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AP Physics 1:

Algebra-Based

T E A C H E R S M A N UA L

Greg Jacobs

20/06/14 7:48 PM

ISBN: 978-0-07-182952-6

MHID: 0-07-182952-0

AP, Advanced Placement Program, and College Board are registered trademarks of the College Entrance Examination Board, which

was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this product.

20/06/14 7:48 PM

Greg Jacobs teaches AP Physics at Woodberry Forest School in Virginia. He is the

author of 5 Steps to a 5: AP Physics 1, Algebra-Based 2015.

20/06/14 7:48 PM

20/06/14 7:48 PM

Your Students Get 5s

Todays AP Physics student has no shortage of resources for his or her class. No

longer tied to just the teacher and the textbook, nowadays a student can look at

online simulations, apps, computer-based homework, video lectures . . . even the

College Board itself provides so much material related to the AP exam that the

typical studentand teachercan easily become overwhelmed by an excess of

information.

5 Steps to a 5 is intended to distill the important bits from these myriad resources. It

explains, in straightforward language, what a student needs to know for the AP Physics

1 exam . . . nothing more and nothing less.

But what about a straightforward, direct teachers manual for the AP Physics

1 course? Everything the College Board offers is so full of education buzzwords that even

the most careful reader takes away inquiry after inquiry after inquiry. (I promise that

I will not use the word inquiry again after this paragraph and footnote.1)

This teachers manual will take you through what I would consider the 5 Steps of

teaching an AP Physics course. Ill go through each of these steps, some in more detail

than others. Most of the suggestions and ideas are things that Ive done in my own class,

but this doesnt mean that theyre uniquely mine. Physics teachers, like baseball pitchers,

do best when they hear new things, try new things, adapt new things, and eventually

make new things their own.

The Five Steps of Teaching AP Physics

1. Learn and practice the course material for yourself.

2. Prepare a strategic plan for the course.

3. Hold an interesting class every day.

4. Evaluate your students progress.

5. Taper for the AP exam.

Depending on your personal background and your school situation, some of these steps

might be more important for you than others. For an experienced physics teacher who

is looking to adapt a course to the AP Physics 1 standards, Steps 4 and 5 may be key.

1

I ts not that inquiry-based physics education isnt a good idea. Ive been doing it for nearly two decades. Inquiry

simply means teaching physics as being much more than plugging numbers into equations and teaching labs as being

much more than following a recipe to get the Teachers Right Answer. But to me, making a big deal about inquiry-based

education is a lot like making a big deal about breathing.

20/06/14 7:48 PM

But if youre teaching physics for the first time, having last taken a physics course many

years ago, then Step 1 might be primary for you.

So skip around in this manual. Pick the parts that are relevant to you. Read bits

and pieces to inspire new ideas that you can use in your own classroom. And feel free to

write to me with your own thoughts. Im always collecting and trying out new teaching

ideas for myself, so Id love to hear from readers. My physics teaching blog at jacobs

physics.blogspot.com is regularly updated with new ideas, most of which are inspired

by correspondence and discussion with other physics teachers.

Material for Yourself

Okay, if youre comfortable that you could get a 5 on the AP exam right now, skip

this step and jump to Step 2. Thats probably true of a good many of you who have

been teaching physics for a while, and some whose college experience was recent

enough that you dont have to think about the equation for the moment of inertia

of a point mass.2

If youre not confident that you could get a 5 on the exam right now, thats okay.

You havent failed before you start. You just need to approach your first year of teaching

AP Physics 1 a bit differently.

I know youre expecting me to advise you to spend the summer learning the course

material well enough so that you could get a 5 before school starts. Um, no. Thats great

to say, but it doesnt work in practice. Just as students need time to process and practice

their newly learned physics skills, so do teachers. Sure, read this book before the course

begins, take a summer institute or a summer class, and study on your own, but dont

expect to be an expert physicist on the first day of school if youre not already an expert.

Instead, take a long-term approach. Be honest with your students and tell them

that youre learning some of the course material along with them. Seek out a mentor:

an experienced physics teacher at your school, a college professor, or even a genius

alumnus/a of your school whos now a physics major. When you have content questions

that you cant answer, e-mail that mentor.

And dont get hung up or discouraged when you solve a problem incorrectly and

your students tell you so. Handle it in a self-deprecating manner, and move along. Every

physics teacher hasrepeatedlysolved problems incorrectly. The more open and honest you are with the students in your class, the more theyll trust you to guide them to

the best of your ability.

All that said, the goal of this first year must be for you to learn the material well enough

so that you yourself could get a 5 on the May exam. Teaching AP Physics does require

subject-matter expertise. Developing that expertise takes a year. If youre still not able

2

MR.2

20/06/14 7:48 PM

to solve exam-level physics problems after a year or two of hard studying and some supplemental coursework, well, you need to find something else to teach. But until then,

dont be intimidated.

By a strategic plan, I mean a general idea of how your course is going to be structured

from August to April. The obvious part of the strategic plan is which topics will be

covered over what periods of time; however, while that is an important feature, theres

much more to consider.

Begin your preparation by grafting topic coverage onto your own schools academic

calendar. The AP Physics 1 exam includes eight major topic areas; 5 Steps to a 5 covers

each of these as a separate content chapter. You should begin your course preparation by

deciding how much time to spend on your initial coverage of each major topic.

A simple way to do this is to use the sample syllabi published on the College Boards

AP Central website. Pick one you like. Look at the number of course days dedicated

to each topic, and use that as an approximate guide to how much time you must spend.

