Differences Between AP Physics B and AP Physics 1 & 2


Beginning this year, the College Board will be replacing their AP Physics B algebra-based physics course with two separate algebra-based physics courses, titled AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2. The two calculus-based courses, AP Physics C: Mechanics and AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism, will remain the same.

Why the Change?

So Professor of physics hg clrwhat does this change entail, and why has this change been undertaken? A study by the National Research Council concluded that the AP Physics B course “encourages cursory treatment of very important topics in physics rather than a deeper understanding,” according to the College Board’s FAQ, and that students’ study of mechanics should include rotational dynamics and angular momentum, which are not part of the AP Physics B curriculum. The NRC recommended teaching the course over two years to emphasize inquiry-based instruction and deeper understandings. The College Board agreed.

What’s Involved?

The new AP Physics 1 course is targeted as equivalent to a one-semester college course in algebra-based physics, though the selection of topics for the course includes some irregularities compared to a standard introductory college physics course. Topics included in AP Physics 1 include kinematics; dynamics; momentum; work, energy, and power; rotation; oscillations; gravity; mechanical waves; and basic electric circuits. Most of these are topics that were previously on the AP-B exam, though the inclusion of rotation and angular momentum are new topics. Further, the emphasis on mechanics in an introductory college course is standard, but the inclusion of electric circuits is rather irregular. According to a committee member involved in the redesign of the course, the inclusion of circuits was forced into the new course to meet the needs of end-of-year state assessments for several large states, and was not originally part of the redesign plans.

The new AP Physics 2 course is intended as an equivalent to a second-semester college course, covering fluid mechanics, thermal physics, electricity and magnetism, optics, and atomic / modern physics. Most of these topics were included in the previous AP-B course, though the modern physics portion of the course includes several new sub-topics.

A New Paradigm

Considerably more dramatic than just shifts in content, however, is the overall organization of the course. The new AP–1 and AP–2 courses are organized around seven “big ideas” in physics, coupled with an extensive list of essential knowledge (EK) and learning objectives (LOs) details what students should know and be able to do. Although these EKs and LOs are numerous, they are also quite vague in terms of how “deeply” students are expected to know a topic. As an example, several learning objectives discuss an understanding of springs in various contexts, but whether that also includes combinations of springs is left significantly vague. In the thermal physics arena, heat engines are not specifically covered, but students are expected to understand energy transfer in thermodynamic systems (which could be tested in the context of a heat engine). If it sounds a bit vague, I can’t disagree. Teachers across the country are also struggling to interpret the documentation about the new exams.

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Also of interest is the focus on science practices. In addition to the 7 big ideas, the College Board has also identified 7 science practices that are essential for success. These practices are broken down in detail, with course activities designed to verify students can “use mathematics appropriately” and “plan and implement data collection strategies in relation to a particular scientific question,” for example. My detailed breakdown of the course curriculum frameworks can be found on the AP1 Roadmap and AP2 Roadmap documents.

Ultimately, the goal of these changes is to provide an opportunity for students to develop a deeper understanding of the underlying foundational concepts in physics as well as the skills and practices necessary to treat physics as a science activity instead of a body of knowledge, better preparing students for success in further coursework as well as careers in science and engineering.

A New Exam

In late spring / early summer, the College Board released a secured practice exam to certified AP Physics teachers to better prepare for the new AP–1 and AP–2 exams. The change in style of the exam is quite significant. Questions place a strong emphasis on relational and conceptual problem solving, as well as application of the science practices, coupled with a significant decrease in “math-only” quantitative solutions. The new exam also emphasizes symbolic manipulation, analyzing situations from multiple perspectives, designing experiments, justification of answers, and scientific argumentation.

Many of these changes are directly in line with the Modeling Physics method of instruction, which emphasizes ongoing guided inquiry while maintaining consistency in approach and building upon previously-developed models throughout the course, a method strongly recommended by current Physics Education Research.

Although the changes to the courses are numerous, the general message to teachers and students is consistently clear: physics is something you do, not something you know. Success in the new AP–1 and AP–2 courses requires a multi-faceted approach to learning which includes hands-on inquiry and exploration activities, mastery of content and problem-solving principles, and the ability to reason, argue, and justify scientifically.

