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01 May 2013

Mail Time: I'm teaching AP Physics 1 a year early. Should I come to a 2013 summer institute?

Ravi Lall, from Woodstock School in India, writes:

I am planning to start the new Physics 1 course in my school from August and for this purpose I wish to attend your summer institute. I have already attended one summer institute last year in Loyola university in Physics B and C Combined.

Do you think this year’s summer institute will be helpful for me? I am basically looking for some info and help for the new course structure.

How much portion of your workshop will cover the new course structure?

Please advise whether I should attend this year or in the summer of 2014?

Hi, Ravi.  I'm going to post this to the blog because it's a question that a bunch of people will have.

You are starting to teach AP Physics 1 in the 2013-14 school year.  Great idea, and not unusual; I've heard from plenty of folks who want to get the head start.  The thought is, get them in AP Physics 1 this coming school year, then they can take BOTH the Physics 1 and Physics 2 exams in 2015.  Since AP Physics 1 (unlike physics B) is actually designed to be a student's first-time introduction to physics, it makes perfect sense to make your first-year course for advanced students a Physics 1 course.

So, what about summer institutes in 2013 or 2014. 

First, there's the official word from the College Board:  Consultants are instructed to direct at least 20% of this summer's institutes to the new exams, while up to 80% of the institute can focus on Physics B material.

In practice, and speaking for myself only, my summer institutes as I've done them for years are well suited to AP Physics 1 and 2.  I certainly plan to spend some significant time discussing the details of the new exam -- number of questions, style of questions, how to prepare students to give more verbal responses than the Physics B exam required.  But the way to prepare students for this new exam, I think, should not be nearly as revolutionary as some would have you think.  The exam is revolutionary; the effective teaching methods are those that many of us have been using and advocating for decades.

The new exams will expose those students who think physics is about plugging numbers into the correct equation.  The Physics B exam already exposes such students; but these folks will be getting 1s, not 3s, on the new exams.  The new exams will expose the excellent students who can solve problems well, but who can't exactly explain in words why they solved the problems the way they did.  Such students will be getting 3s and 4s, not 5s.  At my summer institutes, we always have discussed, and will continue to discuss, ways of guiding students to a deep understanding of the topics at hand.  I'll show numerous quantitative demonstrations; I'll share class activitites; you'll have a chance to discuss physics teaching with other physics teachers (and you'll learn as much from them as you do from me).

The only major difference between this summer's instittute and next summer's institute for me will be the demos and topics we choose to discuss.  I'm not going to do much, if anything, with rotation this summer; rotation is the biggest topical change from Physics B to Physics 1-2.  I'm going to teach to topics that are common to the B and 1-2 exams.  But in summer 2014, I plan to bring out some rotation demonstrations, and to spend a full day of the institute on rotation.  

I hope you can join me this year.  Dates are July 15-19 at North Carolina State University in Raleigh; and August 5-9 at Manhattan College in New York City.


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