Next, look at your own schools calendar. Cross out special days when your class

doesnt meet or when you know nothing will be accomplished. Label each remaining

day of the school year with one of the eight chapters; now you have the beginnings of

a plan.

What about a math review? What about it? Your students have learned how to solve

algebraic equations in a single variable, and they know the definition of sine, cosine,

and tangent. Thats all they need to know.

Sure, they may not be good at either of these math skills, but so what? Theyll get

good by practicing in the context of physics problems. By diving into real physics on

the first day of class, you get students excited about the kinds of concrete, experimentally verifiable problems you can solve using these math skills. (See Step 3 for a further

discussion of how math should always be introduced in context.)

Then be prepared to actually follow the plan. Invariably, your calendar will tell you

that its time to end, say, the study of Newtons laws and move on to energy. But,

I know they dont truly get Newtons laws yet, youll say. Perhaps youll hear some

pointed, passive-aggressive commentary from students, parents, or even colleagues:

You know, the school isnt gonna lose its accreditation if you slow down a bit. Never

mindmove on. Make the yearly plan nonnegotiable.

Yes, you will have students who still dont understand a topic when its time to move

along. Thats okay. What makes you think that those students who are not getting every

problem right will suddenly have an epiphany the twelfth time you review a topic? And

what about the students who are doing fine and are ready to keep going? They should

not feel slowed down by their peers in what is billed as a college-level course.

Dont fret. Reviewing is best done in context throughout the course. For example,

when you talk about work done by friction, you will probably draw a free-body diagram

20/06/14 7:48 PM

and calculate the force of friction. That right there is a review of Newtons laws. Do a

problem with blocks colliding at the edge of a cliff in such a way that the blocks become

projectiles after the collisionyouve just done a kinematics review. Its amazing how

students who, back in September, couldnt solve a projectile problem to save their lives

suddenly figure it out when the projectile problem is in the context of new material.

Dont ask me why that is because I dont know. Maybe the concepts have had time to

percolate in the students brains; maybe the urgency of needing one topic to deal with

another promotes understanding. All I do know is that Ive seen it happen every year,

without exception. Those who initially seem hopeless figure things out the second or

third time they are exposed to a topic.

Double coverage? An alternative approach that Im going to try in my course is to

race through the eight major topics at a more basic level than that demanded on the

AP Physics 1 exam. Then, round about February, Ill go back to the beginning, but this

time asking questions that require the deep verbal responses that youll see on the exam.

The AP Physics 1 exam requires much more than calculations and one-sentence justifications. Nevertheless, since students often need multiple exposures to the same topic

before they get it at any level, I dont think many students are ready for deep reasoning

right away. Ill get them to the point where they can calculate the speed of carts after

a collision and explain how acceleration is different from velocity. Then, the second

time through, Ill take their recall of fundamental facts and their calculation ability for

granted. We can then tackle questions like, Describe a system for which momentum is

conserved, and another for which it is not. Or, Explain why doubling the initial speed

of a projectile does not necessarily double its maximum height.

What does your schools daily and weekly schedule look like? How you use your time in

class will be heavily determined by the structure of your meeting times. But dont think

like an administrator; the number of minutes per week you have available is a useless

statistic. Rather, think in terms of how many times you see your class each week and

whether you have a lot of time (that is 75 to 90 minutes) or a little time (that is,

35 to 45 minutes) with your students each day.

Physics, like hardtack, is best digested in small chunks over long periods. The number of class meetings is far more important than how long those meetings are. Ideally,

youd see your class every day for a short time, and then once a week youd have a lot

of time so that you could do lab work with extended data collection or give a test. And

ideally youd start in mid-August and have minimal breaks so that you could maximize

your class meetings.

Ha! you say. No one has that kind of ideal schedule. In fact, at my school . . .

[reader: insert valid complaint here].

I know. There is nothing you can do about it. You need to deal with all the obstacles

and find a way to teach a college-level course on a high school schedule.

The good news is that AP Physics 1 is substantially shorter than AP Physics B used to

be and shorter than AP Physics C is. There are only two scheduling possibilities that

I cannot, in good conscience, recommend.

20/06/14 7:48 PM

Dont teach AP Physics 1 and 2 in the same year unless you have 90 minutes every

day with a class thats universally MIT-bound, or unless everyone had an honors course

in the previous year that was substantially similar to AP Physics 1.3

Dont teach AP Physics 1 in a single-semester block, in which the course ends in

December or doesnt start until January, no matter how many minutes of class time

you have.

But you can make virtually anything else work.

Are you on a block schedule? Teaching every other day for a year can work just fine.

Youll have to be creative in your use of class timeits tough to sit still or focus

for 90 minutes straightbut theres still plenty of time for students to absorb what

youre teaching them.

If youre asked to teach a single-semester block, try offering two physics courses:

honors physics in the first semester, and then AP Physics 1 in the second semester with the honors course as a required prerequisite. Youll really be teaching AP

Physics 1 all year, but those honors students who drop out after a semester will still

learn a whole lot and have a positive experience.

Do you not have a long class for a lab period? Thats tough, but its okay. Try to

minimize setup and takedown time. Do as much supervised data collection in class

as possible, and then expect students to do the analysis at home. Or be creative with

the laboratory exercises so that many of them dont require extended single-day data

collection. (See the discussion of laboratory activities in Step 3.)

