Category Archives: conferences

AAPTWM16: Blueprints for Accessible and Affordable High-Altitude Ballooning

Mark Rowzee and I spoke at the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) 2016 Winter meeting as part of Session EI: Quadcopters, Drones and High Altitude Balloons. Our talk was “Blueprints for Accessible and Affordable High-Altitude Ballooning.”

Abstract: We’ll provide you will the blueprints for success since the moment you release your first high-altitude balloon, you are stricken with an unsettling combination of joy and terror. It is relativity easy to launch a high-altitude balloon; it requires much more planning, resources, and luck to get it back. We will share our experiences designing, launching, and recovering high altitude balloons over the past six years. We will share the science that can be done with a variety of student age groups (elementary, junior high, and high school). We will share the materials necessary for a successful launch and recovery for a variety of budgets. We will share the safety precautions that are required. Finally, we have photos, videos, resources, and stories that we hope will inspire you to conduct your own launch.

AP Annual Conference: Formative Assessment in the AP Science Classroom

Formative Assessment in the AP Science Classroom

Ryan Fedewa, Stevenson High School

I attended this session to learn different approaches for formative assessments that could be applied to all AP Science courses; not just physics. While Standards Based Grading (SBG) wasn’t explicitly mentioned, some aspects of the presenters formative assessments would align. I would imagine a tool like BlueHarvest would also work well.

  • 5 Formative Assessment characteristics
    • the provision of effective feedback to students
    • the active involvement of student in their own learning
    • the adjustment of teaching to take into account the results of the assessment
    • the recognition of the profound influence assessment has on the motivation and self-esteems of students, both of which are critical influences on learning
    • the need for students to be able to assess themselves and understand how to improve
  • “We’re going to let our students know where they’re at, and let them know how they can improve from there.”
  • Example Tools
  • administered weekly 5-10 question multiple choice quiz as the source of the data
    • also included unit exams and final exam (but will exclude final exam next year)
    • plan to incorporate practice AP exams and practice ACT exams
    • tagged each question with a science skill as well as a science content area
  • College Board Science Practices work well as tags

AP Annual Conference: Making Sense of Electric Potential

Making Sense of Electric Potential

Jim Vander Weide, Hudsonville High School, MI

I attended this session since electric force, field, potential, and energy are concepts with which students struggle. I have attempted to make connections between these concepts and the corresponding gravitational concepts. I’m interested to see this teacher’s approach.

  • Jim provided slides building an extended analogy between gravitational fields and electric fields as well as other handouts. He would probably be willing to share, and his contact info can be found with a bit of Google-fu 🙂

AP Annual Conference: Results from AP Physics Exams

Results from AP Exams

Jiang Yu, Chief Reader

I attended this session to gain some insights into how the AP Physics B exam is scored and what common mistakes students made on the exam.

  • Question B1
    • 6.6/10
    • common errors
      • omit one of the three forces or add a normal force on FBD
      • use unconventional labels for their forces
      • units! students often omitted units
      • not recognize buoyancy is measured in Newtons
      • forces that appeared on the FBD often did not match the ones appeared in subsequent calculations
      • not using physics but general language in justification
  • Question B2
    • 6.0/15
    • common errors
      • applied kinematic equations for constantly accelerated motion to a motion of changing acceleration
      • not recognize that W=Fd can only be used when F is constant
      • not knowing that spring force is not a constant force
      • explanations are not concise and clear
  • Question B3
    • 3.6/10
    • common errors
      • non-linear scaling of axes in graphing
      • best-fit line often is drawn by just connecting points
      • not showing work for calculating slope of the best-fit line
      • not understanding that the light must pass from a higher index of refraction to a lower index of refraction in order to have total internal reflection
  • Question B4
    • 3.6/10
    • common errors
      • not reading the question carefully and not answering what is asked
      • not showing enough work beginning with the correct equations and then all the needed steps leading to an answer
      • messing up the horizontal and the vertical dimensions in calculations
      • deficiency in understanding the conservation of momentum
      • using “energy,” “force,” “momentum” and “velocity” interchangeable in explanations
  • Question B5
    • 3.6/10
    • common errors
      • misunderstanding of the sign conventions in evolved for heat, work and energy
      • not clear with their justifications, but often simply restated the question, and answer without providing further support
      • connected heat or average kinetic energy to temperature, but not to the internal energy
      • used W = -PΔV and did not discuss the effect of temperature on the pressure
  • Question 6
    • 3.5/15
    • common errors
      • simple calculations errors were everywhere
      • incorrect use or value of the magnetic permeability, μo, in Ampere’s Law
      • not understanding the intent of parts (a) & (b)
      • did not clearly understand the nature of the question and the connection of the parts to each other
  • Question 7
    • 2.7/10
    • common errors
      • the most common errors were the result of a lack of understanding of atomic states and associated energy levels. Students seemed to choose and use the equations without basic understanding of the physics involved.

