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Preparing for New AP Physics B Course

I will spend a lot of time this summer preparing for a new AP Physics B course. For most of the past five years, I’ve taught an Advanced Physics course which was a third semester of physics after Honors Physics that covered fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, and modern physics topics. This class wasn’t officially an AP Physics B class, but many students took the AP exam and were well prepared.

However, this new course replaces Advanced Physics, will be a two-semester course, and is open to students who have completed either Physics or Honors Physics. So, the students will have covered different topics and approached physics from different perspectives. For example, the Honors Physics class covers a superset of topics but the Physics class emphasizes the development and understanding of Models. Due to this diversity, and now being an official AP course, I’m taking the opportunity to develop new class materials and try a few new approaches.

Topic Sequence

We will briefly review or cover all AP Physics B topics in this course. Topics that are review will be used as opportunities to perform more sophisticated labs and explore new representations such as computational models. In addition, there are certain topics that I believe should be part of a college physics class and that are of great interest to students but are not part of the AP Physics B curriculum. We will cover those as well.

Fall Semester

  • Special Relativity
  • Kinematics
  • Statics and Dynamics
  • Fluid Mechanics
  • Work, Energy, Power
  • Thermodynamics
  • Linear Momentum
  • Oscillations and Gravity
  • Waves
  • Capstone Project

Spring Semester

  • Electrostatics
  • Electric Circuits
  • Magnetic Fields
  • Electromagnetism
  • Geometric Optics
  • Physical Optics
  • Particle Physics
  • Atomic Physics and Quantum Effects
  • Nuclear Physics
  • Cosmology

Components of Each Unit

I’m going to try a few new ideas in most units. Some of these are driven by methodologies that I have wanted to try for a while (e.g., computational modeling and peer instruction). Others are driven by new technologies available to my students (e.g., Canvas and iPads).

Topic Summary

I’m currently writing an AP Physics B review guide as an iBook. I wanted a review guide tailored to my students’ experiences and the structure of the class. The review guide is organized by topic but focuses on the models applicable to each topic. In addition to a description of the relevant models, the graphical, mathematical, and diagrammatic representation of those models are included as appropriate. I want students to explore an additional representation of the models to reinforce their understanding and have been very impressed with John Burk’s use of computational modeling. So, computation models developed using physutil and VPython are also included. I hope to include the iBook (also as a PDF) as well as related videos and code snippets in an iTunesU course. I’ve been impressed with iBook Author so far and have exported the first chapter as a PDF.

Download (PDF, 5.87MB)

Labs and Lab Notebooks

Since all students have already had a year of physics, I’m looking forward to doing some more sophisticated labs. Students will be creating electronic lab notebooks as portfolios in our new learning management system, Canvas. In addition, since we will have a class set of iPads available, we will be evaluating Vernier’s new LabQuest 2 and the Connected Science System.

Quizzes and Peer Instruction

I have been wanting to explore peer instruction using clickers and I think the more conceptual questions would be a great fit and prepare students for the multiple choice portion of the AP exam. I found some wonderful existing clicker question at OSU and CU Boulder. I’m compiling quizzes from existing AP free-response questions and will use the scoring rubrics to provide formative feedback to prepare students for the free response portion of the AP exam.

Exams

Secure Pretty Good Physics (Secure PGP) is a great resource for AP Physics teachers. Other teachers have indexed questions by topic which makes creating new exams much easier. I’m compiling an exam and a reassessment exam for each unit based on existing AP multiple choice and free response questions. I plan to post these, along with the quizzes, to Secure PGP when I’m done.

Standards-Based Assessment and Reporting

I’m using a slightly modified version of the SBAR structure that we’ve been using in Honors Physics. The biggest change is that assessments will be scored on a five-point scale, like the AP exam itself. This is a small change for those students familiar with Physics’ four-point scale, but a more significant change for those students familiar with Honors Physics’ mastery system. Another significant change is the granularity of standards. Due to the integrated nature of the AP exam, standards will be very broad, usually one standard for each unit. All of the details of the SBAR structure are enumerated in the class syllabus.

Download (PDF, 62KB)

I hope some of you who are also teaching AP Physics B find something here of use. I know that the work that other teachers have done is incredibly helpful as I prepare for this new course. I plan to share pretty much everything I compile either here or on Secure PGP; so, please stay tuned or ask if I forget to post something.

Something Has Replaced My iPad in My Bag

For the last year and a half, I’ve almost exclusively used an iPad as my computing device at school. I was pleasantly surprised that practically everything that I needed to do: email, web browsing, demonstrating how to solve problems, and playing videos; I could do on the iPad. I loved that the iPad turned on instantly, never needed to be plugged in during the day, and weighed almost nothing. At home, I still had a traditional computer, an iMac, which I used extensively in the evenings.

Lately, as I’ve been more and more busy, I’ve noticed that during the day, I would have to capture tasks and postpone their completion since I could not efficiently handle them on the iPad. (Perhaps, a future post on Getting Things Done is warranted to explain the methodology I use for task management.) My extracurricular activities are ramping up and they require me to complete a more diverse and spontaneous series of tasks during the day.

I finally decided to make a change. I purchased a MacBook Air and have been using it for the past week. It has been wonderful and I have been more productive. The MacBook Air has many of the characteristics of the iPad: near-instant on, incredibly light, and long battery life. In addition, I can do almost anything on the MacBook Air at school as I can do at home on the iMac.