Do your students miss class all the time for pep rallies and student council days and

Panda Awareness Assemblies? Plan for the unexpected by teaching on a four-day

schedule. Expect three class days and a lab day each week, with the fifth day planned

to be something low-key like test corrections, an in-class problem-solving exercise,

student grading of homework to a rubric, an online exercise, or something else thats

useful but not critical to the courses progress.

Assign test dates in advance, and do not change them for anything less than the apocalypse. Ill talk in Step 4 about the enormous utility of tests, as a test is the only event

for which you can be guaranteed to have the classs universal attention. Its therefore

important that you schedule tests carefully. By scheduling them ahead of time in stone,

you can avoid as many conflicts as possible. Dont schedule a test the Monday after the

Super Bowl or the Friday before the prom. But theres no reason to postpone a test other

than for the cancellation of school.

I discourage giving frequent unit tests. These give the wrong impression of what

physics, and a physics test, is. Instead, schedule a test once a month. Whatever youve

covered from the first day of class up to the test date goes on the test; if youre a day

or two behind, then dont put the material you havent gotten to on the test. Students

3

20/06/14 7:48 PM

and parents will no doubt complain that such infrequent testing makes each test high

stakes. Good! Thats kind of the point. The AP exam is a one-shot opportunity to

earn college credit. By the time the AP exam happens, your students will have had

experience with eight or so high-stakes practice tests, making the AP exam itself no

big deal.

Dont expect students to do more than one or two problems each night. Solving a physics problem is equivalent, intellectually, to writing a paragraph for English class.4 If

you assign too much homework, it wont be done right, and therefore it will be worse

than useless for your students progress. As youre pacing your course, expect that your

students can get through only one or two problems per night.

But this doesnt mean that you have to assign work due at every class meeting. As

long as students are accountable for doing thorough work (see Step 4), you can have

problems due every other day or even once a week. Still, whenever it is due, homework

should be assigned at a rate of one or two problems per night.

Use problem assignments to manage the pace of the course. Lets say your overall plan

involves 15 class days of work on kinematics. That means that you can assign only

15 to 20 problems on kinematics. In that case, better make em good.

Theres no point in publishing a schedule of problems due more than a few days in

advance. Students dont often work ahead at all, and, when they do, they work no more

than a day or two ahead. But students dont react well to changes in plans. Im sure this

has happened to you (if not, ask a colleague about it): you make a change in a previously

published assignment, you write that change on the board, tell everyone, send e-mails,

maybe even hand out a hard copy of the changeand sure enough, not just one but a

bunch of students dont get the message.5

So publish assignments on a weekly or semiweekly basis. Then you can adjust your

pacing as you go. Did you fall behind because of unforeseen circumstances? No problem; just add an extra day of problems on the current topic. Do you need to move on to

the next topic and skip some problems? Just do it. Since you didnt publish a long-term

schedule, no one will be the wiser.

The short-term unchangeable problem set becomes a way of ensuring that your

students cooperate with your daily class activities. They know that tonights assigned

problems involve the material you intend to discuss in class, and they know that theres

no chance of changing the assignment. So the class will be pretty cooperative with you

when you say, Johnny, I know you have more questions about [whatever Johnny wont

shut up about], and Ill be glad to work with you during extra help time. But tonights

problems involve the calculation of impulse, so I think its important that we get to

nless youre assigning problems that are too simplistic. Keep reading for a discussion of the appropriate assignment of

U

nightly work, and see Step 4 for a discussion of the evaluation of nightly work.

5

Theres no point complaining that your students dont pay attention to what you say in class, any more than its

worth complaining that electrons have wave properties. Dont complain; just accept it. Minimize the possibility of

miscommunication, and then dispassionately hold students accountable for following clear and reasonable instructions.

20/06/14 7:48 PM

some impulse demonstrations, right? (Smile, dont wait for an answer, and start the

impulse demonstration.)6

So what makes a problem good, anyway? Homework problems should be similar in

level and style to AP problems. Then, when its time for the real exam, everyone has the

experience to know instinctively when he or she is overthinking or oversimplifying a

question. I recommend giving only one or two of these good problems per night, so that

students can reasonably be expected to present a thorough, annotated solution rather

than just 3/2 = 1.5 m/s/s.

You might be tempted to assign a bunch of straightforward plug-and-chug problems,

such as, What is the acceleration of a 2-kg object experiencing a 3-N net force? Perhaps

you want students to gain experience solving new equations; perhaps you want to build

your weaker students confidence. Nevertheless, assigning such problems is harmful, not

helpful. It lets weak students develop a false sense of confidence. Because they can do the

baby problems,7 they reason, they can do some physics, so theres no need for them to

work too much on those other problems. And even worse, the good students develop an

unhealthy antipathy to homework problems. To most students, plug-and-chug problems

fall into the category of busywork, or homework for the sake of giving homework

rather than for serious practice. So the good students will tune out all the homework,

assuming that everything will be busywork.

Conversely, you might be tempted to challenge your top students by assigning some

really tough, involved problems that are beyond the level of the AP exam. Dont! Its easy

to think that those top students will enjoy the challenge because you like a good challenge. But its more likely that they will resent the burden of the additional work. And for

the rest of the class, even one problem thats beyond the level of the AP exam will frustrate them and make them doubt their own skill. Their learned hopelessness means that

they are likely to assume that an AP exam problem is beyond them, even when its not.

