Physics 101 Introduction to Mechanics 

Problem Solving Algorithm  



In general, solving a physics problem (and to a certain degree, the exercises
as well) involves taking a realistic situation and constructing a simplified
model that captures its essence. Often the complicated details of
a problem are deliberately suppressed so it can be solved with simple physics
principles. Creating a model that is sufficient to describe the essence
of a problem without being overly complex is not an easy task. Doing
this will require practice.
The good news is that the skills you refine here solving physics problems will be applicable to other courses and other facets of life. In problems the situation described may appear new to you; it may appear that you have never seen a similar problem. This is what happens in life each day brings something new youíve never encountered before. The algorithm presented here is meant to make your job easier. Think of this the basic scaffolding that will allow you to build various masterpieces. At first this algorithm might feel awkward, but trust me it will be beneficial in the long run. (The same is true of other skills the proper grip on a tennis backhand may at first feel uncomfortable, but you use an incorrect grip your game will be limited.) Studies have shown that experienced problem solvers (unlike novices) usually solve problems using a framework that is independent of the problem or person. The approach is based on constructing a model of the situation described though three different representations of the problem pictorial, conceptual and mathematical. In this way you can tap into three different parts of the brain. A fourth component, evaluating the answer or model, is also present. The model you build (not the number you get at the end of some algebra) is the "answer." With this view, algebraic mistakes are not as significant as conceptual mistakes (making incorrect assumptions for example). Essentially you are trying to predict the systemís behavior with your model this is what it means to do science. A fifth component to the process is taking a sufficient amount of time to understand the problem. This often means rereading the problem several times, as well as taking some time to visualize the situation in your mindís eye. The better one understands the problem, the better chance they have of building the correct model. Itís okay, if not beneficial to make mistakes within a solution. Everybody does it. Just like solving a puzzle, nobody puts the pieces down in the final position until after trying them in several other places first. Expert problem solvers rarely solve a problem in the linear, always perfect way textbooks present example solutions. You shouldnít feel as though youíre doing anything wrong if you take a few wrong turns. Recognizing why they are wrong turns can be quite educational. Problem Solving Algorithm


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