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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Art of the Science

I am not a STEM person by any means. I often struggle with anything that requires math or science, and have my entire life. I somehow managed my way into Calculus, but let me tell y'all, it has been quite the struggle.

When it comes to science, there are so many different subtopics to talk about. With English courses, you have reading, you have writing, and everything else fits into those two subcategories. With science, there is biology, chemistry, and physics, and within those three big types of science there are so many more!

Having take all three of those categories in high school, I know that STEM is not likely to be my career path. However, since I'm going to a liberal arts school in the fall, I will take a little bit of everything before declaring my major, and this means more STEM for this math and science challenged girl.

The good news is that over the years, I've figured out a few different strategies to help myself manage a B+ or higher in these different courses.

When your teacher lectures, you must take incredibly detailed notes complete with lots and lots of diagrams. I preferred color coding my notes when I took biology, but of course this is up to you!

In terms of labs, pay careful attention to how you do your reports. In my classes, the lab reports made up about %30 of our grade, and getting consistent A's on them helped out a lot when I didn't do well on a test or quiz. I would suggest asking your teacher for their rubric if he or she does not give it to you, and this way you will know exactly what they are looking for. Here's a snapshot of my desk mid-lab report...scary.

When the big tests come, go back to those diagrams you drew in class. Much of my biology, anatomy, and physiology tests were labeling diagrams or drawing diagrams that detailed a certain process (ex. the Krebs cycle, or the bones of the body). What helps with these is just googling blank diagrams of whatever it is you are learning, printing out several copies, and filling them out over and over again until you get them all right. In terms of multiple choice or short-answer questions, use your textbook as a guide. At the end of chapters, most textbooks offer sample exam questions or review questions. These are (usually) very helpful and can give you a good idea of what you know or what you need to take another look at.

Oh, chemistry. In my opinion, chemistry is a mix between biology and physics, but that's just me. In this course you'll learn all about the naturally occurring elements and how they mix together.

In class, you will again long for your color coding skills. When you draw combustion or evaporation reactions, the atoms splitting, joining, whatever it is they are doing, color helps differentiate between what atoms belong to what element.

For labs, again, watch the way you complete your reports. The reactions that you make (or don't make) happen are opportunities for you to tactically see what your teacher was talking about when you started doodling and daydreaming last week. For this course, wear your lab goggles! I forgot my lab goggles one day, and my teacher made me wear my swim goggles instead!

Chemistry tests were very daunting for me because they usually had a ton of information on them. I had to create hypothetical reactions, explain how they got there, and then draw and mathematically describe them. Bring your calculator. If you struggle with the mathematic side of chemistry (such as significant figures), go talk to your teacher. Oftentimes, they have excellent resources at hand to help you.

***PS - if you have a TI-84 calculator or better, click on "APPS," and number 10 on that list is "SciTools." Click enter, click enter again, and option number 1 is the "Sig-Fig Calculator." You might find a few other tools in there useful, like a unit converter, or a vector calculator.

I currently take physics, and it is the bane of my existence. I would be lying if I said that I liked it, because to be honest, I kinda hate it. It's probably one of the more useful sciences that you'll take, but be prepared because it is very challenging.

In class, you'll likely do a mix of numerical problems and notes on concepts. Make sure to label what you are doing at the top of each page or by underlining a new topic. This will help you out when you go to study and need an overview of what it is that you need to learn! You will also have a plethora of vocabulary to learn, and making flashcards or writing out the terms has been very helpful for me personally.

The labs in physics are crucial to your understanding. You will have to set up, execute, then report on the topic you are exploring. For example, today I did a lab with a slinky because we are learning about waves and resonance. Again, you won't understand the lab's directions if you don't understand the terminology in the chapter. Make the flashcards on a night off or on an easy night to get ahead!

Physics tests are by far the hardest in my opinion. You have to understand, be able to explain, and mathematically compute every single concept you learn, no matter how long or short you spent on it in class. This might just be for my school in particular, but I feel confident that no matter where you go to school you will have a lot of information on these tests. Please just save yourself the headache and bad grade now and study in advance. I would recommend studying for at least two nights for physics tests. Split the material up - do the conceptual stuff on one night and the numerical stuff another. It will help you more than you know!

I hope that this helps you all who struggle with science like I do. Please let me know if you have any tips for me as well! I can always use help (especially with the hated physics).

xx, Victoria
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xx, Victoria