Fine, Ill use AP-level problems. How do I know what is AP level? For the old AP Physics B exam, that was easy: you used the middle level of difficulty in any textbooks endof-chapter problems. All textbooks have some sort of ranking of problems by difficulty,

say, Levels I, II, and III. The Level II problems were generally what you were looking for.

Now, with AP Physics 1, the Level II problems probably wont include enough

demand for descriptive verbal responses. If youve taught physics for a long time, you

can probably still use Level II problems by adding some of your own additional explain

why types of questions to the textbook problem. That doesnt help a relatively new

teacher, though. How do you know what other kinds of verbal response questions to ask?

6

ost of Johnnys classmates will be breathing a huge sigh of relief because they wanted him to shut up, too. Oh, and

M

dont expect to see Johnny at extra help time. Certainly help him in the one time in a hundred that he does show up, but

most likely, he doesnt want help; he wants either a distraction or an argument.

7

But they cant even do the baby problems right, you say. They divide 3/2 and get 0.6, and they forget the units!

Gotcha. But thats going to happen. Do you think your drill is going to solve your students basic algebra deficiencies,

when many years of math classes havent helped? Theyre more likely to pay attention to details when theyve done all

sorts of good work to solve a problem, but a division error prevented them from getting the right answer. This falls under

the old aphorism choose your battles.

20/06/14 7:48 PM

Try just assigning the Level II problem straight up. Look at your students

responses to see what mistakes they made, or what parts of the solution they didnt

show well. Then you can use the actual student responses to inspire a follow-up

question on a quiz or a later homework, something like, In order to calculate the

objects acceleration, what value do you use for the net force? Explain your choice

in words. Or, Explain how you know that the downward force of the ball on the

cart is 1.5 N.

When you have a chance, read and solve all the official College Boardreleased

AP Physics 1 items. Read the practice problems and the practice test in 5 Steps to a 5.

That should give you an idea of the style and level of descriptive response questions that

your students will need to be prepared for. Then mimic those kinds of questions as they

might apply to the situations described in a textbook problem.

Who should enroll in your course? The old AP Physics B exam was designed as a

second-year physics course. Students in AP Physics B needed either a previous year of

high school physics or a reasonably high aptitude and tolerance for fast-paced work in

order to succeed. Thats not true for AP Physics 1.

Teachers have all sorts of philosophies about deciding who should be allowed to

enroll in an AP section. For many of you, the decision is out of your handsadministrators play the role of general manager, and you coach whoever shows up. But if you

do have input into enrollment, Id recommend being as inclusive as possible.

Among college-bound high school students, the difference between a regular student and an AP student isnt really the students ability to handle material at the AP

level. The difference is the pace at which the student can absorb the material.8 For many

years I taught a regular-level physics course that took a full year to cover about a third

of the old AP Physics B curriculum. My regular-level students performed equivalently

to my AP students on authentic AP problemsas long, of course, as I restricted the

problems to the topics we had covered.

Now the Physics 1 exam contains about 60 percent of the material on the old Physics

B exam. You should probably be able to expand the pool of students in your AP-level class.

My own approach is to allow anyone to enroll in AP Physics 1. If a student asks my

opinion, I suggest that if he or she earned any sort of A in biology or chemistry classes,

or if he or she is enrolled in any honors math course, the student should give AP Physics

1 a shot. But pretty much any student who wants to try APand who knows what she

or he is getting intois welcome in my class.

Once the class starts, though, dont pull any punches, even for students who have reached

a bit to be in the AP course. Open enrollment can turn into a disaster if students at the

weaker end expect the class to slow down for them, or if they expect a route to high

grades that doesnt involve performance on tests. The meaning of the AP gradethe 5,

4, 3, 2, 1 scaleis that it represents approximately an A, B, C, D, F in the equivalent

college course. If a student is earning straight 1s on tests, that student should be getting

Often, this also includes the students motivation to do whats necessary to handle the material successfully.

20/06/14 7:48 PM

Ds or Fs, not Bs. Ideally, though, I recommend counseling such a student out of the

AP class once its clear that he or she has little possibility of passing.9

You may well have to develop a relationship with the administrator in charge of

course movement. Because AP Physics is a college-level quantitative course, students

generally need more than the typical weeklong drop-add period to determine

whether they belong in it. More students than I can count have wanted desperately to

drop my class after getting their first few problems and quizzes back, but subsequently

they earned 5s on the May exam. See if you can arrange for students to be able to wait

until a couple of months (and a couple of tests) have passed before you make a final

decision to keep them in AP or to drop them to a regular-level course.

What should I assign as summer work? Nothing. Summer work is a terrible idea.

First of all, when does it get done?10 The night before class starts. What can be accomplished? Not much. Do you really want your students trying to learn about Newtons

laws without your guidance? Thats just begging to entrench misconceptions that youll

have to get rid of later. Oh, so you want to do a math review? The math in AP Physics 1

consists of algebra in a single variable and the definitions of the trig functions. Your

students either know or dont know this material; a review is not going to be productive. Worse, a mathematical summer assignment gives the wrong impression: physics is

not a math course! A summer math assignment means months of explaining why merely

solving for x does not earn much credit on the AP Physics exam.

