Tag Archives: peer instruction

AP Physics B Reflections and Plans for Next Year

I’ve been collecting my thoughts on this past year throughout the summer. Since I’m about to start a new school year, now is a good time to review these reflections and share my thoughts and plans for the upcoming year.

This past year was the first year that we officially offered AP Physics B. In previous years, I’ve taught a one-semester Advanced Physics course which covered those topics that are part of the AP Physics B curriculum that were not covered in Honors Physics. So, while a full-year class was new, the content was familiar. Another significant difference between the old Advanced Physics course and the AP Physics B course was the pace and the prior background of the students. Advanced Physics moved at a lightening pace with no review of topics previously covered in Honors Physics. The AP Physics B course, covers all topics that are part of the curriculum, even those covered in previous physics classes. This allows students that have previously taken either General Physics or Honors Physics to be successful in the class. I was pleased that about a third of the students enrolled in AP Physics B had taken General Physics the previous year.

I tried several new ideas in AP Physics B. Based on student feedback, the most successful activity was peer instruction. I specifically followed the techniques in the article Combining Peer Discussion with Instructor Explanation Increases Student Learning from In-Class Concept Questions to maximize the effectiveness. All questions selected were conceptual. I found that conceptual questions lead to more lively discussions among students and, historically, my students have struggled more with conceptual questions than quantitative problem solving questions. The questions were a combination of Paul Hewitt’s Next-Time Questions and clicker question banks from University of Colorado Boulder and Ohio State University. I started using clickers from Turning Technologies, but transitioned to the Nearpod app on iPads. Students preferred the Nearpod app since they could read the questions off their screen rather than off the projected screen. I was very pleased with the level of student engagement, discussion, and debate during these peer instruction activities. I will continue peer instruction next year and we are expanding its use to our revamped Honors Physics class this upcoming year as well.

While students shared that peer instruction was the most effective class activity, their favorite activity was the capstone. I previously shared the capstone projects. We will do capstones at the end of the fall semester again this coming year. In addition, we will be doing capstones at the end of the spring semester in the revamped Honors Physics class.

Another significant change was providing one or two quizzes for each unit. Feedback from students in Honors Physics and insights by other physics teachers to a previous post, helped me to realize students needed additional formative assessments in order to accurate measure their understanding of the current unit. These quizzes were scored by the students in class (not for a grade), which provided insight into how AP problems were scored, and copies of solutions were immediately distributed. Often, I would collect the scored exams to flip through them and note which students were struggling and which concepts needed additional class time. I believe these quizzes worked well since they provided students with a clear and immediate feedback as to whether their level of understanding was where it should be well before the unit exam. As a result, fewer students needed to take advantage of reassessment opportunities after unit exams in AP Physics B than in Honors Physics. These formative quizzes are another activity that we will be incorporating in the revamped Honors Physics class this upcoming year.

The fourth new activity I introduced in AP Physics B was computational modeling. For most of units that focused on mechanics, we explored and extended computational models. We had mixed success with computational modeling. Several students struggled to come up the learning curve with the limited amount of class time that we dedicated. The most successful activity was using VPython to model projectile motion for an early lab. This activity was successful because of the additional time provided and the clear utility of using the computational model to solve a problem not easily solved in other ways. Despite the mixed success, I’m going to continue exposing my AP Physics B students to computational modeling. I may be a bit more selected in which units we explore the models and perhaps spend more time on those specific models.

Looking ahead to the upcoming year, I’m going to change very little. Overall, I’m very pleased with how last year went. In addition, we are making major changes to Honors Physics (upcoming post) and I’ve made a lot of changes to AP Computer Science. Next summer, I’ll restructure AP Physics B into the new AP Physics 2 class; so, I’ll wait until then to make any major changes.

Peer Instruction with NearPod and iPads

This year with my AP Physics B class, I’m trying a number of new ideas. One is peer instruction. This appealed to me because historically my AP Physics students have struggled on the more conceptual questions and peer instruction addresses these types of questions. While peer instruction is often associated with some sort of a “flipped” classroom, I want to be clear that I’m not flipping anything. I’m using peer instruction as a formative assessment tool and an opportunity for students to refine their conceptual understanding through thought and debate.

The particular methodology that I’m trying is best described by Stephanie Chasteen in her post “FTEP Effective facilitation of clickers workshop. She referenced a paper either on her blog or her podcast which described how a specific peer instruction technique was the most effective. The key elements are:

  • students register their answer individually
  • instructor shows distribution of answers but not which answer is correct
  • students discuss, debate, and defend their answer; preferably with students who choose a different answer
  • students register their answer again
  • instruction show the distribution of answers and explains why that answer is correct

The research showed that this final step was critical.

In another post, Stephanie shared several resources for these types of questions for physics. I have found that Paul Hewitt’s Next-Time Questions also make excellent peer instruction questions as long as I post them in advance for students to consider outside of class with sufficient time for consideration.

I started the semester using Turning Technologies clickers, which I already use in some of my classes when administering exams. These worked fine. A colleague of mine showed me the NearPod app on the iPads, and I decided to try that for a change. While creating a presentation on the NearPod web site takes more effort on my part, I and my students have found using NearPod for peer instruction is better than the clickers. Because each student views the question on their own device, I can show more content-dense questions than I can when projecting on a screen in the classroom. In addition, NearPod allows me to create questions where students respond by drawing or annotating. This is perfect for graphical and diagrammatic answers. The only feature I miss when using NearPod is the lack of a countdown timer to remind students they need to submit their answers.

I have continuously been impressed with the level of engagement and the quality discussions that I observe during peer instruction. I’ve heard students devise novel and clear explanations when justifying their answer to other students. I’ve seen students leap into the air when they were in the minority but their answer is the correct one. I consistently receive very positive feedback about this element of class.

I hope to find a way to incorporate peer instruction into my Honors Physics class next year.