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.

AP Physics 1 Essentials Released #physics #physicsed #apb

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!

3d book

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!