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22 July 2013

Using the AP Physics 1 Curriculum Framework -- it's a reference work, not a novel.

What will an AP Physics 1 test look like?  Neither you nor I has much guidance from sample questions published by the AP Physics 1 test development committee.  You can find what has been released by downloading the curriculum framework and looking toward the back -- you'll see about 10 sample questions.

But that tome of a curriculum framework includes all these hyper-specific "learning objectives."  Many in College Board leadership positions contend that teachers should carefully read all 150+ pages.  I disagree.  Read one small section to get a feel for the curriculum framework.  Read the "Science Practice" skills students will be expected to demonstrate.  You should look at the "concepts at a glance" that start on page 152, and you should get a copy of the topic checklists that are being distributed at AP Summer Institutes and workshops.*  Use these checklists along with the sample problems that have been and will be provided in order to plan your AP course.  As you actually start your course, refer to the learning objectives and the "essential knowledge" statements as necessary to adjust your focus.  After a few years of teaching AP Physics 1, you'll develop a good sense of what is and isn't important.

* I can't link a copy, because I don't believe these documents have been released except in the materials provided to APSI participants.

Most importantly, don't stress about possibly missing a detail that might be buried in this tome.  Let's say you miss the Physics 2 sentence that says electric and magnetic field "lines" will be replaced by vector field notation.  That's a change from standard textbook coverage, from what most of us learned in college, and from the AP Physics B exam.  But so what, say you teach field lines the old way.  What happens?  Your students possibly struggle with one point somewhere on the Physics 2 exam this year.  And you figure out a year or two down the road that you've been doing it wrong.  And you change.

[Personal story:  I attended my AP Summer Institute in 1997, right after special relativity had been taken off the exam.  Based on the instructor's suggestion, I wrote a huge note: "NO SPECIAL REL!"  Then in March I went and taught special relativity, thinking it was on the exam.  No, no one fired me, and my students did quite well.  Relax, and take a minimum three-year long-term focus.]

When I created my best attempt at a practice test, I simply entered every learning objective from the AP Physics 1 curriculum into random.org, and wrote a multiple choice question to test each of the first 50 LOs that showed up.  Randomizing and using the LOs is a good exercise if you have the time and creativity to use them as review, or to write questions toward them (or even to ask students to write questions toward them).

Is that generally how the actual AP Physics 1 test will be developed?  Almost definitely not.  Hopefully, in summer 2014 when the official course description comes out, we'll see some further guidance about how much of the test will be devoted to each topic.  For now, I'm doing my best to represent the nature of this brand new test.  I will be wrong in many places.  I will fail to emphasize some part of the exam that shows up significantly; that could be a topic, or a skill, or just a simple approach to a complex idea.  After the first test in 2015, I will evaluate my teaching, and improve.  By 2017, I'll have figured most of it out.

And you do the same.  Don't listen to the education professor types who expect you to read, remember, and use every word of the framework.  Think of the framework like a dictionary -- you should have a good idea what's in there, but you don't read it front to back.  You look things up when you need them, with the goal of becoming fluent in the language, not of being able to parrot the contents.

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