The worst part of the summer assignment is that it sets you up for a worthless

confrontation. In all their other AP courses, your students have summer assignments,

most of which are far more integral to the course than anything you can do for physics in the summer. Therefore, most of them will show up resentful at having had to

do your work on top of everything else, and some of them will show up without the

work at all. Now you have to make a decision: Do you ignore their failure, perhaps

just giving them a slap11 on the wrist? That sends the message that you dont really

care whether your students do the assigned work, meaning that youll have a huge

fight on your hands to get the class members to take their problem sets seriously. Or,

do you bring the hammer down12 on the lazy bums who didnt do the summer work,

giving them a horrible grade out of the gate? That will present you in the most hostile

way possible on the first day of class. The perception, right or wrong, will be that you

are full of yourself and trying to enforce your authority. Why not save that battle for

the regularly scheduled problem sets, which are crucial to developing an understanding of the active course material?

n this point, many people disagree with me. The College Board will tell you that a student who gets a 1 on the AP

O

exam still has gained valuable experience that will be useful in college. I say, why would you allow an overmatched batter

to hurt the team and lose confidence by hitting .100 all year, when you could have put that player on JV where he or she

would have hit .300 and been a star?

10

If it gets done at all.

11

Figuratively, I mean.

12

Again, figuratively.

20/06/14 7:48 PM

10

Most class days in an AP Physics course include some mix of these broad categories of

activities:

Lab work

Independent or group work

Quizzes

Tests

Theres no way to plan each class to the minute before the school year starts. But

you certainly can decide how you want to distribute these activities over a typical

week.

Rule 3 of teaching: your students dont listen to you. Its nothing personal; mine dont

listen to me, either. Theres no point in complaining about the danged kids these days.13

Deal with your students as they are, not as you think they ought to be. And they are

inclined to tune out if you talk at them for more than a few minutes.

Dont feel that you need to go over every last little thing in class, because the class wont

remember what you went over, anyway. Heres where 5 Steps to a 5 comes in very handy.

At the end of each chapter is a list of facts. Your students should know these facts cold.

You dont have to say them or write them on the board; they can read them just fine out

of the book. Go ahead and assign students to learn some of these facts (or facts from a

textbooks chapter summary), and quiz them on these facts before youve said a word

about them in class. As an incentive to get your students to read and try to remember

the facts, you might even consider letting them use for the quiz any notes that theyve

personally handwritten.

In class, then, you assume that your students know fundamental facts, and you

work with them on applying the fundamentals to new situations. Thats what physics

is all about.

Give a short quiz every day. While students dont listen to you, theres no question

but that they pay attention to quiz questions. Therefore, if theres a point you want to

make about a common mistake on the homework, dont talk to the class about it; ask a

pointed question about it on a daily quiz.

Quizzes can use any format you want. My colleague Curtis convinced me to use

short-answer questions that can be either straight fact recall (The slope of a velocitytime graph is _____) or a bit more open-ended (On the homework problem for today,

why was the normal force greater than the carts weight?). Multiple-choice questions

have the advantage of being quick and easy to grade. A quiz can be word-for-word from

a homework problem, thus ensuring that students didnt just copy their friends or an

13

In my day, kids listened, respected their elders, and never texted in class.

20/06/14 7:48 PM

11

online solution, or you could change the situation in the homework slightly by making

the cart heavier or doubling its initial speed.

However the daily quiz is structured, its worth doing. It serves a multitude of

purposes:

Any issues of students arriving late will vanish after a few daily quizzes. Youre not

in your seat when the bell rings? Im not mad at you and youre not in trouble; you

just dont get to take the quiz. Without confrontation or rancor, Ive bought five

extra minutes per class period.

The quiz provides a few quiet minutes for me to collect the students homework

individually. I can find out immediately if someone is unprepared without interrupting the flow of the class. I can also deal with the unprepared student immediately. Students know that they cant hide missing homework.

Going over the quiz as soon as its over is as good a content review as you can find.

Students care deeply about the answers, so theyre willing to listen and engage in a

way that they wouldnt if you just said, Lets go over homework problem 1.

If you can do it, try having students grade each others quizzes.14 Then each student

is paying double attention to the answerslistening to see whether his or her own

answer is right or wrong, and listening to see whether the other students paper

should be marked right or wrong.

Sure, you might have to deal with some drama-mongering colleagues breathlessly

wondering how you could be so cruel to your class as to give so many quizzes. Your

response is to wonder, in return, why must a quiz be considered cruel? Is the football

coach cruel because he has the team play football during practice? Is the soccer coach

cruel because he runs a 15-minute scrimmage at the end of each practice? Is the tennis

coach cruel because she has players play challenge matches? So whats the problem with

having students practice responding to physics questions every day? Isnt that exactly

what were supposed to be doing in a physics class? Keep giving your quizzes, and the

complaints will vanish in the wind.

Do quantitative demonstrations that combine problem solving and demonstrations.

How is a physics problem different from a math problem? The result from a physics

problem should not be called the answer, it should be called a prediction. In physics,

were not just crunching numbers; were deciding what we truly think would happen if

we were to set up the problem for real.

Therefore, I never do abstract textbook problems in class. Instead, I pose problems

based on a real, physical setup on my demonstration table. The answer to the problem

becomes a quantitative prediction, which we test right away with a measurement. Each

demonstration takes between 10 and 30 minutes to get through; thats the time it takes

to pose the problem to the class, demonstrate the problem-solving technique, ask a

14

his will probably work even if the quizzes themselves count minimally or not at all in the students course grades.

T

Try it.

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12

check your neighbor question here and there, and then do the measurement to verify

the prediction.

Where do you get ideas for quantitative demonstrations? Take a typical textbook problem and reimagine it at a scale thats appropriate for your classroom, with equipment

that you have available. That means, for example, string forces that are measurable with

your 5-N spring scales; masses of carts in the 2501,500 g range that match your lab

carts; speeds that you can measure easily with a sonic motion detector; currents in the

neighborhood of hundreds of microamps, which can be produced by a typical 12-V

supply and 100-kW resistors.

