New AP Physics C Mechanics Book Release

You may have noticed it’s been a LONG time since I’ve updated this physics education blog.  More likely you haven’t noticed, because it’s been a LONG time since I’ve updated this blog.  This hasn’t been due to a lack of topics to write about, but rather, it’s been a conscious choice to plow full steam ahead on a project that began in June of 2013 and that I’m thrilled to announce is now available, The AP Physics C Companion: Mechanics.  But first, some background.

Traditional AP Physics C

As a teacher of calculus based physics (AP Physics C – Mechanics and AP Physics C – Electricity and Magnetism), I’m faced with a very unique challenge in those courses.  I typically enjoy classes of bright, motivated students who are preparing for careers in engineering, science, medicine, and other technically challenging fields.  And I love teaching the content of these courses — the level of technical challenge keeps me motivated, and I love the highly mathematical nature of the course.

In teaching the class, however, what I found is a very aggressive schedule to fit both courses into the school year, and my students are co-enrolled in calculus (which means they typically need to solve calculus problems in physics before they’ve been introduced to the calculus in their mathematics classes).  Further, teaching in a traditional style, I found that most topics fit fairly well into our 42-minute periods.  Students come in to class, begin with a warm-up question tied to the previous day’s topic, which we spend a few minutes reviewing, then I have time to present a single topic with an example or two each day.  If we don’t take any breaks, and throw in a quiz or test every couple weeks, as well as some fairly straightforward lab activities, we JUST barely get through all of our material in time for the May AP exams.

What I especially enjoy about this class and this method of teaching, however, is the face-to-face time with the kids during the daily lessons.  Class sizes for AP Physics C is typically small enough that we have a very informal style that is warm and inviting, yet challenging for all.  The students enjoy the class, taking notes from their seats each day, and doing book problems and old AP problems for homework in the evenings.  And our AP scores each year are solid.

In September of 2011, however, I decided to try something different.  I wanted to get away from the teacher-centric model, as I realized that I was the hardest working person in the classroom.  This contrasted with the best teaching advice I ever received, when our assistant principal and my mentor explained that I should strive to “Look like the laziest teacher in the building while the students are in the classroom, and the hardest working teacher in the building the moment they leave.”  What he meant was students should be doing the work in the classroom, especially as I continuously espoused my belief that physics is something you do, not something you know.  Although the students were doing OK in their passive roles as notetakers, this was a credit to the strength of these students, not my teaching.

A New AP Physics C Methodology

Instead, I began to imagine a classroom in which students directed their own learning, building lifelong learning skills that would serve them well outside the narrow discipline of future physics courses.  With the blessings of our administration, I undertook a giant experiment in the classroom.  We went through the year with the goal of having zero teacher lectures.  Instead, I completely “flipped” the classroom.  Students were expected to watch video mini-lessons on topics outside of class, as well as read the textbook and take notes, saving classroom time for group discussions and problem solving, hands-on lab activities, and deeper dives into topics of interest.

I ended up going back to traditional lectures on two topics — Gauss’s Law and the Biot-Savart Law, but for the most part the class ran independently.  I built up “packets” of assignments, practice problems, labs and activities for each unit, and students worked at their own pace (within reason) through each unit.  Unit exams were given when students said they were ready, with multiple re-take opportunities.  This evolved into a self-paced course, and at the end of the year, I found AP scores were significantly higher than in past years, which in retrospect shouldn’t have been surprising.  Teaching in this more hands-off manner is very uncomfortable, however.  I “feel” like I’m doing a great job when I’m working hard, presenting great lectures, and interacting with the students.  Stepping back and watching the students work, only getting involved to ask the occasional question or provide some basic clarification and support is extremely challenging.  Given the results, though, I tried it again the following year.  Same result!

These classes were regularly polled for feedback on the course.  General observations were that many students felt more intimidated and lost at the beginning of the course.  As well, there were several points throughout the year in which the students felt quite frustrated.  Polls at the end of the year, however, indicated students felt very confident in their self-teaching abilities, their ability to work through challenges they initially thought impossible, and their comfort level with their preparation for future studies.  The most common opportunity they identified for improvement — learning how to read the textbook.

In an effort to address this, I’ve implemented a variety of changes in my classroom.  First off, we take some time at the beginning of the year and again after mid-terms to talk about and practice strategies for reading a technical text.  We also take some time to talk about how to actively use the video lessons and example problems so that study time is efficient and productive.

