Freshman Physics: Do I have to? Am I ready?
Freshman physics is a fantastic subject that I wholeheartedly agree with the teaching of. I feel very strongly that our students, as a whole, would be far, far better served for their future college and employment opportunities if EVERY high school had freshman physics as a high school graduation requirement. But, in an educational system in a state where students are having to take algebra three times in order to get the passing grade required for high school graduation there, I am not going to hold my breath that freshman physics is going to become a high school graduation requirement in California or any other state any time soon.
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Is Freshman Physics Hard?
Well, that depends. The bigger question is, “is your student ready for freshman physics?” Several years ago, the school from which I tutored MANY students in freshman physics automatically enrolled all incoming freshman into freshman physics. Well, because so many students were really struggling in the course, the school began an evaluation of the suitability of freshman physics for each student, and deferred some until their sophomore or, even, junior years of high school.
If your student earned an A or a B in algebra in eighth grade, and seems to have to good level of spatial reasoning and some mathematical maturity, based upon my hundreds of hours of tutoring freshman physics, I would say your student is ready to take freshman physics and will do well.
If, however, your student has not yet completed algebra, or did not do well in algebra, I would say he or she should wait to take freshman physics until he or she has at least one more year of high school math under his or her belt. Ideally, any class that a student takes will be challenging enough that the student will learn and be excited about the new things he or she is learning, without being so challenging that the student feels like he or she is completely overwhelmed, drowning, and is having to forego everything else in life (sports, after school activities, other homework, a social life) in order to do well in freshman physics. It is normal for a student to need a couple hours per week of freshman physics tutoring, particularly around tests or final exams. It is not normal for a student to feel like he or she doesn’t even know where to start with his or her homework unless their freshman physics tutor is sitting right next to them.
If your student does well in math and enjoys it, he or she is certainly an excellent candidate for taking freshman physics as a freshman. If not, it is best to wait a year or two and see if his or her mathematical maturity develops.