2013-2014 in Numbers

The 2013-2014 school year by the numbers:

  • 88 students in the fall; 86 students in the spring
  • 71 recommendation letters for 36 different students
  • 30 standards in AP Physics B; 80, in Honors Physics; 20 in AP Computer Science
  • 596 tweets
  • 16 blog posts
  • 186 180 posts
  • 9288 school e-mails received; 4820 sent
  • 23 partial or full days missed; none due to illness
  • 0.55 FCI gain (n=18)
  • 4.484 average AP Physics B score; 4.407 average AP Computer Science score

Standards for AP Physics 2

I floated this idea on Twitter a couple of weeks ago and have decided to give it a try. Historically, I’ve grouped my assessment standards into unit-centric categories. In an attempt to emphasize the big ideas and science practices more strongly, I’m going to group standards by the Big Ideas defined by the College Board for AP Physics 2. My assessment standards are the Enduring Understanding defined for each Big Idea. The Essential Knowledge items and Learning Objectives are too fine grained for my style of standards-based assessment and reporting, especially for an AP class where I want students to focus on the combination of multiple concepts.

There will be multiple assessments (labs and exam questions) for each standard. A given assessment will focus on a subset of learning objectives for that standard. As a result, there will be multiple scores for each standard in the grade book. I hope this will give students more insight into their strengths and areas for improvement as they progress throughout the course. I’ll still have reassessments.

The weights for each Big Idea category will not be the same, but I’m going to do more planning before assigning them. I also need to see how these standards are split between the fall and spring semesters.

If you think I’m courting disaster with this plan, please let me know. If you adopt a similar approach for your AP Physics class, please remember I’ve never tried this before!

  • 1: Objects and systems have properties such as mass and charge. Systems may have internal structure.
    • 1.A: The internal structure of a system determines many properties of the system.
    • 1.B: Electric charge is a property of an object or system that affects its interactions with other objects or systems containing charge.
    • 1.C: Objects and systems have properties of inertial mass and gravitational mass that are experimentally verified to be the same and that satisfy conservation principles.
    • 1.D: Classical mechanics cannot describe all properties of objects.
    • 1.E: Materials have many macroscopic properties that result from the arrangement and interactions of the atoms and molecules that make up the material.
  • 2: Fields existing in space can be used to explain interactions.
    • 2.A: A field associates a value of some physical quantity with every point in space. Field models are useful for describing interactions that occur at a distance (long-range forces) as well as a variety of other physical phenomena.
    • 2.C: An electric field is caused by an object with electric charge.
    • 2.D: A magnetic field is caused by a magnet or a moving electrically charged object. Magnetic fields observed in nature always seem to be produced either by moving charged objects or by magnetic dipoles or combinations of dipoles and never by single poles.
    • 2.E: Physicists often construct a map of isolines connecting points of equal value for some quantity related to a field and use these maps to help visualize the field.
  • 3: The interactions of an object with other objects can be described by forces.
    • 3.A: All forces share certain common characteristics when considered by observers in inertial reference frames.
    • 3.B: Classically, the acceleration of an object interacting with other objects can be predicted by using ´┐╝Newton’s Second Law.
    • 3.C: At the macroscopic level, forces can be categorized as either long-range (action-at-a-distance) forces or contact forces.
    • 3.G: Certain types of forces are considered fundamental.
  • 4: Interactions between systems can result in changes in those systems.
    • 4.C: Interactions with other objects or systems can change the total energy of a system.
    • 4.E: The electric and magnetic properties of a system can change in response to the presence of, or changes in, other objects or systems.
  • 5: Changes that occur as a result of interactions are constrained by conservation laws.
    • 5.B: The energy of a system is conserved.
    • 5.C: The electric charge of a system is conserved.
    • 5.D: The linear momentum of a system is conserved.
    • 5.F: Classically, the mass of a system is conserved.
  • 6: Waves can transfer energy and momentum from one location to another without the permanent transfer of mass and serve as a mathematical model for the description of other phenomena.
    • 6.A: A wave is a traveling disturbance that transfers energy and momentum.
    • 6.B: A periodic wave is one that repeats as a function of both time and position and can be described by its amplitude, frequency, wavelength, speed, and energy.
    • 6.C: Only waves exhibit interference and diffraction.
    • 6.E: The direction of propagation of a wave such as light may be changed when the wave encounters an interface between two media.
    • 6.F: Electromagnetic radiation can be modeled as waves or as fundamental particles.
    • 6.G: All matter can be modeled as waves or as particles.
  • 7: The mathematics of probability can be used to describe the behavior of complex systems and to interpret the behavior of quantum mechanical systems.
    • 7.A: The properties of an ideal gas can be explained in terms of a small number of macroscopic variables including temperature and pressure.
    • 7.B: The tendency of isolated systems to move toward states with higher disorder is described by probability.
    • 7.C: At the quantum scale, matter is described by a wave function, which leads to a probabilistic description of the microscopic world.