The AP Physics C Companion: Mechanics

AP Physics C Companion: Mechanics

Finally, I started work on a “companion” text to the AP Physics C curriculum, focused on distilling down the key points from the text and illustrating them with a variety of applications.  Not really a review book (though it could be used in that sense), but rather a cleaned-up version of instructor notes for the course that could be applicable to any calculus-based mechanics course.  A large focus of the book is trading off technical complexity for illustrated application of concepts, including justifications for problem solving steps in the problems themselves, and well-documented problem solutions.

I’ve been using the notes and draft chapters of this book for several years in my classes, which has allowed me a “test run” of various sections and the opportunity to see what works with students, and what needs further revision.  The final result, I’m excited to say, is now available as “The AP Physics C Companion: Mechanics.”  It will first be available in black and white print editions from and Amazon, as well as a full-color PDF edition on  Shortly thereafter, print editions (both color and black and white) will be available from any retailer, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  Finally, bulk purchases will be available directly from (Silly Beagle Productions) at substantial discounts.

Where’s the E&M Book?

I’ve already been asked repeatedly if there’s an E&M version planned.  The answer is rather convoluted, however.  The E&M version is half done — the draft is complete as part of my class work and has been for more than a year.  I haven’t typeset it yet, however (probably a 6-12 month project), or worked on the graphics for a few reasons.  First, it is a huge investment of time to do so, which puts other projects on the back burner.  Second, the market for such a book could be pretty small.  As only 27,000 students took the AP Physics C: E&M exam last year, that’s a very limited market to cater to.  Though the book would be appropriate for an introductory calculus-based E&M course, a very significant portion of students taking the E&M exam would have to purchase and use the book in order to recuperate the costs involved in putting out the book (which are substantial).  As most any science author will tell you, there’s not much profit to be made in writing these types of books, and margins are mighty slim.  It’s a labor of love because you want to help students (yours and others).  I’m already pushing the limits of ‘wise decisions’ in marketing a book to the AP-C Mechanics market (53K test takers last year), and hoping it at least breaks even.

Before making any commitments to an E&M version, I want to obtain feedback from the mechanics version — are students and instructors finding it helpful, what is a reasonable percentage of the market to anticipate, would it at least break even, and how is the new format received (fewer pages, larger format and type, color vs. B&W, etc.)  Given all that, I imagine it’s probably likely at some point I’ll get to work on it (after every book I tend to think I’m done, then eventually change my mind and start on another one).  However, it feels good to “fool myself” for awhile and pretend I’m done while I work on updating the APlusPhysics site, continue work on instructional videos, and perhaps get to bed a little earlier in the evenings.

For now, however, I’m excited to announce the release of The AP Physics C Companion: Mechanics.  Hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed putting it together!

*AP and Advanced Placement Program are registered trademarks of the College Board, which does not sponsor or endorse this product.

APlusPhysics Undergoes Huge Upgrade

Hi Everyone,

     As you may have noticed, progress on the AP-1 / AP-2 videos has stalled over the past few weeks… let’s just sum it up by saying that if it could have gone wrong, it did.  First we had a database “miscue” with our previous web server host, in which we lost the better part of 9 months of posts from this blog.  grrrrr.  Then a stomach bug went through our house.  And as I had all sorts of time to grumble over the increasingly poor response times of our site and the loss of the data (despite regular backups), I finally made the decision to switch hosts and get us our own virtual private server.

     What does all that mean, you may ask?  First off, instead of sharing a bunch of computing resource power with hundreds of other websites, we’ve purchased a set amount of storage space, RAM, and CPU cores on a server that only services a couple web sites.  Lots more resources devoted to our site means much more stable performance, and considerably improved loading speeds.  It also adds a bit of complexity on my side, as well as a considerable increase in annual costs.  I’m thinking about potential ways to offset that in the future, but in the meantime, I’m thrilled to have the site up and running the way it should be.

     Along with the server upgrade, we had quite a bit of “migrating” of programs, settings, and data to do.  MOST of it went smoothly.  One program, however, did NOT like the change at all, our Forums/Blogs software.  I was already somewhat frustrated with the support and performance of our old system, so after a few days of beating my head against the wall (and getting mighty fired up at the technical support line), I bit the bullet and upgraded our system to the “Cadillac” of forum and blogging software.  This, also, took a bit of time to setup, and because we’d already invested so much in all the student posts and work, I was able to hire an expert to assist in migrating all the data we could (what hadn’t been nutzed up by the previous software) into the new system.  And he was gracious enough to give us a great price with amazing service due to the nature of our site (Thank you so much!!!).

