19. Learning Difficulties

Abstract: Why do seemingly intelligent, knowledgeable, dedicated, and motivated students working under the best of conditions sometimes fail to learn various aspects of physics? Physics teachers all too frequently find themselves asking, “How is it that these students just don’t get it? The concept is so simple!” There clearly is more to the learning of physics than teaching method, alternative conceptions, innate and learned intelligence, motivation, effort, and study skills. This chapter examines this curious phenomenon and attempts to provide insights to this recurrent and vexing problem and many others.

Student Difficulties in Learning Physics – Definitions of Learning – Student Learning Styles – Teaching to Enhance Deep Learning – General Difficulties Solving Physics Exercises – The Main Difficulty with Solving Exercises – Helping Students Solve Quantitative Exercises – Finding the “Right” Approach – Finding the “Right” Equation – Other Difficulties with Solving Exercises – Structured Exercise Solving – Difficulties with Mathematics – Two Stage Physics Exercises – Difficulties with Graphs – Student Attitude Problems – Teacher-Caused Student Difficulties – Ascertaining Learning Difficulties – Physics Teaching is Complex