I am definitely happier with my students’ effort in solving word problems in physics. I guess I am still surprised that they find it so troublesome to connect the physics they have seen and done in class to a situation if that situation is altered from what they have seen in class.
The problem above is pretty much how I phrased a problem in class. However when I gave a verbal description, without a picture, and NO angles, students didn’t read, draw a free body diagram, set up forces or solve. They just seemed to panic and lose all cognitive function with respect to physics.
I don’t want to teach students to solve problems algorithmically, but at the same time, I don’t want the to see an old problem in different form and completely become overloaded.
It is hard not to get upset at them, but I think that is not helpful. What is helpful is to diagnose where and how their thinking breaks down when a situation is slightly new to them.