Tag Archives: physics

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)

  • exploringcs.org
  • 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, …

Q&A

  • 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.

Sharing Resources with Students via Evernote

I love reading about the latest developments in physics and technology. When I began teaching, I started collecting bookmarks for articles that I found online that were related to various topics we would study in class. I also started collecting bookmarks to resources for myself. At the start of each unit, I created a page organizing all of these links to articles, simulations, videos, and projects for students. This page serves as an extension to the class. Many of the topics go beyond the curriculum and are fascinating extensions to the unit of study. I would encourage students to browse this page when they were procrastinating: “If you are procrastinating instead of doing your homework, you might as well browse physics articles.”

I tried to optimize this process as much as possible. I stored the bookmarks in Yojimbo and somewhat automated the process of creating the page for each unit. However, there was still too much effort to keep each unit’s page current. I also wanted to share each unit’s page with a wider audience. Finally, while I collected a large number of links to resources for teachers, I didn’t have a completely automatic way to share them with anyone else.

Based on recommendations from several people, one of my projects this summer was to investigate Evernote. I was pleasantly surprised at how efficient a workflow I could develop.

My first step was to enumerate a superset of units and create an Evernote notebook for each unit. Actually, I created two Evernote notebooks for each unit: one for students and one for teachers:

Evernote Notebooks

I imported my existing bookmarks into Evernote which took a while but doesn’t need to be repeated. Evernote makes it easy to share a notebook publicly. However, I wanted to present the links within a notebook in an organized fashion. So, I created an index for each notebook of student links. This was really easy to do by filtering the notes in the notebook by various tags (articles, simulations, videos, make):

Filtering by Tags

I then selected all of the notes with the specified tag, right-clicked, and copied links to these notes:

Copying Links to Notes

Finally, I pasted these links into the index note under the appropriate heading:

Index Note

I didn’t bother with this level or organization for the notebooks containing teacher-centric links.

I was very pleased to see that it would be easy to keep track of new links that haven’t been added to the index note. Since the notes are sorted by when they are updated, when I start each unit, it is easy to see which links I need to add to the index because they are sorted before the index note:

Newer Notes

When I start each unit next year, I’ll update the index note and post a link to the shared notebook under the current module on Canvas. In addition, I now hope that a wider audience will benefit from these extensions of typical physics units. Evernote has a good web interface for exploring these shared notebooks:

Evernote Web Interface

Shared notebooks for the superset of units across my classes are enumerated on my web site. Feel free to share them with your student and I hope you leverage Evernote to share your own collection of links with your students and other teachers!

AP Physics B Assessments

As I’ve mentioned, I’m spending some time this summer preparing for the AP Physics B course that we will be teaching for the first time this fall. I recently finished creating the assessments for this course.

With one exception (fluids multiple choice), all questions are from previous AP Physics B exams. Thanks to the handy indexes available from Secure PGP, it was relatively easy to review relevant questions and problems and choose those I wanted.

While compiling the assessments, I refined the granularity of the units a bit.

Fall Semester

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

Spring Semester

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

For each unit, I compiled a quiz that contains representative free response problems to be used as a formative assessment. I then created an end-of-unit exam consisting of multiple choice and free response questions. The exam is intended to be completed in a 50-minute class period or less. To support the flavor of standards-based grading that I’m using in this class, I also created a reassessment consisting of multiple choice and free response questions. Scoring rubrics for all free response questions have also been compiled for each assessment.

I uploaded the assessments as an archive for each semester to Secure PGP. I included the original Pages documents as well as versions exported as PDFs and Word files. I hope that some of you find these helpful. Please let me know if you find any mistakes.

Reflection and Refraction Activities

We are currently in the midst of the geometric optics unit in my honors physics class and just finished waves, which includes reflection and refraction, in my regular physics class.

My colleagues and I have developed a series of reflection and refraction activities that provide a shared experience that can be leveraged as we explore reflection and refraction of light. In addition, students find these activities engaging and they generate a lot of great questions.

I hope you find a new activity that you can use in class.

Here are the handouts.

Download (PDF, 41KB)

Download (PDF, 38KB)

I don’t have photos of the reflection activities, but I think they are pretty self explanatory. If not, ask, and I’ll clarify.

I do have photos of the refraction activities. I need to give credit for the first activity which is a recreation of an AAPT Photo Content winner from a few years ago.

Colored paper behind glasses

Colored Paper behind Water Glasses

Pencil in air oil water

Pencil in Air, Oil, and Water

Toy car in beaker 1

Toy Car in Round Beaker

Masses Hiding in Fish Tank (Total Internal Reflection)

The Physics of Art and the Art of Physics

At the end of the year, we make time for a final project in our General Physics class. We purposefully define a very nebulous standard to provide the ultimate flexibility in this project:

Understand the relationships among science, technology, and society in historical and contemporary contexts.

Last year, due to the topical nature of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, we choose the topic of nuclear energy.

This year, a colleague had the fantastic idea to choose a cross-discipline topic: the Physics of Art. I suggested extending the topic to include the Art of Physics. This topic: The Physics of Art and the Art of Physics will allow students to explore one of their passions and explore the physics and artistic elements of that passion. I expect some fantastic projects.

My colleague created the following introduction document:

Download (PDF, 55KB)

Another created the rubic:

Download (PDF, 50KB)

I created an exemplar:

Download (PDF, 251KB)

I’m using the new (at least to me) feature of WikiSpaces where I can define a project and teams. Each class is its own team, but they can view and comment on other classes’ projects. This will make maintenance of the wiki manageable over multiple years.

