poor maths of students anyway, so I'm sure it would be a problem to get into university if the student turned their back on maths. I'm sure that if you did not have a maths A level, you would have to show an equivalent ability at maths in some way or other. Probably easier to get the A level!
    More to the point, your student seems to have shown an ability at the subject. Do they really think it is too difficult for them or is something else going on?
     
  5. Not really..... Especially if you want to take the physics any furtehr. The only thing I could suggest that isn't the standard maths A-level is a new AS level called 'Use of Maths' which is a functional maths qualification that I have been very impressed with as it teaches and reinforces many of the mathematical concepts needed for A-levels in sciences and helps with degree content for people going on to study say chemistry and biology.
    Yes, certainly at the uni I'm currently working at the physics dept expect maths A-level if not further maths and at grade A as well.
     
  6. Anonymous

    Anonymous New commenter

    Confidence - in his words, he is in a set that is full of A* students and he struggles to keep up. He was top of his set last year (not the express set) but now is bottom (in his words). That's the real problem and I'm not sure how to overcome this feeling he has when in class.
     
  7. TCSC47

    TCSC47 Lead commenter

    Always difficult to deal with! But at least you have an answer to your OP, that if your student takes A physics without taking A maths or equivalent, it can be done, but it is pretty much the end of the road for physics after that, unless he has exceptional talents and can figure out maths for himself.
    All I can add now, is speaking personally. In my education and my teaching of science, it was taught cyclically. We would visit a subject, move onto the next subject and at a later date, return to the subject. Every time we went back to the subject we would learn a bit more about it. This is necessary because, in science, a decent understanding of so many concepts depends upon the understanding of a lot of other things! Too many to get them all in one go. Thus, in science there are repeated opportunities to catch up and natural revision all the way through. The old joke about education being "a series of diminishing lies" is certainly true in science!
    Now, I can only speak about my own maths education as I never taught it, but my maths, in contrast to my science, was very linear. We learnt one topic and then went on to the next one, followed by the next, and so on. What made it worse was that if I missed something, the next topics relied upon understanding previous ones, fully. As I could not identify what I didn't understand, I could not ask for the revision I needed and got quite lost, only just managing to scrape through and missing so much of how important maths was. It was 20 years later when I became a teacher, that I managed to put together what my maths learning had been about and sort out my own understanding of it. I have to admit, I am still quite angry about it all, but that is another story!
    My eventual access to maths was through the use of Key Facts revision aid books for the previous levels of maths. At university I found it necessary to use both A level and O level revision aids to allow me to understand what my university text books were trying to tell me! It worked in the end, but it was a difficult and painful journey.
    Based on this, my advice to students who were experiencing problems with their learning, for whatever reasons, was to arm themselves with the previous level revision aids for the subject. If they were having trouble with understanding something, it was not because the teacher wasn't explaining it properly, but because the student had not understood something in previous work leading up to the problematic topic. There was no need to get the current versions at full price, because it was not the up to date exam syllabus they needed, but the basic facts, definitions and techniques. There are plenty of these books for as little as 50p in the charity shops.
    The other book I advised them to get was a subject specific dictionary. In the case of maths, it is a language, so it has a vocabulary, and a maths dictionary is as necessary as a French/English one is for learning French.An actual book may not be as much the case nowadays, because of on-line dictionaries, so alternatively I would point out the existence of this www help.
    It was the best I could do to give them some empowerment over their subjects, but it did seem to work. One (the?) antidote to "lack of confidence" is "self empowerment"!


     
  8. TCSC47

    TCSC47 Lead commenter

    The analogy I used to use (past tense because I am retired, I would add) for physics and maths, was music. I am a self taught guitarist and adore the instrument and making rock music in the bands I have been in (always grabs the kid's attention when you say this!).
    However I never learnt to read the dots properly, but have to play by ear and use chords and tab (a bastardised form of music notation). Although I have been quite successful in music, it has been time consuming to learn stuff, and limited to folk, rock, pop and blues, not the real difficult music. I don't feel I can consider myself a proper musician.
    In contrast, my wife, who learnt to read music, can play anything that is put in front of her almost right away.
    It is the same with physics and maths. You can learn a certain amount of physics with only a rudimentary grasp of the underlying maths, but to be able to consider yourself a proper physicist you have to be able to "sight read" the maths.
    Rock on!
     
  9. TCSC47

    TCSC47 Lead commenter

    Lol! Just re-read my last post. My music analogy works the other way as well. You can be a brilliant mathematician but who is simply not be able to get to grips with physics if they haven't got "soul"!
    I have met lots of excellent mathematicians who were quite ignorant of what they could do with their subject and were quite happy to simply accept that it was just an end in itself. The people in the orchestra have to be able to do exactly what they are told, but the soloist at the front has to be able to do something extra with the music!
    Enough of this for now! I have to go and strum my guitar!
     
  10. Orion

    Orion New commenter

    If he wants to do a Physics degree then he must do Maths and also further Maths will help. If not forget it. The maths in 1st year degree is rock hard!
    I advise every pupil to take Maths A-Level if they are doing Physics even just to AS.
    No argument really.
     
  11. Anonymous

    Anonymous New commenter

    Well he dropped maths. So that will mean no physics at University and he will find A-level physics hard. I'm really disappointed but what can you do?
    I'm going to be tutoring him in the maths he needs for A-level physics but he'll only get an hour a week plus homework so quite a challenge.
     
  12. Not a show stopper - but makes things much harder. I know of a phd who didn't have A level maths, so it can be done...
     

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