For those situations that wont scale down to the classroom, you can try searching

for a measurable video. For example, you can probably find stock footage of traveling

water waves or jets on a runway. Make testable predictions about the wavelength of the

waves or the takeoff speed of the jet.

And finally, if neither live equipment nor authentic video is available, computer

simulations are a useful last resort. Take a look at the PHET series of simulations provided by the University of Colorado. These are generally amenable to the same sorts of

measurable predictions that Id do live in class.

Can you give some examples of quantitative demonstrations? Absolutely. Here are some

demonstrations associated with each chapter in 5 Steps to a 5. Other ideas can be found

by browsing through the Jacobs Physics blog online.

My projectile launcher gives a ball a speed of 4.8 m/s. How high will the ball go when

its fired straight up? How much time will it be in the air before it hits the ground

1.2 m below the launch position? I pose these problems and solve them on the board.

That gives me the chance to model problem-solving methods. But when I get an answer

of 1.1 m, its not just an answerits a prediction that Im going to test, live, right away.

Sure enough, the ball reaches 110 cm (measured by metersticks) above the launcher.

Physics works. The projectile launcher can be angled to deal with two-dimensional

motion problems.

A fan cart has known acceleration. Sketch a velocity-time and position-time graph

for the cart moving (left, right) and (speeding up, slowing down, moving at constant

speed). Then, use the sonic motion detector to make those graphs live.

I set up all sorts of equilibrium problems with strings, pulleys, and hanging masses.

The tension of the strings can be measured with spring scales. Later, a motion detector can be added to measure the acceleration of the masses when they are no longer in

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13

equilibrium. So pick any textbook problem with strings and pulleys, and scale it so that

the tensions are under 5 N, which is the maximum reading on the good spring scales

you probably have.

A fan cart will provide a consistent force of the fan on the cart, one that can be

measured easily (mine is 0.28 N when the fan is fully charged). You can use the cart

to do straightforward Newtons second law calculations (to determine the acceleration

of the cart), but you can also combine this fan force with string forces, put the fan cart

on an incline (try predicting the incline angle for which the cart remains at rest), angle

the fan so that only a component of the fan force is relevant to the carts acceleration,

and so on.

A force plate is a digital platform scale. I use it for qualitative and quantitative demonstrations with the impulse-momentum theorem. Get a happy and a sad ballone

bounces high; the other barely bounces at all. Predict which experiences a larger force

in colliding with the ground, then drop them on the force plate to verify the prediction.

Jump off the force plate and use the impulse calculated from the force-time graph to

predict how high you jumped.

For collisions, set up virtually any collision on a track with motion detectors measuring the speeds of the carts before and after the collision.15 You can be selective about

what information from the detectors is given as part of the problem and what you are

predicting with conservation of momentum.

I focus on the three major situations in which constant-acceleration kinematics is an

invalid approach, and so the work-energy theorem must be used: carts on curved tracks,

vibrating springs, and pendulums.

Its straightforward to put a cart on a curved track, predict the carts speed at the

bottom of the track, and verify that speed with a motion detector. I use a bowling ball

and a rope to create a several-meter-high pendulum. Some trigonometry is necessary to

determine the vertical height of the bowling ball when its released, but nevertheless, its

easy to use a motion detector to verify the maximum speed of the ball at its lowest point.

For the mass on a spring, I pull the mass down a few centimeters and release it.

I predict the maximum speed of the massbut I deliberately do the prediction incorrectly, using F = kx to get the spring force, F = ma to get the masss acceleration, and

15

I dont believe in air tracks. These are a boondoggletheyre loud, they take up a lot of space, they break or lose

functionality easily, and they do nothing that cant be done equally well with high-quality lab carts on a track.

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14

kinematics to find the maximum speed. The motion detector reading emphatically does

not match the predictionphysics didnt work for once! The class members discover

that they really do have to use energy methods to predict speeds when acceleration isnt

constant, as the prediction is dead-on when we re-solve the problem with the workenergy theorem.

For torque in equilibrium, hang a meterstick horizontally by two strings with spring

scales attached. Hang one or two masses at random spots on the meterstick, then predict the reading on the scales.

For circular motion, I stick brass weights on a turntable for which I know the coefficient

of static friction and the period of rotation. We predict the maximum radius for which

the weights stay on the turntable. The result, mathematically, is independent of mass, so

I replace the weights with heavier brass weights, and they stay put in the same locations.

I mainly do qualitative rather than quantitative demonstrations for rotational

dynamics. For example, I ask, Which of these rolling objects will reach the bottom of

the ramp first? or, Which of these metersticks with masses attached at different locations will swing fastest? To make rotational demonstrations quantitative, try getting a

wheel with adjustable weights for which the rotational inertia can be trivially calculated.

If you or your students have access to an air hockey table, take some video of the pucks

colliding with a meterstick for a quantitative demonstration with angular momentum.

Okay, its hard to do true in-class quantitative demonstrations with gravitation. What,

youre going to take a trip to Jupiter to measure the gravitational field there?

I use this chapter to teach the techniques of order-of-magnitude estimation, as

described in 5 Steps to a 5. Its pretty easy to find animations of planetary or stellar

orbits; you can predict the masses of stars or planets (or the entire galaxy) using circular

motion data, predict gravitational fields using mass and radius data, and so on. Im still

always making a testable prediction in my problem solving; its just that Im testing

that prediction via online sources rather than via direct in-class measurement.

