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25 February 2013

Mail Time -- How did Honors Physics I work, and what are you doing with the new AP Physics 1 and 2 tests?

From Elizabeth Bergman, in response to my Honors Physics I: Course Description post:

We are experiencing the growing pains of this issue at our school and school district. We currently have a physics honors 1 course which is the prerequisite for the current AP Physics B class. My daughter is a sophomore who is registering for the junior year classes and my school and district have not made a policy decision yet about the direction they will take. I personally like the idea of incorporating the AP Physics 1 content into the honors course and then allowing that group of students to take the AP Physics 2 in fall 2014. They will have the AP Physics 1 content but not the official name of the course on the transcript. In May 2015, they could conceivably sit for both exams. I would like to share your blog post with my school curriculum director to see what they think. Since this post was made back in July 2011, I wondered how your students performed? What other suggestions do you have based on the information the College Board has released "officially" about the new curricula? 

Hi, Elizabeth... Greg here.  

Your first question was "How did my students perform on the Honors Physics I exam?"  The Honors course functioned as I had hoped.  About half of my class sat for AP Physics B, and did fine -- not up to our historic standards of 70% 5s, but virtually all passed, and most got 4s and 5s.  The other half sat for the Honors Physics I exam, as described in this post; there, we did more like 90% 5s.  The best part was that a good number of students who would never have taken AP Physics B at all got 5s on the Honors Physics I exam.  So, I would highly recommend this course to anyone looking to do rigorous physics, but using only a subset of the AP Physics B curriculum.

As for new suggestions based on the actual new exams... I wrote a bit about this in October.  I know that my honors course underestimated the amount of verbal response that will be required in the new exam; other than that, I don't know any more than you.  I will be attending a meeting in April for all College Board physics consultants that should give me much more insight.  

But in answer to the question you didn't ask explicitly... while you're certainly welcome to share my posts, and while I do think I've got some good answers, be careful about working with a "school curriculum director."  The person, or people, who really need to make the decision about the direction of physics at your school must be the physics teachers.  If they are not on board, then anything the curriculum director suggests or dictates will be worse than useless.  Know that except in very, very rare cases, school curriculum directors are utterly ignorant of exactly what the different levels of physics courses truly require in terms of teaching ability and resources, and in terms of student aptitude and background.

Talk to your physics teachers directly.  Find out what they teach, find out what they know about the new exams, ask their thoughts.  

If they are unwilling or unable to teach to the new exams, then it's not worth trying to make them.  If they want to teach to one exam but not the others -- say, AP physics 1 but not 2, or AP physics C instead of AP Physics 1 and 2 -- then it's well worth respecting their decision.  Teachers have many good reasons for their choice.  There's no race to see who can get the most 5s on the most exams.  Trust your physics teachers, unless you have external evidence that they're not worth trusting.*

* In which case, you're better off getting a different physics teacher or a different school entirely than trying to get a no-good physics teacher to do things right.

On the other hand, if they are able and willing to transition to the new AP Physics 1 and 2 exams, but they're having trouble explaining things to ignorant administrators, then go nuts lobbying.

I'm happy to serve as a sounding board for your physics teachers.  They can email any time; I'd encourage them to attend one of my summer institutes.  

Hope this helps... I wish your daughter luck.  I hope she loves physics.


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