I haven’t set up a new Mac in a while and I was surprised at how different my experience was with the MacBook Air. With the advent of Dropbox and iCloud, I didn’t copy any files when setting up the MacBook Air; these services synchronized, and continue to synchronize, my contacts, calendar entries, mail, photos, and files between my Macs and iOS devices. For the first time, when I pick up any of my computing devices, I feel that I am at home and not using a satellite computing device that is just a snapshot.

Not everything is perfect, however. The iWork Apps on Mac OS X, need better support for iCloud so that document management is round-trip between Mac OS X and iOS. I expect that this will be addressed, but, for now, I continue to use Dropbox and manually integrate changes made on iOS devices back to the Mac. Particularly annoying are the issues with the MacBook Air running Lion and wireless networks. I’ve hacked on my configuration enough to have a functional but annoying solution; so, I’m better off than some. Regardless, I’m amazed that Apple has yet to address these issues. Finally, the MacBook Air isn’t a tablet. I continue to use the iPad on its own when I want to demonstrate how to solve problems because I can write well on it with Note Taker HD, it projects well on the screen, and it is easy to export my notes to PDF files and post them to our class web site. Perhaps I’ll find an app that makes the iPad function as a drawing tablet for a MacBook.

I haven’t given up on the iPad by any means. I still hope to run an iPad pilot with my class. I think an iPad has several advantages when used in a classroom by students and teachers compared to traditional laptops and I want to explore these. Personally, I still use my iPad. I expect that when traveling or attending a conference, I will only bring my iPad. Finally, nothing is more immersive than curling up on the couch with a blanket and an iPad and reading.

How My iPad Replaced My Laptop

I started the fall semester with the intention to see if my iPad could replace my laptop during the school day. In short, it has. How was this possible? Before I elaborate, I want to be clear that I have an iMac at home that I use all the time and there are days that I use my school-issued tablet due to limitations of the iPad.

Key Features

I’ve been surprised by several of the features that I most appreciate about the iPad.

The best is that it turns on instantly. It takes my school-issued tablet several minutes to boot. Even if I wake it from sleep, it fails to connect the the wireless as often as not and requires at least a reboot. While this is an appreciated feature for me, I’ve recently realized that this is a killer feature for iPads in the classroom. When a student pulls a laptop out of the cart, boots it, logs in, and then later, shuts it down, a substantial fraction of class is spent with these worthless tasks.

The iPad battery is fantastic. I never charge it at school; I just plug it in every night. My bag is light and now there’s more room for lab reports.

VGA output is a critical feature. I need to display a variety of media via an LCD projector in my classroom. VGA output is not a universal feature; it has to be supported by individual applications. I’m surprised by how many people are unaware that an iPad can project slides via an LCD projector.

Key Applications

I rely on a number of important applications on the iPad in order for it to replace my laptop. Just as importantly, I rely on a number of applications on my Mac that interface with my iPad.

Omnifocus

My life is manageable because of Omnifocus. I’ve followed the Getting Things Done methodology or something similar for years and Omnifocus; which is synchronized between my Mac, iPhone, and iPad; is the best implementation of it. Without Omnifocus, the iPad wouldn’t even be an option.

Yojimbo

Yojimbo is my digital junk drawer. All of my bookmarks, notes, receipts, etc. are stored and tagged in Yojimbo. I don’t often need to create new items on my iPad but I definitely need to search and access them.

Keynote

I often have slides to display in class. I’ve used Keynote on my Mac for years. Keynote on the iPad pretty much displays whatever I create on my Mac. The latest version of Keynote supports the display of presenter notes on the iPad while displaying slides via the LCD. This is a key feature for me as it allows me to scroll through my lesson plans while a slide is being displayed.

Dropbox

I used to copy Keynote files between my Mac and my iPad via iTunes. This is a huge pain. I now use Dropbox to have practically all of my files accessible from my iPad. I wish the iWord apps on the iPad would integrate seamlessly with Dropbox. No, I don’t want to use iWork.com.

1Password

Each of my logins is unique and relatively secure. I rely on 1Password on my Mac to manage this and it syncs with 1Password on my iPad. The 1Password iPad browser doesn’t work as well as Safari for some sights, but it works well enough for me to take attendance without having to type my log in information in every period.

Other Apps

PCalc: I teach physics, PCalc is the best calculator.

iBooks: I don’t read many books on my iPad, but I reference a ton of PDFs.

YouTube and Videos: These apps support VGA output so I can share videos with my classes.

Limitations

I still use my school-issued tablet when I want to demonstrate how to solve physics problems. I was given an Acase iPad stylus for Christmas. It works better for writing equations than the Pogo Sketch, but I wish it had a finer point. The best note taking application that I’ve found so far that supports VGA output is PenUltimate. However, I plan to try Note Taker HD soon. If you have any recommendations for another stylus or app that would be well suited for writing equations as well as drawing diagrams, please let me know!

There are many excellent physics simulations available (PhET and OpenSource Physics). However, they require either Flash or Java. I’m tempted to compile my own Java interpreter so I can at least run some of the simulations but I really have better things to do. Hopefully, someone figures out a solution that is compatible with Apple’s application requirements regarding interpreters.

I occasionally wish I could display something via an LCD projector in an app that doesn’t suport VGA output. It would be great if the iPad supported universal VGA output (without jailbreaking it). It would be even better if it supported wireless LCD projectors (like the Epson one in my room).

Conclusion

Overall, I’m quite pleased with my iPad at school. I find that the benefits outweigh the limitations and I can go find my school-issued tablet when needed. Rather than replacing my first generation Intel-based MacBook Pro this winter, I bought a 27″ iMac instead. The price of my iPad plus an iMac is less than a new MacBook Pro. In case you are wondering, I really like the 27″ screen.