Circuits lend themselves very well to quantitative demonstrations. Set up any textbook

problem in the classroom with ammeters and voltmeters; you may have to scale the

problem to accommodate the power rating of your resistors and the maximum or mini-

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15

mum current that can be measured on your ammeters. You can put flashlight bulbs

in the circuit and predict which should be brightest. If you have a light meter, you can

even test that prediction quantitativelydouble the voltage should give four times the

brightness, since brightness depends on power. So if you double the voltage, the light

meter reading will quadruple, not double.

Coulombs law is a tough one. Many people swear by the Van de Graff generator

charge it up and hang a Styrofoam ball near it. If the string is long, the angle at which

the ball is deflected should be related to the force on the ball. Double the distance from

the Van de Graff and the force on the ball should be cut by a factor of four.

Me, Ive never gotten this to work right. My classroom was notoriously humid,

and the belts on the Van de Graff always seemed to be broken. I couldnt even get

anyones hair to stand up.16 So it is the simulation and video route for me. Try to find

the old PSSC Coulombs Law video by searching onlinein a very 1950s way, it

demonstrates conclusively the inverse-square force relationship using charged balls and

a room-sized device to read force on the balls.

Resonance and standing waves in PVC pipes can now be done with smartphone frequency generators; I use resonances to measure the speed of sound. If you do this in

wintertime,17 redo the experiment outside to find a slightly but measurably slower

sound speed. Back in my day,18 we used microphones hooked to oscilloscopes to display

the amplitude and period of a sound wave. Nowadays, any smartphone or tablet can

do the job. Predict what the simulated oscilloscope trace will look like for a sound with

doubled frequency (that is, an octave). Without getting into too much music theory,

I predict the lengths of PVC pipe closed at one end that will allow me to play the song

Louie, Louie in the style of the Blue Man Group. We measure and cut the PVC, and

play the song.

Harmonic motion demonstrations can be done easily with springs and pendulums.

To find the spring constant of a spring, stick a mass on it and hang it from a force probe

with a motion detector underneath. Let it oscillate while plotting force vs. position; the

slope of this graph, which can be made in five seconds, is the spring constant.

Graphical analysis of data canand shouldbe the focus of your lab course. The

advantage of quantitative demonstrations is that you need only one set of equipment

arranged properly at the front of the room. If you have only one motion detector, one

photogate, and so on, you can still do experimental physics with your class.

16

It doesnt help that I teach at a boys school where long hair is actively discouraged. And dont talk to me about grease.

Or, if you teach in sunny Hawaii or Florida, use your cafeterias walk-in freezer.

18

June 23, 1987.

17

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Nevertheless, the College Board requires that 25 percent of class time be spent on

lab work, which it defines as work in which the students themselves manipulate equipment, so you need to go beyond solving problems on the board, and even beyond just

quantitative demonstrations. How?

Get away from the idea that lab work is making measurements of a few data points, filling in a table with averages, doing some calculations, then (no matter what the actual numbers are) saying, The answer is close. Thats sixth-grade science. Instead, expect to spend

a lot of time having students collect and graph data. Get students used to the process of:

Replotting data on axes that produce a linear relationship

Drawing a proper best-fit line

Determining the slope and intercept of the line from the experimental graph

Comparing these to the slope and intercept predicted by a theoretical equation

I start by briefly showing the experiment. At the front of the room, I stick a cart

on an angled track. I hold a string with an attached spring scale parallel to the track

and read the scale; I put an angle indicator20 on the ramp and read the angle. I make

a table on the board with columns for the tension in the string and the angle of the

incline. I sketch a graph on the board next to the table, with axes labeled Tension in

the string (N) and Angle of the incline above the horizontal (degrees). I place a dot

on the graph. Then I make one more measurementand were just about ready to go.

The last thing I do before breaking everyone into groups is to briefly discuss

therules of laboratory work, including that all data go directly on the graph, and that

you may not measure the same data point twice. (Many students will ignore these rules.

Dont get frustrated; just expect it and deal with it. Even in my AP Summer Institute,

several teachers made a table of data without a graph, despite the fact that I said two

or three times, very loudly, You may not just make a data table now and graph later!)

Finally, I choose partners randomly withrandom.org, and we go at it.

Go at what? you ask. Wheres the lab sheet?

There is no lab sheet. The students have to listen and watch, then do the experiment. If they didnt figure out what to do by watching,a lab sheet wont help.

So how do you set up all the stations before lab?

I dont. I show everyone where the equipment is kept. Thats it. They have to tie

the string themselves. They have to find their own space to use, even if that space is in

the hallway. And they have to clean up after themselves. This approach saves me time,

sure, but its also more authentic experimental physics. For students, doing the setup

19

20

he experimental description here is taken from the Jacobs Physics blog, as posted on August 22, 2013.

T

If you dont have the $20 PASCO angle indicatorand you probably shouldntuse the Clinometer or iHandy

Level app on the iPhone. Android has similar and free apps.

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17

themselves, with no lab sheet, makes the experiment less an exercise in following directions than one in collecting data to which they have a personal connection.

How many data points should they collect?

Theyre not allowed to ask that silly question. They keep collecting data until a first

grader could clearly determine whether the data points are making a line or a curve.