AP Annual Conference: A First Look at the Labs for AP Computer Science A

A First Look at the Labs for AP Computer Science A

Renee Ciezki

I attended this session since the AP Computer Science Case Study, Grid World, will be retied after the 2013-2014 school year. It is being “replaced” by a set of example labs, none of which will be accessed directly but present concepts that will be assessed. The case study is one of my favorite aspects of AP Computer Science A because I find it extremely authentic that students are presented with a large body of well designed and well written code that they have to understand and extend. That said, these new labs look really good and will be a fantastic resource for teachers.

  • real-world context will increase interest
  • exam questions will focus on essential concepts
  • Draft lab materials (site is currently down)
    • teacher guide, student guide, code
  • updated course description (topic outline remains the same) and lab materials available February 2014
  • new audit should not be required; maybe just a form in which you promise to have good labs that meet the hands-on time requirement and cover the necessary concepts
  • there will also be new practice exams to reflect this change
  • use of these labs are not required
  • session slides


  • Natural Language Processing (NLP)
  • String class
  • Conditionals and iteration, arrays optional
  • a chatbot
  • created by Laurie White, Mercer University, Macon, GA
  • 4-8 hours of activities? (presenter did it one 75 minute class period?)
  • use it as a first lab to introduce the IDE? (better than Hello World)

Picture Lab

  • Manipulating digital pictures (Media Computation)
  • Two-dimensional arrays
  • created by Barbara Ericson, Georgia Tech, Atlanta, GA
  • 6.5 – 15 hours
  • Stenganography and chroma key in the teacher guide as extensions


  • Solitaire game, GUI supplied
  • Object-oriented design and programming
  • Michael Clancy, University of California at Berkeley
  • Judith Hromcik, School for the Talented and Gifted, Dallas, TX
  • Robert Glen Martin, School for the Talented and Gifted, Dallas, TX
  • 11 (+5 optional) hours

AP Annual Conference: AP Physics 1 and 2 Courses

AP Physics 1 and 2 Courses

Connie Wells, Co-Chair, Physics 2 Development Committee

Karen Lionberger, College Board’s AP Program Director, Science Curriculum and Content

I attended this session to learn as much as possible about the new AP Physics 1 and 2 courses as we are “piloting” AP Physics 1 in the context of our Honors Physics course this upcoming school year.

