15-16 Recap: AP Physics

Yesterday, I wrote a post a reflection on AP Calculus, today I’m going to take a critical look at how my AP Physics class went this past year and how I can improve it for the upcoming school year.

Just to give a little background, I teach AP Physics 1, a course that just finished its 2nd year of existence. College Board decided to split what was AP Physics B into 2 separate courses, Physics 1 and Physics 2, each course representing 1 semester of college course work. The exam is now very light on computation (when I’ve taken AP practice exams, I have not needed a calculator) and heavy on deep conceptual understanding of physics principles and scientific thinking.  I use the Investigative Science Learning Environment, created by a team led by Eugenia Etkina and Alan Van Heuvelen, approach in my physics classes, which helps students build these skills, not just computational skills.

What Went Well

  • I was able to cover all the topics in the Course Outline, which I wasn’t close to doing in year 1.
  • I gave my students an awesome final project, which led to some of the best work my students have done since I began teaching high school.
  • I had my students get familiar with using physics probeware and data analysis software early in the school year.
  • I allowed students to struggle through the process of breaking down misconceptions and building up correct ideas about how the world works and why things are the way they are.
  • As the year went on, I got better at writing assessment questions that really dug down into their conceptual understanding of a topic.
  • I assigned reading from the textbook and had students do some good reflecting about what they learned from their reading.
  • I stopped class one day, did no physics, and sat in a circle with my students discussing something that had come up in chapel earlier that day (I teach at a private Christian school and we have chapel once a week). One of my (highest performing and academically minded) students has mentioned this to multiple people (including in her graduation speach) as the most important classroom moment of her high school career.

What Can Improve

  • I spent waaaaaaayyyyyyy too much time on kinematics, which ended up putting us in a real time crunch at the end of the year.
  • On the final project, some students worked with a partner who clearly didn’t keep up their end of the partnership, so we ended the school year with some mild resentment between students. Next year, I need to either make it individuals only or add in some sort of group/partner accountability/evaluation piece to the project.
  • After introducing students to the probeware and software, we used it very little.
  • I still don’t trust students to do what they’re supposed to do all the time, so I intervened too early and too often in their discovery processes (I think part of this has to do with time, we have 52 minute periods, and I always felt like I was falling behind my year plan).
  • I just threw a bunch of AP exam review at them with a month left, but didn’t spend a ton of time with them on how to prepare for or what to expect from the exam.
  • My homework was a mess, inconsistent in both it’s frequency and quality.
  • I need to do a better job of organizing the class, from how we spend class time, lesson sequencing, homework, and assessments.
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