     To help differentiate the old software from the new, and highlight some of the features of the new software, I’ve renamed the “Discussion” area on APlusPhysics “Community,” because really that’s what we’re trying to build.  Not only do we now have forums (with some cool new features), and blogs (which even more cool new features), we also have a file repository where we can share electronic documents and programs with each other, we have an online chat system, we have tremendously improved calendars, the ability to better integrate “blocks” of content across the entire site, the ability to create custom pages (such as featured posts, highlighted material, etc. — I’ll turn this part on soon), the ability to incorporate e-books with direct downloads right from the site (instantaneous help!), even the ability to let members promote their good works to others across the entire site.  Quite a few of these options I’ll be working on over the coming months, but as of today we have at least as much functionality as the old site, a much prettier graphic interface, and a fast, responsive, reliable site with a support team I have much more confidence in.

     So what’s next?  Well, my first priority is finishing the “skin” of the system.  It’s almost there.  By the way, did you know you can adjust the color scheme of the site?  See that little rainbow grid in the upper right of the community?  Click on it and choose your color — whatever mood you’re in, the system can handle!

     Next, I have some behind-the-scenes work to do to tweak what shows up on the various pages… upcoming calendar events, latest files, users online, etc.  They work currently, but I’d like to make their integration just a little more smooth.  Nothing major, just have a bit of reading to do.

     Third, I’ve had quite a few requests to take my Powerpoint slides from the video series and make them available for teachers to use.  This may be a bit more involved, as there are some licensing restrictions I’m working with the appropriate parties on, but I’m hopeful we can get something worked out in the not-too-distant future.

     Fourth, I’d like to get the featured content / topic pages built out.  This will be an ongoing “as time allows” effort.  This new system has tremendous potential to pull and organize information from a wide variety of sources, the question is “am I smart enough to make it work?”  I’m hoping the answer is yes.

     Fifth, I’d really like to work to promote the downloads section as an area where we as physics instructors can share the best of what we put together for our students.  There are both public and educator-only folders, and I think this has tremendous potential to be a great resource for us all, but I’m betting there will be quite a bit of legwork to “sell” this concept to other physics teachers across the world, so that it becomes not just a place for folks to download my work, but a place where we can all collaborate and share with each other.  In this, I definitely need your help.  If you would, take a minute or two and find one original lesson, worksheet, lab, hands-on activity, whatever… upload it to the “Downloads” section and share it with the rest of us.  Can you imagine what a wonderful resource we’d have if each physics teacher shared just one or two amazing activities?  Imagine if we then started building off of those… then again and again… we’d have the greatest teaching resource of any discipline (and we’re already well on our way!)

     Sixth, work hasn’t stopped on the physics videos.  I have to admit I’m a touch burnt out after finish the AP Physics C series this year (both Mechanics and E&M), and completing an entire AP-1 / AP-2 sequence for (which is currently branded as AP-B but was set up with the new courses in mind).  I’m continuing to plug away on the optics section of AP-B, and have a few more pieces to fill in.  Once I get through this week my hope is to complete at least one more video per week for the foreseeable future.

     Last, but not least — I’ve spent the past year doing pre-work for an AP-1 / AP-2 guide book for students (in the vein of Honors Physics Essentials, but specifically directed toward AP-1 / AP-2).  As we get to the end of the school year, I want to focus on the BIC (butt in chair) strategy to get a first draft underway.  I have tons of notes, outlines, and materials, and from past experience once you get rolling it’s not so bad, but I need to take those first few steps.  I just want to make sure I have all my other “gotta get done’s” out of the way before I dive headfirst into this one for the summer.

     Thanks for all your support, and I look forward to seeing you on the new APlusPhysics Community (by the way, if you haven’t tried it out yet, we’d love to see you!  Shoot me an e-mail if you’re a professional physics instructor and I’ll get your access upgraded so you can see into the “teacher-only” parts of the site as well)!

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RAPTOR Physics Teacher Meeting Minutes 1/14/12 #physicsed

I had the privilege of attending the Rochester Area Physics Teachers Out-Reach (RAPTOR) meeting at Rochester Institute of Technology on Saturday, Jan. 14, from 9 a.m. to noon.  With more than 20 physics instructors in attendance, I was thrilled to meet many great teachers, reconnect with old friends, and walk away with a bunch of new ideas and resources.