How To Succeed

So then how do students succeed in this brave new world? I would humbly recommend a learning plan which includes an ongoing cycle of exploration, refinement, and application. As students work through each unit/topic/model, begin with an opportunity to active explore the model, determine what is known, what is unknown, and what misconceptions might exist. Follow that up with activities that allow students to refine their knowledge through the collection and analysis of data, drawing their own conclusions to discuss and debate. Finally, these conclusions and skills need to be transferred and applied to new and unique situations, allowing students to determine where these models work, and where they fall short (setting the stage for development of the next model!)

Supplemental Resources

It sounds daunting, but there are tons of great resources available to help students succeed in these endeavors. Besides reading the textbook, a skill which is difficult to master yet extremely valuable, a review of the key material distilled down into a clean easy-to-understand format can be invaluable. I have been teaching online courses with the use of video since 2003, so please let me be clear, I absolutely do not believe in passive instruction by video. A little bit of me dies inside everytime I read about classes in which students are placed in front of a computer as the sole means of instruction. Besides being ineffective, how boring! Physics is supposed to be fun, and I have trouble imagining how students can make it through such lonely, soulless courses.


I do, however, believe that supplemental on-demand video lessons taught by strong instructors such as those at Educator.com and my AP Physics Series at APlusPhysics.com can do wonders for cementing the foundational concepts and demonstrating application of these foundational concepts to problem solving, especially in the refinement and application stages of instruction. Undertaking learning through inquiry and modeling can be messy and confusing. Having an online instructor there to assist in cleaning things up or explaining things in a different manner or from an alternate perspective can make a world of difference.

Further, review books such as AP Physics 1 Essentials are designed to assist in these stages of learning, not as a replacement for the oh-so-valuable active learning experiences, but rather as an easily accessible means of solidifying the basic relationships and concepts. I wrote AP1 Essentials to help students understand essential physical relationships in a manner that is straightforward and easy-to-read, leaving development of in-depth problem solving and lab work for the classroom, where they are most effective. A review book can’t help a student if it’s so complex the student won’t read it. Instead, the goal for this book was to create a resource that students would actually read and enjoy, and help them along their path to a deeper conceptual understanding.

Putting It All Together

There is no “one-stop shopping” or easy path to success in AP Physics 1 or AP Physics 2, and strategies that may have worked for the previous AP Physics B course may no longer be successful. Instead, these new courses are comprehensive learning experiences combining exploration, experimentation, application, and communication skills. Only by putting in the effort and struggling through the frustrations will students find their way to mastery of the course. But they don’t have to go it alone – these courses are designed around collaboration and teamwork, and there are great supplemental resources to help out as well.

APlusPhysics Logo HDefAbout the Author – Dan Fullerton is a physics instructor at Irondequoit High School in Rochester, NY, and an adjunct professor of microelectronic engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology. He was named a NY State Master Physics Teacher in 2014. Fullerton is featured in the AP Physics C and AP Physics 1 & 2 video courses on Educator.com. He is the author of AP Physics 1 Essentials and creator of the APlusPhysics.com website. Fullerton lives in Webster, NY, with his beautiful wife, two indefatigable daughters, and sleepy dog.

What I Learned at Educator.com Filming AP Physics C in Two Weeks



It’s my last day on the west coast following two weeks of recording at the Educator.com studios in Los Angeles.  I’ve completed filming of the AP Physics C: Mechanics and the AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism courses, and roughly 18 months ago finished recording the AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2 course sequences.  At the conclusion of this massive effort, I thought it fitting to take a few minutes and summarize what I’ve learned from the experience.

First, I’m amazed at the total amount of content involved in these projects when all was said and done.  The AP Physics 1/2 course includes more than 930 slides, and the AP Physics C total is up over 950.  Coupled with diagrams, formulas, and illustrations, these represent roughly a year’s worth of full-time effort, squeezed in to an already busy schedule with early morning work, weekends, and middle-of-the-night can’t sleep sessions.

Second, I’ve recognized how challenging the content truly is for the AP-C course.  I had some of the content prepared already from my APlusPhysics videos, yet it still took me more than 5 months to create the more-detailed Educator.com lessons.  I designed each lesson in detail, and even made notes on what I would discuss, derive, and explain on each individual slide.  When I reached the studios in LA, however, I still had tons of preparation work to do.  Each day I rehearsed every lesson three times before filming.  I’d go over the lessons in detail (including solving all problems and writing out all derivations in my notebook) over an extended dinner each night in the hotel, then go back to my hotel room and do it all again while listening to a baseball game before bed.  Early the following morning, I’d get up around 5 am and go through it once more before our 9- or 10-am filming session would begin.  Once filming for the day was complete, I’d do it all again in preparation for the next set of lessons.  I wonder if I didn’t do more physics homework in my two weeks of filming in LA than my students do in an entire year.

