Finally, after several years of research, organizing, outlining, re-outlining, writing, re-writing, writing again, and so on, I’m thrilled to announce that AP Physics 1 Essentials: An APlusPhysics Guide has been released!
AP1 Essentials is jam-packed with the knowledge and content required for success on the AP Physics 1 Exam. More than 500 problems and deeper understanding questions, examples, and explanations. Tons of illustrations and diagrams to make the book clearer and enjoyable to read. And, of course, it’s interconnected with the APlusPhysics website, with video mini-lessons, online tutorials, student blogs, discussion forums, homework help, a video repository, downloads, you name it. I believe this will be an extremely valuable resource for students undertaking their AP Physics 1 courses beginning in fall 2014 when the course officially begins.
Having said all that, though, I want to make a few items clear up front, as critics love to hammer certain points. Number one, this book is a resource (as are the videos, web tutorials, etc). Just that, and nothing more. It’s not intended to replace strong classroom instruction, student exploration, hands-on activities and labs, deeper problem solving practice, critical thinking, and writing as thinking. It’s another tool in the toolbox. The giant change in the AP Physics course is a focus on building true student understanding rather than plug-and-chug problem solving, something that is VERY difficult to do in a short easy-to-read book. Those skills need interactive discussions, refinement, challenges, and that’s where our job as teachers come in. This book was never intended as a textbook for the course, nor as a teacher replacement for a “do-it-yourself-at-home” situation. It’s designed to complement the course, driving home essential concepts and knowledge. True mastery will require much more, however. Applications both tangible and on-paper. Further deep dives into what these concepts really mean and how they intertwine. In short, strong professional instruction.
Second, this is a review/guide book. For reasons of clarity, the organization of topics and chapters may not be what a student would typically see in a classroom setting. Physics topics interconnect, and it’s very difficult (and perhaps downright incorrect) to teach any given topic in isolation. What is kinematics without dynamics? How do you have a chapter on work and energy when the entire course is about energy? And for reasons of clarity, the order of chapters and material in chapters is not always what I would recommend as the order a teacher take in the classroom. Interconnectedness and a re-entrant strategy through a course is highly prized and effective, but deadly confusing in a review book. So the book is organized in such a fashion that a linear progression through the books hits the major topics in an order that requires a minimum of backtracking, yet may not be the most effective path to take in the classroom or the first-time through the material. Again, this is designed as a review / guide book, another weapon in the arsenal to build understanding, not a stand-alone solution.
Third, students and teachers all have differing styles. Many teachers are moving to the “modeling” curriculum, which is strongly supported by the new AP-1 course. Many teachers are moving to “flipped classroom” strategies. Others teach with inquiry and project-based learning. None of these is the “silver bullet” that fixes all problems, and all of these have benefits and drawbacks. I think it’s important for each instructor to develop their own style that works for them, while also recognizing that each student is different, and what works for one student may not work for another. I try hard not to promote or criticize any single style of instruction. There’s a time and place for all of them. Instead, I recommend finding what works for you, and then each and every day, consider how you can stretch beyond what is comfortable to try something else and see if it works for you. Teaching is a process, not just a profession. To that end, I incorporate facets of modeling in the book and my classroom, I utilize some flipped class strategies in my classroom, though I wouldn’t call my classroom a “flipped class.” I utilize inquiry, project-based learning, and tons of other strategies, as I see fit to best meet the needs of my students and my goals for that day/lesson/unit. I even use direct instruction (oh my, he said it, didn’t he!!!) at times, though it is by no means the backbone of my courses. And this book is designed as a complement to any/all of them, not an answer to any single one.
I wrote this book as a book I would want my students to have access to. Of course, it would be supplemented with a number of other resources. First off, I still promote the use of a legitimate full-length textbook. You may not use it everyday, but I think it’s important students learn how to read and utilize a complex text. In every class I teach, regardless of level, we work toward the day where we take one entire unit and work through it as an independent unit, where students are required to make use of the text productively, investigate a number of lab activities independently, and test their own understanding. Secondly, the problems in this book are designed to provide essential concept understanding. I highly recommend the use of additional problems sets, especially freely-available questions from past AP exams, as well as more open-ended and design-type questions where students aren’t just solving for a numerical answer, but are writing explanations as they think through problems and apply those basic concepts to new situations. That is a major focus of the AP paradigm shift, and I believe is beyond the scope of any single text to promote in isolation, as building these skills is a highly interactive process.
So, a long-winded explanation of what to expect, and my recommendations on how I would use it. Just the $.02 of a physics teacher who loves his job. I want to again thank the many contributors to this work, and all the folks who have supported and encouraged this work. It’s been by far the hardest writing project I’ve undertaken, and I think it delivers on all of the goals we initially set out with. I hope you enjoy it!