AP Physics B End-of-Year Survey Results

Before I start planning for the new AP Physics 2 class in detail, I first reviewed the end-of-year feedback from my AP Physics B students. I made very few changes in this course last year since two years ago went well and this is the last year for the course. In the following charts, a “1” represents strongly agree and a “5” represents strongly disagree.

A majority of the students didn’t read the textbook much. I’m not surprised by this since I don’t push the textbook very much. It is dated and doesn’t align much with my pedagogy. Students rely on other resources from class much more. However, I do think it is important that students learn to read a college-level text. I’m extremely pleased that next year we will have Knight’s College Physics text which I will incorporate much more strongly into the new AP Physics 2 course.

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I assigned conceptual questions from the textbook. Again, most students didn’t answer these. However, those that did, found them valuable. The conceptual questions assigned from the text were different than those I used for peer instruction. I may make use Knight’s conceptual questions as some of the peer instruction questions next year, which I expect will motivate students to answer them.

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Many students did not solve the homework problems. Those that did, found them helpful. Honestly, with few exceptions, I’m fine with this. I don’t grade homework and want students to learn to determine if they need the additional practice or not. Most of my students learn to self assess and make good choices in this area.

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Lab activities and practice quizzes are all about learning and not graded. Students found the quizzes (old AP free response questions) particularly useful. I’m really going to miss having a huge collection of old free response questions next year in AP Physics 2.

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I wanted to highlight peer instruction specifically. I was surprised last year how valuable students found peer instruction focused on conceptual questions. This year’s feedback was just as strong. In the free-form comments in the section “What are some things that I should keep doing next year?” peer instruction was mentioned more than anything else. I think focusing on conceptual questions through peer instruction will be even more important in the new AP Physics 1/2 courses which emphasize a deep, conceptual understanding. Perhaps, since this has been a focus of my class for the past two years, is why I’m freaking out much less than other AP physics teachers after taking the AP practice exams.

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Strong positive feedback on the summative labs for the course. I plan to incorporate those that are relevant into the AP Physics 2 course next year. We’ve already incorporated some of them into the AP Physics 1 course. The choices for the “I found the summative labs:” question ranged from too challenging (1) to too easy (5). In similar fashion to my AP Computer Science students’ feedback, students found the written feedback provided via Canvas helpful in developing their understanding of the material.

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A couple of surprises in terms of which labs students marked as their favorites. The Simple Harmonic Motion lab has students develop a mathematical model by modifying various physical characteristics of a mass on a vertical spring. I was surprised it wasn’t more popular. We also did this lab in Honors Physics (AP Physics 1) this year. I was surprised that the diffraction and interference lab was in the top 5. I don’t feel that it is one of my strongest labs, yet students disagree. No surprise that the capstone project was the run-away favorite. I will keep that in the AP Physics 2 class. I’m planning to continue to do the CMS Masterclass, which focuses on particle physics, in AP Physics 2 as well. Hopefully, we can do this as part of a field trip to Fermilab next year. We didn’t have a field trip to Fermilab this year. The most common suggestion in the section “What are some things that I should try next year?” was to have a field trip to Fermilab. I hate to lose the Projectile Motion lab. The only way it would be part of AP Physics 2 is if I use it as a lab for an introductory unit on computational modeling. It is too advanced for AP Physics 1 in the projectile motion unit.

