Instructor Insights

Instructor Insights pages are part of the OCW Educator initiative, which seeks to enhance the value of OCW for educators.

Course Overview

The Problem Solving Help Videos provided in this supplemental resource offer step-by-step solutions to sample problems typically encountered in 8.03 Physics III: Vibrations and Waves, an undergraduate-level course in which students learn about harmonic motion, superposition, forced vibrations and resonance, coupled oscillations, normal modes, and other topics.

The Instructor Insights on this page are shared by Professor Wit Busza, who has taught Physics III and its associated recitation sessions many times. At MIT, recitations are opportunities for students to work through problems related to lecture content. Professor Busza’s insights focus on his approach to problem solving, strategies for supporting students as they solve problems, and common sources of confusion for students in the process of problem solving.

Course Outcomes

Course Goals for Students

  • Understand that almost all natural phenomena involve waves and vibrations
  • Learn equations that, although identical, can be used to describe very different phenomena
  • Be able to distinguish how the physics differs in each of these cases
  • Apply understanding of laws of nature in problem solving

Possibilities for Further Study/Careers

8.03 Physics III is the third course in a sequence of four physics courses. It prepares students to take 8.04 Quantum Physics I.


Instructor Insights

Why do we solve problems? We don’t often explain to students why we solve problems. But shouldn’t we? After all, when you really stop to think about it, the answer to this question is not at all trivial.

—Wit Busza

In the following pages, Professor Wit Busza describes his problem solving pedagogy.


Curriculum Information


Requirements Satisfied



Every fall and spring semester

The Classroom

  • Large lecture hall as seen from the back of the room; approximately 230 chairs with writing tablets face a row of 3 tables at the front of the room. Three large sliding blackboards are behind the row of tables. A large white screen is to the side of the blackboards.


    8.03 Physics III lectures are typically taught in a large classroom, like the one pictured here. The room is equipped with multiple blackboards, audio-visual equipment, and tiered seating.


How Student Time Was Spent

During an average week, students are expected to spend 12 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:


3 hours per week

Typically meets 2 times per week for 1.5 hours per session; usually about 27 sessions total.



2 hours per week

Typically involves the application of lecture concepts to problem solving.



7 hours per week

Typically involves reading and homework assignments.

Student Information

Approximately 70 students take this class each time it is offered.

Breakdown by Year

Mostly sophomores

Breakdown by Major

Typically physics majors