The meeting began with some collegial discussions and socialization, followed by introductions — introductions of both the RAPTOR association itself, and of the individuals in the room. RAPTOR is a group of physics teachers centered in the Rochester area focused on sharing ideas, demonstrations, discussing concerns, issues, and solutions, with the goal of improving physics teaching and learning for all involved.

Brendan Noon has created a WIKI depository for teaching materials at

Special thanks to the RIT physics department for hosting us on a Saturday morning!

Tom Frys provided information on the annual High School Model Bridge Contests.  These are held each year in conjunction with National Engineers Week, and are quite popular both in Syracuse and Buffalo.  Interest is developing in Rochester to expand the program locally as well.  Examples of bridges were presented, as well as design specifications.  Organizers are very willing to work with the RAPTOR teachers to make the event a success in the area.

Dan Fullerton talked about and the Regents Physics Essentials book.  In addition to highlighting what resources were available, I tried to focus on showing ways in which these resources could be utilized in a classroom to provide differentiated and personalized instruction outside of class, leaving more valuable classroom time for active learning, exploration, and instructor assistance.  I also presented an example of how Regents Physics Essentials and APlusPhysics are used at Irondequoit High School to streamline mid-term and end-of-year review activities.

Brendan Noon then presented on Planning a Differentiated Lesson w/ Game Show Review.  Following the style of Jeopardy, students create their own review game shows.  This can be implemented in a wide variety of ways, but leaves many options available for differentiating by level of Regents questions, assigning higher level questions to higher level students, and also assigning less frequently found topics to higher level students, while maintaining heterogeneous class groupings.  Recommendations included having all students answer all questions (check by whiteboard presentations).  It was also noted that TestWizard contains quiz functionality (even if many of the solutions are incorrect and need to be checked in advance.)  Following the meeting, I noted in a recent catalog from the AcademicSuperstore that Jeopardy-style classroom equipment is still being sold.

Next up was a discussion of the Common Core Standards and Assessments, and the wide range of ways they are being presented and implemented in physics classrooms.  Brendan Noon began the discussion by highlighting data showing statewide graduation rates are up, though college readiness has not increased.

This has led to xix shifts in ELA/Literacy and six shifts in mathematics.  Highlighting key shifts, ELA shift 1 deals with applying strategies to reading information text, teaching strategies for informational texts, and scaffolding for difficulties.  Noon shared a Buffalo State “Reading Log” format for physics, which covers the NY State / Common Core standards.  Students diagnose their own vocabulary, interpretations, question themselves, re-read, graph/diagram, etc.  These are typically assigned as homework, and at Buff State, are graded on a five point scale, with five points for completing them correctly the only rubric required.

There is a big focus on getting students to use textbooks at some level.  Schools have been given money specifically targeted for textbooks (and only textbooks).  Schools can also document the use of this money as part of their School Improvement Plan reports.

Questions were raised about what grade level texts must be specified as.  Noon noted that any textbook which is specified by the author/publisher as targeted at a specific grade level, is by design appropriate for that grade level (at least as far as the “legalese” of the current common core documentation is concerned.)

ELA Shift 2 deals with handling primary source documents with confidence.  Many see the text itself as a source of evidence, but it’s also possible to use a wide variety of sources such as websites, fiction and non-fiction books, and even popular magazines as sources.  Further, it’s quite possible to use different interpretation levels within the same texts as well as different texts with different interpretation levels to differentiate student expectations.  The ultimate goal is to stop referring to and summarizing texts, and teachign students to start reading and understanding as we build a community of independent learners.

All teachers are required to create two units of common core materials this year, although there is no statewide system of verifying this is completed.  This is being met in a wide variety of ways from a wide variety of instructors with a wide variety of success:

  • “Read book, answer questions”
  • “Read article, generate an argument”
  • “Some districts not doing anything”

Text can be words, data, or arguments.  A great source for these types of questions is ACT review books with science passages — it’s easy to add one of these to the end of a test for practice and help students build these skills throughout the year.

Next was a sharing/discussion session to close out the meeting. One member demonstrates applications and demonstrations of falling discs and gyroscopes, another showed a quick demonstration to build thinking about conservation of energy and magnetism, yet another discussed challenges and experiences teaching in an urban environment.

Members discussed how RAPTOR should be a terrific resource for new teachers as well as more experienced instructors.