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Pleased that so many students are considering pursuing STEM-related fields, but not too surprised since this is a second-year physics course.

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Strong positive feedback on standards-based assessment and reporting. Summative labs and exams were scored on a 1-5 scale. Each unit that consisted of one exam and one lab. I’m considering changing this next year and having a standard for each AP Physics 2 Essential Knowledge item grouped into categories based on each AP Physics 2 Big Ideas. I feel this will emphasize science practices and connections between concepts rather than my traditional approach focused on units and content.

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This summer I have a lot of work to do developing the new AP Physics 2 course which includes incorporating a new textbook and much more Modeling Instruction. I’ll take as much as possible from the AP Physics B course since most of it worked well the past two years. My AP Physics 2 students will also be piloting a 1:1 program (Chromebooks in the fall semester) which will require some additional preparation. AP Physics B is dead! Long live AP Physics 2!

AP Computer Science End-of-Year Survey Results

I recently reviewed the end-of-year feedback from my AP Computer Science students. This year we moved to a new textbook. Last summer, I focused on selecting new practice activities from the textbook and improving the summative labs that students complete at the end of each unit. I made the decision to invest most of my time in the development of the summative labs rather than the practice activities. My focus (and lack of focus) is evident in the feedback. In the following charts, a “1” represents strongly agree and a “5” represents strongly disagree.

I see practice activities as the aspect of the class most in need of improvement. While the feedback was largely positive, it was as positive as I would like. I believe the feedback on peer programming was a result of how I introduced, structured, and facilitated peer programming rather than a poor reflection on the methodology itself.

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The feedback on summative labs was much more positive, which is good because I put forth a lot of effort to improve those! I plan to retire the ActorBox lab which was an early introduction to GridWorld. I may do a turtle lab instead. I also need to re-evaluate the Word Search lab. The lack of popularity may be somewhat due to timing rather than the lab itself. I may look for a different lab for arrays and ArrayList. I would love to create something with more social relevance. The DrawingEditor was fairly well liked but was too much of a challenge for too many students. I may consider replacing it with the new AP Elevens lab.

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The chart is a shout out to Canvas’s Speed Grader. I sung its praises in an earlier post.

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I was surprised how many of my students were planning to major or minor in a computer-related field. I would expect about three-quarters of them would major in a STEM-related field, not solely computing related.

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I had a very simple standards-based assessment and reporting system for this class. Summative assessments were scored on a 1-5 scale. Each unit that consisted of one exam and one lab. I almost never had a conversation with students about scores or grades. Lots of conversations about computer science instead.

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My focus for this summer is to improve the practice activities by selecting fewer and selecting those that students will find more relevant. In addition, with the practice activities, I want to achieve a balance between instructor-led examples, individual development, and peer programming. I specifically want to improve my facilitation of peer programming. I also plan on developing my own slide decks instead of using those that are included with the textbook. Finally, we will be using GitHub next year and I want to move the summative labs into GitHub to provide necessary scaffolding for the students. Looking forward to next year!

iPad Resources for the Science Classroom

A colleague of mine will be the department chair at a 1:1 iPad school next year. While we don’t have a 1:1 program (yet), I have piloted iPads in my classroom. I wanted to share the apps that worked well in a science classroom and general deployment tips.

To start, there are some general apps for any classroom:

  • iWord (Pages, Keynote, Numbers)
  • iLife (iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand)
  • iBooks
  • iTunes U
  • Dropbox (or another cloud-based file system)
  • Canvas (you are using Canvas, right?)

Labs are a critical part of any classroom. I’m a huge fan of Vernier’s LabQuest 2 devices which play particularly well with their Graphical Analysis app. A lot of great lab work can be done via video analysis through Vernier’s Video Physics app. I didn’t use an app for lab notebooks in my classroom, but I recently visited 4th and 5th grade classrooms where students were working through a STEM unit and were creating fantastic lab notebooks with data tables, graphs, videos, and written reflections using the Creative Book Builder app.

