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26 May 2015

What do I do at my AP Physics 1 (and 2) Summer Institute?

You can see in the sidebar the dates and locations of my 2015 summer institutes.  I'm sometimes asked what goes on at these.  Here you go...

On the first morning, we go through the details of the AP Physics program.  We talk about the topics covered, the extent to which each topic is covered, the structure and style of the exam, how the exam is constructed, and all sorts of information that College Board "insiders" know.  Plus, we show how the new Algebra-based exams are in no way condusive to traditional plug-and-chug methods, and discuss simple ways of adapting to the shining new era in AP Physics.

Next we discuss ideas about integrating AP Physics into teachers' specific school cultures.  How do you sell the course to students, parents, and administrators?  How do you teach AP Physics when your school won't let you [foo] or when they make you [bar]?  What overriding course structure will work for you personally?

On the first afternoon, I present my first few AP Physics 1 classes exactly as I present them to my own class.  These include quantitative demonstrations with equilibrium.  I show the interactive performance, the problem sets, the quizzes, everything.  The goal is to see how I cover new topics concisely, in a manner that causes students to (usually) pay attention; and how the homework and quizzes reinforce the class material.

On the second day, I begin by "going over" a homework assignment in a brief and interesting fashion, focusing on physics rather than on awarded points.  We also will discuss daily grading of student work, and the many alternatives for regular evaluation.  I show more quantitative demonstrations, including on topics beyond mechanics.  We discuss sources of activities, problems, and information.

In the afternoon, we do one of my typical extended laboratory activities, in which students collect data, linearize a graph, and make a quantitative prediction or determination based on the graph.  We close with a discussion of assessment methods, and how there's not such thing as "formative" or "summative" assessments -- everything in life is a test.

On the third day,  I show some alternatives to my bog-standard quantitative lecture-demonstration classes.  We do an activity with Direct Measurement Videos.  We do "in-class laboratory exercises" in which students make predictions and experimental measurements to solve problems at their own pace.  

The afternoon session is devoted to electronics.  This is one topic I teach as nearly-pure modeling; we do a laboratory activity that also serves as my students' entire introduction to circuits.  We follow up with TIPERS activities, which we set up experimentally as in-class laboratory exercises.  And finally, I show how my bare-bones-basic introduction leads eventually to sophisticated, AP-level understanding by "translating" into AP language.

On the final day, we talk about the different levels of physics teaching, and how people adapt their presentation from conceptual, general (i.e. Regents), college-prep, or AP Physics C.  We do any activities or demonstrations that participants want to see but we haven't yet gotten to.  We brainstorm and try some "open inquiry" style lab activites, and we discuss how structured lab work leads naturally, after time, to unstructured creative lab work.  

Finally, we do a mock AP Physics reading.  I will be a table leader for AP Physics 1 problem 4 -- that's the paragraph-response item about why two balls hit the ground at the same time, even though one is dropped while the other has an initial horizontal velocity.  We will have authentic student samples.  I'll train participants to grade these just as if they were present at the reading itself.

After the institute each night, I make myself available for physics (or non-physics) conversation over dinner.  Participants are welcome to ask their individual questions over burritos and/or french fries.  I meet a lot of great folks this way through the AP Summer Institutes; know that I don't consider my job done when we leave at 4:00 or 5:00 each day.

And after the whole thing is over, you're encouraged to contact me.  You will have a CD of all of my course materials from all of the different-level courses I've taught.  It will take you years to sort through this material.  When you have questions, you're always welcome to ask.  Sometimes I'll point you to a post on this blog; sometimes I'll answer as a blog post, so others can see the answer.  

Physics teachers are a different breed.  We need to hang together, to share our ideas, our frustrations, our succcesses.  It helps us all so much to hear how many of us face similar challenges, and to hear how others have conquered those challenges.  And it's likely that no one else at your school has any clue about what you do.  So come to an APSI.  Join other folks who truly understand you and your job.  You may be the only AP Physics teacher at your school, but there are a bunch of physics teachers nationwide who can help you, and whom you can help.  Join us.  I can't wait.

[And soon I'll post about what we might do at my free non-AP "Open Lab" at Woodberry this summer.]


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