Steve Whitman talked about the use of Interactive Physics as a classroom resource, providing several demonstrations and discussing potential for further development of teacher training and supporting resources through a grant with SUNY Brockport.

Meeting closed with distribution of a number of terrific door prizes!


For more information, check out the RAPTOR Facebook Page at

RAPTOR Physics Teachers Out-Reach #physicsed

The first 2012 meeting of the Rochester Area Physics Teachers Out-Reach group (R.A.P.T.O.R.) will be held on Saturday morning, January 14, 2012, from 9:00 a.m. to noon. The meeting will be located in room 3335 of the Gosnell building, Building 8 on the campus of the Rochester Institute of Technology ( Park in Lot U. There is NO restricted parking on weekends so park at north end, closest to buildings.

We start with refreshments, socializing, and introductions. There are many physics high school teachers new to R.A.P.T.O.R. the meeting provides opportunities for them, as well as for veterans, to communicate with each other.

Thomas Frys (Association for Bridge Construction and Design Board Member) will discuss the possibility of involving Rochester Area high school science students in the annual ABCD Model Bridge Competitions.

Preparing Teachers and Students to meet State Standards is our topic of the Day. Teachers will discuss their strategies in the following presentations:

Dan Fullerton (West Irondequoit High School) will give a brief presentation on the web resource and how it can be coupled with a novel approach to Regents Physics review. Guided by the principle "The best review book is the one students will actually use," Fullerton gathered input from a range of teachers and students to write "The APlusPhysics Guide to Regents Physics Essentials." His presentation will focus on utilizing these resources to enhance instruction and support students in a hands-on, interactive, highly constructivist learning environment.

Brendan Noon (Williamson High School) will discuss using “Game Show Review” as a differentiated source of learning engagement. Students actively participate in collecting questions from past regents exams and preparing “Game Show” style Power Point reviews and video presentations for their peers to compete against each other as contestants. Lesson plan templates and sample Power Points will be demonstrated and distributed during this presentation.

Next, Brendan Noon (Williamson High School) will lead a discussion on the critical components involved in constructing physics units aligned to New York State’s Common Core Standards shifts and how these shifts will impact New York State assessments. He will show the framework used in developing a Unit on Modern Physics and discuss how this framework can be used in developing other units aligned with Common Core Standards Shifts.

The last scheduled item is Sharing. This is a half hour devoted to unscheduled presentations by any participant, of duration between, say, three to ten minutes. It could, for example, be a demonstration, a lab experiment, a way of presenting a topic, a thought on pedagogy, or humor.

Miscellaneous: Parking is available in Parking Lot U .

There are no costs or fees associated with any part of this meeting and it is not necessary to make a reservation in advance.

If you would like a letter of attendance for this meeting please inform me ahead of time so that it can be distributed at the meeting.

The agenda is repeated in capsule form at the end of this message.

Mr. Brendan Noon

Co-Organizer of R.A.P.T.O.R.



Rochester Area Physics Teachers Out-Reach

Saturday January 14, 2012, 9:00 a.m. to noon

Gosnell Building, Building 8, Rochester Institute of Technology

Room 3335

Parking in Lot U

  • 9:00  – 9:15 a.m. Refreshments, Socializing, Introductions and Announcements
  • 9:15 – 9:20 a.m. Annual Bridge Building Competition for High School Students
    • Thomas Frys Association for Bridge Construction and Design Board Member)
  • 9:20 – 9:40 a.m. Physics Demos that make Students Think!
    • Bring your favorite demonstration that introduces a topic in physics
  • 9:40 -10:10 a.m. A “Novel” Approach to Regents Review with
  • 10:10 – 10:40 a.m. Differentiated Instruction with “Game Show” Review in Physics
    • (lessons and templates will be distributed) Brendan Noon (Williamson High School)
  • 10:40 – 10:50 a.m. Refreshment Break
  • 10:50  – 11:20 a.m. Critical Components of Unit Writing for New York State Common Core Standards Shifts in Physics
    • (Lessons and templates will be distributed Brendan Noon (Williamson High School)
  • 11:20 a.m. to noon  Physics Share-A-Thon

Physics education enthusiasts all over the world can interact and participate in the meetings by registering for free at:

A few other ways you can show your support for physics education and collaborate with other high school physics teachers are by liking the RAPTOR facebook page:!/pages/Rochester-Area-Physics-Teachers-Out-Reach-RAPTOR/261529007244589

or signing up on the RAPTOR Listserve: