AP Physics 1 Essentials — The Mystery Third Edition

A few years ago I put together a review/guide book for the AP Physics 1 course the College Board recently released.  AP Physics 1 EssentialsThe project was started around 2009, but took several years to complete as the scope and direction of the College Board’s AP Physics 1 course continued to evolve, as more and more information about the course was released, modified, re-released, etc.  It has done fairly well, and after the release of the first exam, a second edition was released, which included minor edits, modifications, and rephrasings in the main text, but also incorporated a significant number of more challenging questions in the appendix, though many of them remain numerically focused.

The Goal

The goal of this book was never to be a “sole source to success in AP Physics 1.”  The AP Physics 1 course is a VERY challenging introductory physics course, which requires a strong foundation in fundamental physics principles, logical problem solving, and transfer of basic concepts to new and unique situations.  In my humble opinion, building skills of this sort requires more than a review book.  It requires more than videos.  It requires extensive hands-on work with applications utilizing the concepts, individual and group problem solving, debate, discussion, and research.  It’s a very high level of expectation for what has been largely touted as an introductory physics course.  For many, AP Physics 1 will be the only physics course they take.  I am concerned that the course offers only a subset of what I would like to see in a general survey course of physics.  Though it covers basic circuits, it is light on electrostatics.  Though it covers mechanical waves, it doesn’t touch electromagnetic waves, optics, or modern physics.  If these were the only topics my students were introduced to in their only physics course, I feel I would be doing them a disservice, and not providing them an opportunity to see more of the breadth and beauty of the field I so love and enjoy.

The AP1 Essentials book, as written, was designed as the book I’d want to use with my students.  The book which I’d ask them to read outside of class (coupled with video mini-lessons) so that when they arrived in class, they’d have some level of exposure to the basic material allowing us to use our class time more efficiently for those deeper explorations into the topics under study.

Public Response

Public response to the book has been strongly bimodal.  Overall reviews are very positive (4.5/5 stars on Amazon.com), with the primary criticisms and 1-star reviews focusing on the book utilizing too much numerical problem solving, and focusing on basic problems that are “too easy” compared to the actual AP 1 test questions.  These are VERY valid criticisms, and I agree with them.  However, in the context in which the book is intended to be used, these criticisms are inconsistent with the book’s purpose.

AP Physics 1 Concerns

A grader of this year’s AP Physics 1 exam recently stated that he was surprised to learn that “not including the date, birth date and school code, a student could have made a perfect score on the whole exam without writing down a single number.”  calculatorI find this extremely troubling.  I am in favor of questions that test understanding, but I also believe that many physics students who go on to successful careers in STEM fields learn by first mastering the calculations, mathematics, and numeracy of problems, and over time build deeper conceptual understandings as they recognize patterns in their answers.  There is a place for these conceptual and symbolic problem solving exercises in AP Physics 1 and on the AP Physics 1 exam, but there is also a significant place for what I’ll call physics numeracy for lack of a better term — traditional problem solving that involves recognizing appropriate relationships, manipulation equations, finding a numerical answer, and verifying that numerical answer makes some sort of physical sense.

Further, I strongly believe that the College Board’s vision for the AP program should focus on providing opportunities for high school students to earn college credit consistent with the courses offered by most colleges.  More simply, the AP courses should strive to mimic what colleges are offering and testing in their corresponding courses.  In the case of AP Physics 1, the College Board is attempting to lead the way in physics education reform.  Regardless of personal opinions on the direction of the AP Physics 1 curriculum and exam, which may very well be valid, a change of this sort shouldn’t be led by the AP program, but rather mirrored by the AP program as it becomes the norm at colleges and universities.

The Third Edition

Back in December, I started work on a third edition of the AP Physics 1 Essentials book, with the goal of migrating the book closer to style of the AP Physics 1 exam.  It’s now late June, and the third edition is well over half done.  I have no doubt if I continued on this course, I could have the third edition completed in time for the book to hit the shelves in late August.

The third edition, as currently being drafted, however, won’t see the light of day.  garbageSince I started this revision effort, I haven’t felt good about the work I’ve been doing.  Though I do believe I am making a book that is more closely aligned to the AP Physics 1 exam, I’m moving further and further away from the book I’d want to use with my AP Physics 1 students.  Regardless of what the College Board is asking for on the AP Physics 1 exam, I want my students to be best prepared for their future endeavors, which may include AP Physics 2, AP Physics C, and their ongoing academic courses in the sciences.  That will, most assuredly, require strong physics numeracy skills. And it will require students to learn how to learn independently.

Resolution

There is a place for physics modeling, for building understanding and for MANY of the ideals inherent in the AP Physics 1 curriculum.  But there’s also a place for the traditional course and problem solving skills.  This debate doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition.  There’s definitely room for a happy medium including aspects of both viewpoints.  Personally, however, I can’t continue work on a third edition of the AP Physics 1 book when in my heart I strongly feel I’m doing my students a disservice in their overall physics education and creating a lower-quality product, even if it means more one-star reviews and critiques that the book doesn’t match the AP 1 exam.  Maybe someday I’ll change my mind, but Friday afternoon I took all the changes to the third edition, zipped them up, copied them somewhere safe, and removed them from my computer.

I strongly believe there will be a 3rd edition of the AP Physics 1 book.  I see TONS of opportunities for improvement.  But the work I’ve been doing for the past six months to make the book more consistent with the AP 1 exam isn’t really an improvement, it’s an attempt to improve student scores on a test I believe has significant flaws, at the expense of other important skills.  If I’m honest with myself and focus on doing what is truly best for my kids, I want to see them continue to use the book as an introduction to the essential concepts of AP Physics 1, including significant algebraic manipulation and problem solving, and leaving more time in the classroom for application and hands-on activities.  I still feel the book is a great tool for students preparing for the AP 1 exam, and I’m going to keep significant numeric problem solving with basic concept application, and leave the deeper-dive and conceptual understanding questions for class time when the instructor is available to direct, guide, and differentiate as needed.

Addendum

This is not meant as an attack on the AP Physics 1 Curriculum, the design committee, the test writers, or any others.  I am honored to work in a profession where so many are so passionate about trying to do what’s best for their students and the field itself.  Sometimes we disagree on the path forward, and that’s OK.  And I could be wrong.  I often am.  I admire the effort and the vision so many have put into this work, and the feedback and support I’ve received and continue to receive for this book, both in praise and in criticism.

New Release: The Ultimate Regents Physics Question and Answer Book

So last year I took every single question from the last 17 NY Regents Physics exams, organized them by topic, and printed them neatly into worksheet / workbook formats for myself and others to use.  They’ve been pretty popular, but have also been a fairly high maintenance item, as I have been receiving at least 10-15 e-mails per week about the worksheets.  Some requests have come from teachers asking if I have created an answer sheet to go with them.  Other requests have been from students looking to check their answers.  Some have even been from students posing as instructors attempting to find the answers to the worksheets.  But far and away, the most popular question has centered around whether I might offer a print version of the worksheets.

RegentsQA 500 TranspBkgd

It’s taken awhile, but I’ve finally cleaned up all the sheets, arranged them into a workbook format, solved every single problem, added answer sheets, and sent them off for publication.  The result — yesterday, The Ultimate Regents Physics Question and Answer Book was released.

I’m planning on leaving the individual worksheets available for download on the APlusPhysics site — the book is merely provided as a convenience for those who’d rather have a hard copy, bound compendium of all the worksheets, with the answers included.  Because these sheets are also popular as homework assignments, quizzes, etc., I don’t plan on posting the answer sheets publicly… that’s just making things a little too easy for students hoping to avoid productive work.  The list price on the book is $11.99, which (typically) Amazon discounts within a few weeks of publication.  I think that’s a reasonable price for a resource that took me many, many hours to compile, with the goal of hopefully recouping the costs required to publish the book within a year or so if all goes well.

Having said that, last night I received a troubling e-mail.  Before even one copy had sold, I received a request asking if I would donate copies of the workbook to cover an entire physics course at a school.  Now, I understand there’s no harm in asking, so I politely responded that the cost for any donated/promotional copies come directly out of the pocket of a high school teacher (me), and that the entire content was already available for download and printing direct from the APlusPhysics website.  The follow-up, however, left me troubled.  The response stated that the copies were for an inner city school and therefore computers and Internet access to download and print the files wasn’t reasonable.