I found as I went through this that every time I solved a free response problem or walked through a derivation, I found slightly different methods of solving the problem.  Some were smoother than others; some were longer than others.  Even though my final passes were usually “cleaner” than my initial solutions, I tried to stick with my initial solutions in the videos to better mirror the approach students might take.

Even with all that preparation, the recording sessions were still quite stressful.  In walking through the lessons, there were technical components to the presentation that were fairly unforgiving.  Hit the wrong button in the wrong order and you’d have to start all over again.  Switch colors and then switch slides before writing and you’d have to do it all over again. Cough, sneeze, or forget where you are in a lecture or stump yourself — you got it, do it all again.  Thankfully, I’d had quite a bit of experience in this sort of thing from my previous trip out to LA to record the AP-1/2 series, so the amount of “re-do” work was kept to a minimum due to all that preparation.  But recording four hours of video lessons sure felt like a 12+ hour day.

In addition, I still found the AP-C material challenging.  In my classroom, I prepare with 42-minute lessons, and the longest I ever lecture in a row is one entire 42-minute period (and I try to avoid that like the plague).  Here, the lessons are straight lecture, with no breaks, no edits, no room for error.  That leaves a lot of material to have down cold while also dealing with technical concerns.  My detailed noted were invaluable, and I referred to them throughout my lectures to make sure I covered all the salient points in each slide, as well as having calculations pre-solved, as opposed to making viewers wait while I punched numbed into my calculator.  With my preparation, my time between lessons was approximately 10 minutes or so to get a quick drink, review the slides for the next lesson for any last-minute issues, and allow the technical folks to prepare the studio for the next round.  Others in the studio, however, would take extended time between recording lessons in order to prepare.  They had the luxury as they were fairly local to the studios, and could spread their recording work out over months.

Working through these courses from start to finish in such a detailed manner in such a compressed time span provides a unique perspective on the course.  Each lesson is designed to present a concept as simply as possible, illustrate that concept, and then demonstrate its application in a variety of scenarios.  In creating these courses I solved every released AP-C free response problem going back to 1998, as well as a scattering of earlier problems.  With the entire breadth of the course fresh in my mind, I’m confident the foundational principles emphasized in the course provide excellent preparation for students taking the AP Physics C exams.  

One of my goals in creating these courses was to provide a more streamlined video series than their previous video series.  Their previous courses totaled 48 hours for mechanics, and 41 hours for electricity and magnetism.  My goal was to cut each of those at least in half, allowing students to minimize their time watching videos, and instead maximize their time actively working with the material.  I haven’t seen the final count for the new courses, but I’m confident we’ll be close, if not under, our target.

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I’m also excited that the College Board will be allowing students the use of formula sheets and calculators throughout the entire exam next year.  Even after studying and preparing all day every day for weeks, I still referenced my formula sheets and notes in solving problems and preparing.  Memorizing formulas does not constitute learning or understanding, and removing the requirement to have all these formulas memorized will allow students to better focus on what is important.

Finally, I knew being gone from my family for two weeks would be difficult.  I have a two-year-old and a four-year-old daughter at home, and they are already growing up way too fast.  I treasure my time with them, especially our time in the summer when Daddy-Daughter Day Care includes swimming, playing around out back in the sandbox and water table, riding bikes, playground time, and so on.  But it’s been even tougher than I expected.  I’m so thankful for modern technology which allows me to see them and talk to them each day, but when your little girls says all she wants is you to curl up in bed with her after story time at night, it tugs on your heart strings something fierce.

I’m proud of what we’ve put together here at Educator.com through these efforts, and hopeful that students across the world will find these videos helpful in their studies.  I’m also excited to know that I will be able to use these resources with my students in the coming years.  I’m relieved to have finished this project, eager to refocus my efforts on other projects such as revisions to AP Physics 1 Essentials and completing AP Physics 2 Essentials, but most importantly, I can’t wait to get home and hug my girls.