I’ll share some of my favorites and let everyone know how this year’s project goes. I have high expectations!

Mechanics Modeling Instruction Reflection

I just finished my second year of Modeling Instruction for mechanics in my regular physics class.

While I attended a mechanics modeling workshop a few years ago, I remember when I first decided to jump into modeling with both feet. I was looking at a problem involving electromagnetic induction that required use of the equation F = BIl. All students had to do was to find three numbers, one in units of tesla, one in amps, one in meters and multiply them together without any understanding of physics. This was reinforced when I saw students in the next question trying to solve for resistance using Ohm’s Law and plugging in a velocity instead of a voltage. Many of my students weren’t understanding physics, they were learning to match variables with units and plug-and-chug. Our curriculum was much wider than deep and I felt that I had to make a change.

Fortunately, my desire to change the emphasis of the curriculum coincided with a county-wide effort to define a core curriculum for physics. While it wasn’t easy, the team of physics teachers at my school agreed that we had to at least cover the core curriculum as defined by the county effort. This was the opportunity to reduce the breadth of the curriculum, focus on understanding and critical thinking, and use Modeling Instruction for mechanics.

I felt that the first year of Modeling Instruction was a huge improvement in terms of student understanding. This past semester was even better. While just one measure, FCI gains reinforce my beliefs. In 2009, the year before introducing Modeling Instruction, my students’ average FCI Gain was .33. In 2010, the first year of Modeling Instruction, it was .43. This year, the FCI gain was .47. While I don’t credit Modeling Instruction as the sole factor that produced these improvements in students’ conceptual understanding, it is probably the most significant. We also started standard-based assessment and reporting in 2010 and, hopefully, I’m improving as a teacher in other ways. For me, the most important confirmation that I was on the right path was that I couldn’t imagine going back to the way that I was teaching before.

The three most important changes that I made this year were: goalless problems, sequencing of units (CVPM, BFPM, CAPM, UBFPM, PMPM), and revised Modeling Worksheets based on the work of Kelly O’Shea, Mark Schober, and Matt Greenwolfe.

There is still plenty of room for improvement, however. Pacing was a big issue. We still have to finish mechanics in one semester. As a result of the time spent in other units, I really had to rush energy and momentum. While students could connect to many concepts in the momentum unit with previous models, energy was completely different. However, this experience had a silver lining in that it may provide hope for other teachers who want to adopt Modeling Instruction but are concerned that they won’t have time to cover their curriculum. I decided at the beginning of the semester that I would spend the time I felt was needed on each unit to develop the underlying skills of critical thinking, problem solving, and conceptual understanding. When I got near the end of the semester and had to fly through energy, I didn’t introduce it as another modeling unit. Instead, I presented it to the students as another representation of mechanics. I encouraged them to apply their critical thinking and problem solving skills to this different approach. I was pleasantly surprised when they did as well as previous years’ classes on the energy summative exam despite the incredible short amount of time we spend on the unit. I think this supports the idea that students versed in Modeling Instruction will have a strong foundation that will allow them to readily understand unfamiliar topics as well as, if not better, than students who covered those topics in a traditional fashion.

Whiteboarding continues to be an area that requires improvement. I made a couple of changes that improved the level of discourse among students. When whiteboarding labs, I either explicitly jigsawed the lab activities or guided groups to explore different areas such that each group had unique information to present to the class. This variety improved engagement and discussion. When whiteboarding problems, we played the mistake game on several occasions. This too increased engagement and discussion. However, I feel that I still have a long way to go to achieve the socratic dialog that I believe is possible.

Next fall, I will dramatically shorten the first unit which focuses on experimental design and analysis. I will probably still start with the bouncing ball lab but then immediately move onto the constant-velocity buggies. That should allow enough time to explore energy and momentum in a more reasonable time frame.

At least I feel like I’m on the right path.

Honors Physics Über Review Problem

Honestly, I never look forward to reviewing before exams. We have a dedicated review day at our school and I have never found it particularly engaging or effective for students. A few students have a list of specific questions to ask, and they benefit from the answers and discussions, but many do not.

This year, in Honors Physics, the calendar was such that we ended up having three days to review for the semester exam. My colleague had a great idea: create the Über Physics problem (also known as the problem that never ends). Our goal was to review every one of our twelve more-challenging standards. We brainstormed on a sequence of events that could be woven into a story. At the start of class, we introduced the story for that day and then left students to work through the problems with each other, ask questions about needed information, and check answers. The next day, we would summarize the previous day’s events, associated standards, and solutions before introducing the next “chapter” of the story. For the past three days, students were the most engaged during review that I have ever witnessed. They were interested in the story and excited by what the next “chapter” might bring. These problems were challenging which I believe also contributed to the interest.

Some simplifying assumptions were made but the students weren’t too critical. Unfortunately, I made a calculation error that affected the third day’s problems. When the error was corrected, the final coefficient of friction was ridiculous. I’ll have to adjust the story if I do this again next year.

While much of the story was conveyed verbally, I’ll share the rudimentary pictures that I drew and some of the specified variables. Each page corresponds to one day’s part of the story. The perspective of the diagram changes at times to show the necessary information. The answers are written in green or red and were provided one day after that part of the story was presented.

Download (PDF, 315KB)