  • Out of 1 million high school freshen interested in STEM majors and careers, 57.4% loose interest and switch to a different career path.
  • Big Ideas -> Enduring Understandings -> Essential Knowledge + Science Practices -> Learning Objectives
  • Physics 1 designed to have a couple of weeks of extra time to cover additional topics to meet requirements for state exams or teacher preference.
  • Big Idea 7 is only addressed in Physics 2. Some new material related to probability.
  • Rigor (or Vigor) = Complexity (and Autonomy) + Engagement
  • Teaching Strategies for Success in the AP Physics 1 and 2 Courses
    • assessment of prior knowledge, beliefs, and misconceptions that students bring with them to the course(s)
    • analysis of how to deal with students’ misconceptions
    • greater depth of conceptual understanding through the use of student-centered, inquiry-based instructional practices
    • use of formative assessments to guide instructional practices and provide feedback to students about depth of understanding
    • planning lessons based on the clearly articulated AP Physics learning objectives
    • integration of student inquiry laboratory work into the course
  • How the Learning Objectives Will Be Assessed
    • ability to solve problems mathematically – including symbolically – but with less emphasis on only mathematical routines used for solutions
    • questions relating to lab experience and analytical skills: designing and describing experiments; data and error analysis
    • questions asking for explanations, reasoning, or justification of answers
    • more emphasis on deeper understanding of foundational principles and concepts
    • interpreting and developing conceptual models
  • laboratory emphasis on students – inquiry-based, hands-on, integrated, investigative and collaborative
  • lab questions will focus more on error analysis and what the next step in the investigation would be
  • students will have to write at least one paragraph-length argument (make a claim and support with evidence) in the short-answer questions
  • 2014 professional development will launch new One-Day and AP Summer Institute Workshops to support the new courses
  • June 2014 – practice exams for both AP Physics 1 and Physics 2
  • sample syllabi available before March 2014
  • course and exam description (including equation sheets) available March 2014
  • course planning and pacing guides (8 total, 4 for each course)
  • teacher’s guide on inquiry-based investigations
  • 2 pacing guides will be available August 1st
  • Advances in AP site
  • 140 instruction hours is the target for AP courses (Physics 1 is targeted at 115-120 to allow time for additional topics)

AP Annual Conference: Learning with Exploring Computer Science

Learning with Exploring Computer Science (ECS): Connections to AP CS

I attended this session to get an overview of Exploring Computer Science and AP Computer Science Principles, determine how these courses may apply to my school’s computer science sequence, and learn how these efforts are able to increase enrollment of underrepresented groups.

Exploring Computer Science (ECS)

  • Goal: increase student enrollment, especially with females and underrepresented minorities.
  • ECS is a year-long course that includes six curricular units and daily lesson plans. Grew out of the book Stuck in the Shallow End. Funded by the NSF.
  • ECS computer science concepts
    • human-computer interaction
    • problem solving
    • web design
    • introduction to programming
    • computing and data analysis
    • robotics
  • ECS computational practices
    • analyze effects of computing
    • design creative solutions and artifacts
    • apply abstractions and models
    • analyze computational work and work of others
    • communication computational thought processes
    • collaborate with peers on computing activities
  • In the Los Angeles School District, ~2000 students are enrolled in ECS per year; 45% are girls; underrepresented minority enrollment mirrors (or exceeds) enrollment in the district.
  • ECS is also in Chicago Public Schools as well; data forthcoming.

AP Computer Science Principles

Jody Paul

  • involved in APCS, AP Computer Science Principles, and ECS
  • The context within which we teach Computer Science …
    • extreme variation in prior exposure and experience of students
    • misconception: computer science equals writing programs
    • cognitive shifts are associated with acquiring new thinking skills
      • require the passage of time (as well as mentored exercise) to acquire and internalize
      • limited set of skills successful in other domains not sufficient
      • frustration, confusion, bewilderment
  • Success in Computer Science is associated with being adept at:
    • discovery learning & inquiry-based learning
    • understanding when and how to seek assistance from peers, mentors, and references
    • working collaboratively
    • applying creative practices
    • appreciating larger context within which computation exists
    • accepting and working well with the juxtaposition of vagueness and precision
      • problems must be precisely specified
      • there are many correct ways to solve a problem
      • solutions must be creatively developed
      • a solution must be precisely and unambiguously specified
  • Three programs jointly facilitate success
    • leveling influences to accommodate diverse backgrounds
    • establishing meaningful context
    • correcting misconceptions and inappropriate stereotypes
    • initiating mental development processes that facilitate the cognitive shifts necessary for successful study in CS
    • preparing students for progressively increasing rigor and challenge in CS study
    • acquisition of key skills: inquiry, collaboration, algorithmic thinking, …