AP Physics 1 Essentials — What it Is, What it Isn’t


Yesterday I received a review on Amazon for the AP1 book that was, at best, scathing. Please allow me a moment to first state that the reviewer is correct in his statement that the book doesn’t contain many of the high level, conceptual, reading-intensive questions that are found on the AP1 practice exams. I agree, as that is not the book’s intent. We have college level texts all over the place that do a MUCH better job as a primary source and going into detail. They are much bigger, are much more expensive, and are backed by much larger companies. I think the reviewer, however, missed the point of the book.

The AP1 Physics Essentials book is designed to be a guide book that students will actually read, starting from basic principles and building fundamental concepts with simple examples (many from past NY Regents Physics Exams) and then building upon those examples to intermediate level problems, which are demonstrated in detail. The goal is to allow students to build these “essentials” so that they can get a better foundation in concepts and basic applications independently (as, of course, reading is primarily an independent activity).

The AP-1 style exam problems, however, are considerably different. They focus on considerably more complex problems, are challenging to read and interpret what is being asked, tie multiple concepts together in unique and novel applications… a style of learning that is extremely difficult to accomplish independently and passively. Research has shown again and again that this type of understanding requires active learning activities, inquiry-based labs, guided analysis, discussion, and group problem solving. All of which are impossible to accomplish within a book, which is why the AP1 book doesn’t even try. It is meant as a supplement to assist with building the foundational skills so students are better prepared for the active learning experiences which will build those skills so necessary for success in the course.

In truth, the AP-1 book is the book I would want to use with my students. It is the book that I could send them home with to read a few pages, coupled with the video mini-lessons, so that we can use our valuable class time more productively in those active-learning experiences. It is not meant to be a textbook replacement, or a 320-page miracle for those taking the AP-1 exam without external preparation.

I also believe that having an AP-1 style problem set would be valuable to teachers and students, as very few AP-1 style problems have been released for use in classrooms (likely because the sample exam was JUST released to instructors). Over the summer I’ll be working with other physics instructors to build up a set of public domain AP-1 style problems which we will make available to instructors and students. I can also foresee incorporating these into a future edition of the AP-1 book (perhaps as end-of-chapter problems) to provide further resources to students and instructors as we learn more about the actual AP-1 course.

To summarize, though, I hate to see customers disappointed in APlusPhysics products, especially when the customer misses the intent of the product. I’m hoping this post clarifies the intent of the book, and I have also updated the book descriptions on Amazon and the iBooks store to call this out even more clearly and (hopefully) alleviate such potential disappointment in customers in the future.

AP Physics 1 Outline


     I’ve received quite a few requests over the past couple months, and especially the past couple days, asking if I knew of an “outline version” of the AP Physics 1 learning objectives, essential knowledge, etc., organized by topic.  I already had this created from working on the AP Physics 1 Essentials book as a chapter outline/roadmap correlated to the new AP 1 course, but had never bothered to put it in a user-friendly format to share.  Well, until yesterday.

     Here it is: http://aplusphysics.com/educators/AP1Outline.html/

     I understand this may not be the order in which you’d teach the topics, but for me at least, this organization is much easier to wade through and make sense of than the current AP Physics 1 and 2 Framework document (in which I get easily lost in the 200+ pages).  Perhaps it will be of use to you as well.  Please note that you can drill down by clicking on the triangles to the left of the topics, it’s quite a big document if you expand it all out.

     I’m planning on doing this for AP-2 as well, though I probably won’t have a chance to start on it until late July.

Utilizing Technology to Support Differentiated Learning #STANYS #flipclass #physicsed


It’s been awhile since I’ve gotten a good reflection up here.  I’ve been swamped finishing up the AP Physics 1 Essentials book, getting it converted to all the various formats (Kindle, Nook, iBooks, etc.), while simultaneously continuing work on the interactive iPad version.  As these projects are slowly beginning to conclude, I’ve been working on a presentation for the STANYS 2013 (Science Teachers Association of New York State) conference here in Rochester, NY.  My presentation is on Utilizing Technology to Support Differentiated Learning, where I take a quick look at three strategies all designed to promote independent learning in students while providing opportunity for those students to self-differentiate by skill level in specific areas as well as interest.

Since one of the three strategies involved flipping the classroom (along with self instruction and blogging), it seemed only right that I make a “flipped class video” version of the presentation.  I’m still massaging the presentation, but here’s the first take:

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