Maybe I’m being naive, but I have trouble believing that there are school districts (and individual schools) that are SO poor that there isn’t a single computer with an Internet connection anywhere in the school.  Or let’s say that there aren’t ANY computers in the school — how can not one teacher have access to a computer and Internet to obtain the files on their own time?  And in what world is it reasonable that I should pick up the costs to print and ship a volume of copies to a school where they can’t find a way to download and print freely available files (which I also pay to host)?

Rant ended.  I’m more than happy to give away a ton of my work (and time) for free, but there are some costs associated with making these resources available.  The software to create the site, the hosting fees, publication costs, licensing costs, etc.  Almost all of the content in the books is already freely available on the site for educational use, and I LOVE when folks make use of these resources.  But, the reality is that all of these things have some cost, and if I want to continue to build a terrific physics resource for our students, a few of the items on the site have to generate enough income to cover the costs of the site.

Now, with that out of the way, I’m excited to be diving into the next project at full speed — review / guide books for the new AP-1 and AP-2 courses.  Background work / development has been going on for over a year, and, if all goes as planned, the first draft should be underway within a couple weeks!!!!!

A New Kind of Physics Review Book #physicsed #Regents

New York’s Regents Physics curriculum outlines an introductory algebra-based physics course covering a range of topics from classical mechanics and electricity and magnetism to waves, optics, modern physics, and even touching on the Standard Model. Several commercial textbooks are available supporting this curriculum relatively well, but as the year comes to a close and students prepare for the formal culminating standardized Regents Physics Exam, review books focusing on problem solving make their way into the equation.

tim_studying_hg_clr Currently, there are several Regents Physics review books available which are quite well done and that I’m very fond of personally. Over the past few years, I’ve pointed students toward several of these books, and even supplied them for my students in some cases. What students have reported, however, indicates that in many cases they quickly become overwhelmed with the size and layout of the review books, especially given the time constraints they have for review before the exam is given. When most of these books contain a minimum of 400 pages, students begin to view the review process as a daunting endeavor, and therefore never begin. When the shorter books (~ 250 pages) contain hundreds of problems but no included solutions, students see a workbook instead of a resource, and become frustrated when they can’t check their answers and obtain immediate feedback. Regardless of the reason, if students don’t engage in the review book, however well written and complete it may be, its effectiveness is extremely limited.

Based on student feedback, input from other physics teachers, and requests from several of this year’s crop of Regents Physics students, work has begun on a review book designed to meet the needs of current Regents Physics students in a friendly, engaging, and efficient manner.

So what’s different about this project? First, the book is not intended as a textbook replacement, but rather a summary of just what students need to know to be successful on the Regents Physics Exam, without any extra fluff, similar to an SAT prep book or an AP prep book. There’s a time for pushing further into topics of interest, building deeper understandings, and refining analytical skills — all extremely important in a modern physics classroom, and well supported by a wide variety of modern resources. This book is designed to meet a different need — to assist students in achieving their highest possible score on the Regents Physics Exam in as efficient and straightforward a manner as possible, while reinforcing fundamental physics concepts in as simple and clear a manner as possible.

Second, this book is designed from the ground up to be high-school-student friendly. Target length is 300 pages, fonts are designed for easy readability, and hundreds of sample problems are included immediately following the concepts required, streamlining adoption and specific topic reviews in both traditional and SBG classrooms.  Detailed solutions (not just answers) are provided immediately following the questions, utilizing the problem-solving format required for optimal scoring on the Regents Exam. No external answer key required! Fun illustrations and clear diagrams abound throughout the text.

Third, the text is tied in to the APlusPhysics.com website, providing students a pathway to obtain further problem practice with immediate feedback as well as receiving help on tricky concepts in the Regents Physics and Homework Help online forums.

physics_md_clr Target publication date for the APlusPhysics: Your Guide to Regents Physics Essentials is May 2011. Instructors interested in learning more and/or reviewing the text may contact the publisher directly by e-mailing info@sillybeagle.com or through the APlusPhysics website.