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07 June 2009

Off to the AP reading

I leave Monday morning for Fort Collins, Colorado, where I'll be a table leader for the 2009 AP physics reading.

No, there's no use offering me a bribe to give a few extra points to your class (though every year some overly optomistic student encloses a buck in his or her test). I won't even know who your students are; and with ten or so readers on each problem, there's only a small chance that I, personally, will even be the one grading any of your school's tests.

I'll spend the first couple of days developing the rubric to problem 2 on the physics B exam. That's the one with two charges hanging from strings. I have a preliminary idea in my head of how to distribute the 10 available points. Tuesday I'll have a day-long conversation with my partner -- Denver-area teacher Briant McKellips, whom I've graded with for nigh on six years, now -- to mesh our ideas together. Then we'll go through a few hundred tests to try out our rubric, and adjust it where necessary. On Wednesday we have to defend our rubric in front of 20-odd table leaders, who are collegial, friendly, and merciless in physics arguments. Wednesday's discussions are the primary manner in which we ensure that the grading standards for each problem are of the highest quality.

I'll write several times from the reading, but not to dish College Board dirt. You won't hear how awful the Chief Reader is -- primarily because Chief Reader Bill Ingham, of James Madison University, is one of the most awesome people in the universe. You won't hear specific stupidicisms that I read on the exams, either -- I've only once encountered a truly clever and original non-physics item on an AP test. You can generally read better teachery humor at random internet sites.

What you might hear are summaries of the great shop talk that takes place at the reading. I spend ten evenings or so gabbing about physics teaching, absorbing ideas from the best physics teachers in the country. The Reading is the best professional development I've ever been to. Even though this is my tenth reading, I have never failed to learn something new.

For now, though, wish me luck in the monstrosity that is the country's air transportation network. For conversation at the first night of the reading tradionally consists of complaints and bitter war stories of everyone's adventures getting to Fort Collins.


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