There are several other apps which I have found very useful:

  • For collaborative drawing and problem solving, I haven’t found an app that is better than a $2 whiteboard. For individual note taking and drawing, Notability is my favorite app.
  • For additional analysis, the Desmos app is a fantastic graphing application. The best calculator app is PCalc.
  • For formative assessment and peer instruction, I had a lot of success with Nearpod.
  • For project and screencast projects, Explain Everything is fantastic.
  • It isn’t released yet, but I’m looking forward to Computable which combines IPython and SciPy on the iPad.

These final two aren’t apps for the iPads, but enhance the utility of iPads.

  • An iPad easily (and cheaply) replaces a document camera. I use the first version of Justand, but Justand V2 looks even better.
  • To share whatever is on the teacher’s or any student’s iPad by projecting it so the entire class can see it, I run Reflector on my laptop which is connected to the projector.

You may have the best collection of apps on your iPads, but if you don’t have a strategy for device deployment and management, you’re in trouble. MDM is pretty much required these days and iOS 7 plays well with it. Fraser Speirs and Bradley Chambers have a lot of experience deploying and managing iPads. Their podcast Out of School has a series of episodes focusing on deployment.

AP Physics 1 Unofficial Pilot

This past school year, my colleagues and I restructured our Honors Physics course to unofficially pilot the AP Physics 1 course. This was motivated by several factors. We wanted to get a jump on the new AP Physics 1 course so that this summer we would only have to revise the course since we also have to create the new AP Physics 2 course. We wanted to create a pipeline of students prepared for the AP Physics 2 course. We also were dissatisfied with the current structure and emphasis of our existing Honors Physics course.

We’ve structured our course around Standards-Based Assessment and Reporting (a.k.a. Standards Based Grading) for many years, and we continued to do so this year. We did make some changes to the specifics. We transitioned from a binary mastery / developing mastery system to a 1-5 scoring system. All of the details are captured in my syllabus.

A vast majority of the units follow Modeling Instruction and leverage a combination of the official Modeling Instruction materials and derived versions. A notable exception is the electric circuits unit for which we leveraged a combination of Physics by Inquiry materials and the Modeling Instruction CASTLE materials. The current model is based on the Physics by Inquiry investigations and the electric pressure (voltage) model is based on the Modeling Instruction CASTLE materials.

Below are our AP Physics 1 standards for the 2013-2014 school year. Standards that we felt were more significant were weighted twice as much and are designated by the “B” suffix as opposed to the “A” suffix. We will certainly revise these somewhat for next year after reviewing the College Board materials, attending AP workshops, and integrating our new textbook.

Overall, I am extremely pleased with how the AP Physics 1 pilot class was and what our students learned. The incorporation of Modeling Instruction; focus on in-depth, guided inquiry-based experiments; peer instruction-style discussion and debate of conceptual questions; and a great team of teachers with which to collaborate were the keys for the successful year.

Monkey and the Hunter Conceptual Explanation

Back in mid-November, I posted to my 180 blog about the classic monkey and hunter demonstration. In that post I referenced a conceptual explanation as to why the hunter should aim directly at the monkey. Andy asked me to share the conceptual explanation and I’m finally taking time to do so.

For many years the best conceptual explanation I could offer was based on that of a student who came up with the following after seeing the demonstration. Imagine there is no gravity. The angle is such that in the time it takes the projectile to move horizontally, it will move the necessary vertical distance to hit the monkey. The effect of adding back gravity just adds the \frac{1}{2} a t^{2} part of the equation which is the same for the monkey and the projectile.

This year, I developed an alternative conceptual explanation. Put yourself in the frame of reference of the monkey. The difference in the vertical component of the velocity between the monkey and the projectile is the same and will remain the same due to the acceleration of gravity. Therefore, the projectile has a constant velocity and, if aimed directly at the monkey, will move in a straight line toward the monkey.

I received a GoPro for Christmas and plan to use it to film this demonstration from the perspective of the monkey.