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06 January 2011

eMail Time: How much review time for AP physics?

From Vance Hurst, who teaches at Colquitt County High School in Georgia, and who attended my AP summer institute at Kennesaw State University last summer:

I am sitting here planning out my course pace for the spring semester. My question for you is this: When do you try to finish all of the material that is covered on the AP exam and do you do a cumulative review for the AP test. If you do a review, how many weeks before the the exam do you start it.

Hey, Vance... good to hear from you. My goal each year is to finish new material by the first week or April. After that, it's all review.

My fabulous department chairman at Woodberry, Jim Reid, suggested to me years ago that I not advertise on my syllabus that I'm doing a month of "review." Administrators, colleagues, parents, and students might look askance at the idea of so much review. After all, if it's "just" review, it must not be particularly important, so students should be okay to miss class, so students shouldn't have to do much work during that time... and so on.

But we as physics teachers know that "review" is precisely how physics is internalized. Ask anyone who's been through a physics program -- the first time they see a topic, it's confusing. The second and especially the THIRD time that a physics concept is presented, it usually sticks. I set up my AP class deliberately such that students see every topic presented two or three times -- once in the normal course of the course, once integrated into a subsequent topic if possible, and once again during the April review.

Jim and I agreed to call this four-week portion of AP physics by a special name. I chose "Putting it all together." I emphasize to colleagues and students that this time is NOT merely a review. Instead, it is a time when we focus on how all the disparate topics we have covered in isolation fit together. We are integrating and consolidating our knowledge and problem solving skills. In practice, I'm assigning old AP problems as homework, giving tests and doing corrections, doing loads of fundamentals quizzes, and running fun games and events, such as the physics walk and clicker contests.

A review by any other name would smell as sweet... right?


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