  • AP CS Principles is intended for all 21st Century Students. It is a computer science course; not a programming course.
  • Only 10 states count computer science as a math or science course. Some states have no certification for computer science.
  • ECS, AP CS Principles, and AP Computer Science A are not intended to be a course sequence. All three courses are potential entry points into computer science. The panel seemed to concur that the audience for AP Computer Science A is quite different, and smaller, than the audience for the other two courses. There was a bit of confusion about how ECS and AP Computer Science Principles differ. With my limited exposure, they seem very similar in principle. I wouldn’t envision a high school offering both. The fact that one is AP and one is not may lead a high school toward one over the other. In addition, since ECS is an entire course package (e.g., includes daily lesson plans) while AP CS Principles is a curriculum framework, may lead a high school towards one over the other. I don’t see either replacing our current Programming 1/2 courses, but I could see offering one or the other as an additional course targeted at a much wider audience.

AP Computer Science Preconference Workshop

I attended the AP Computer Science workshop led by Leon Tabak from Cornell College at the AP Annual Conference. The workshop was a good mix of discussion among the participants and sharing of information by Leon. This post captures the litany of resources, pedagogical ideas, and insights from the workshop.


  • Java Style Guide. Leon recommended The Elements of Java Style. I currently use Litvin and Litvin’s The 17 Bits of Style which is Appendix A in their book Java Methods. I also reference Sun’s Code Conventions. I’ll have to pick up a copy of the Java Style Guide.
  • Leon makes great use of Javadoc in his code. I learned that you can embed any HTML in the Javadoc comments. This includes image tags referencing UML diagrams, links to articles on algorithms, or even LaTex markup through the inclusion of MathJax!
  • Speaking of LaTex, Leon introduced me to the Listings package which supports Java and very nicely formats both inline code and code snippets in LaTex documents.
  • Leon’s site: Eons Ahead
  • ICE at Georgia Tech has AP practice questions
  • Dia is a UML diagramming tool that was recommended


  • Leon led us through a series of exercises to introduce recursion. His exercises help students to understand the value of recursion rather than just understand the concept. He highlights an analysis of effective and efficient methods implemented recursively and iteratively. He starts with the classic example of implementing a factorial method recursively. While this recursive implementation is easier to understand conceptually, it is no more efficient (actually less efficient) than an iterative solution. The next exercise implements a powers of 2 method recursively and illustrates that the recursive solution is more efficient than an iterative solution by applying the algorithm 2^n = (2^{\frac{n}{2}})^2 . Additional exercises build on these ideas. A recursive method that raises a number to a power can introduce log n vs. n efficiency. Similarly, Euclid’s Algorithm for calculating the greatest common divisor is another good example.
  • While talking about recursion, one of the participants shared an exercise that she uses with her students. She gives them index cards with a number written on them and references to other cards. A student with a card reads the number and then asks the person with the referenced card to do the same. In the end, the school’s telephone number is spoken. She then has them ask the person with the referenced card for their number before speaking the number on the card. The result is the school’s telephone number backwards. This nicely illustrates the difference between tail and head recursion. Reflecting on this activity, I think I would put letters on the cards instead of numbers such that the series of cards would spell one word with tail recursion and a different word with head recursion. I’m definitely going to try this concrete example of recursion next year.
  • In the midsts of a discussion of whether students should type in code by hand in order to discover common syntax mistakes that they will inevitably make and how to debug them, an alternative activity was shared. The activity is to provide students with working sample code and a list of errors to introduce one at a time. Students introduce the error, observe the result, and then better understand the how common mistakes are manifested.
  • Another discussion focused on engaging students through pop culture examples. One that sounded intriguing was exploring class hierarchies using Angry Birds.
  • Leon shared the importance of having students present and explain their code to their peers. I’m going to try and incorporate this next year. Perhaps in conjunction with their capstone project.


  • Students that have a computer science class before AP Computer Science are much more successful. This is not surprising, but I was surprised by how many participants teach AP Computer Science as students’ first course. At my school, we are fortunate that we have Programming 1/2, each one semester, that is required (except for exceptional situations), before enrolling in AP Computer Science. I would be unable to expose students to many of the topics that I think are important (UML, unit testing, Javadoc, graphics) if AP Computer Science was their first course.