When they think they have enough data, groups show me the graph, and I take a look

at it. More often than not, on the first day, I say, What, you think five points provide

a clear pattern? Pah, back to the experiment before I send thee to the dungeons. Then

comes, Oh, these data are looking good, and they do in fact look linear. But the angles

only go up to about 40 degrees. Lets explore all the available angles . . . why not go up

as steep as possible? Then well be sure that the line continues.

Finally, groups will produce a graph that flattens out at larger angles. At this

pointand not beforeI show the free-body diagram and equations relating the tension in the string to the angle:T = mg sin . No wonder the graph flattens . . . thats

what a sine graph does for angles from 0 to 90 degrees! This is a pretty awesome aha!

moment for many students, one that wouldnt have happened if I had shown them the

equation or the analysis before we started.

All this data collection generally takes most of a 90-minute period. Those who finish put away their equipment and begin the analysis, in which they make a new graph

of tension vs. the sine of the angle. Then they use the linear graphs slope to determine

the carts mass.

To determine the physical meaning of the slope of a graph, identify variables in the

relevant equation with variables in the general equation for a line, y = mx + b. In this

case, students identify the tension T with the y axis and sin q with the x axis. Therefore,

the slope of the graph is identified with mg. To find the mass m of the cart, take the

slope of the graph and divide by g.

Once a student has determined a mass for the cart, he or she will undoubtedly tell

you that this is close to the correct mass, even if it is off by a factor of 10. Dont let

anyone get away with such a vague statement. Make students quantify close. How

close? Find a percent difference between the mass measured in this experiment and the

mass measured on a scale (or the mass as stated by the carts manufacturer). In a typical

physics lab, youre happy to be within about 10 percent.

An even more rigorous comparison can be made by plotting a line on the graph

that represents the slope using the manufacturers value for the mass. We already said

that the slope of the graph represents mg, the weight of the cart. So if youre using a

500-g cart, the slope of this experimental T versus sin q graph should be 5 N. Have

the students use a different color of pen to draw a line of slope 5 N on the graph.

If that line could conceivably be considered a best fit, then your experiments mass

calculation agrees with the manufacturers value. However, if the line with slope 5 N

is far steeper or shallower than the actual experimental graph, then either the equation doesnt apply to this situation or you werent measuring what you thought you

were measuring.

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Give the students less guidance as the year goes on. The College Board sets as its holy

grail the open inq*ry21 laboratory exercise, in which students are given a problem to

solve with absolutely no guidance: Heres a rubber band. Does it obey Hookes law?

Thats great in principle, but its not going to work early in the school year. Your students simply wont have enough experience to make that assignment successful. Notice

that I give pretty darned specific instructions in my first lab. I wont hand out a lab

sheet, but I will certainly and carefully show everyone how to use the equipment to

make the measurement correctly. Within a few months, I can start giving less detailed

instructions, saying something like, Measure the speed of the cart at the bottom of

the hill as a function of the height of the hill and expect groups to come up with their

own methods of measuring the carts speed.

If you do a bunch of labs involving measurement and graphical analysis, then somewhere around December, youll start to hear grumblings along the lines of, Again with

the graphing and the best fit. Boring! Thats when you know that your class is ready for

more open-ended assignments. Eventuallymaybe even after the AP exam itselfyou

can ask your students to create their own experiments in the style of the labs youve been

doing all year. However, you shouldnt feel pressured to make every lab as open-ended

as the College Board will tell you it prefers. Build your students gradually to the point

where they feel like they can do anything in the laboratory.

Use 1960s equipment for laboratory exercises. While I recommend using whatever

technology you can lay your hands on for demonstrations, I think its perfectly reasonable to minimize technology for lab work.

The whole point of lab work is for students to get their hands dirty with experimental physics and to help them learn to be creative and rigorous in making direct

measurements of physical quantities. If everything in the lab is a preset app on a smartphone that automatically calculates whatever the students are measuring, much of that

creativity is lost.

Perhaps you have enough motion detectors or photogates to give one setup to each

group. Perhaps you have a class set of iPads with video analysis software. Thats awesome. But if you dont, thats fine, too. You can do all sorts of AP Physics 1 experiments

using only equipment that was available in 1960: masses, carts, stopwatches, pulleys,

strings, batteries, resistors, metersticks, spring scales, and so on. Just pick an equation

from your text for which you can make direct measurements of two of the variables.

Have the students measure and graph those variables, and you have created a laboratory

exercise.

Make all graphs by hand; never, ever use a graphical analysis program. Many students

will certainly kvetch about making graphs by hand. Thats what Excel is for, theyll

say. Youre just making me do busywork. No, thats not the case. How many of your

students have ever had to take a piece of graph paper, create their own scales for the

axes, plot the points, draw a best-fit line, and take the slope with no aid other than a

21

Sorry.

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19

ruler and a calculator? Probably none. Yet the AP exam expects students to do just that,

and to do it as just a small part of a 20-minute free-response problem.

Graphing by hand every week in lab not only gives your students practice so that

they will do well on the exam, but gives them visceral experience with analysis. For

example, early on, students might try to record data from a voltmeter to four-figure

precision. I dont object; I let thembecause when they try to put those data on the

graph, they realize for themselves that 4.318 V looks exactly the same as 4.3 V, but

different from 4 V. Or, as they graph by hand, they see what looks like a linear pattern

developing, but then they see for themselves that larger angles cause the graph to flatten.

Later in the course, students will recognize for themselves how to collect data over an

entire range of interest. But that recognition doesnt happen so easily if the computer

just magically spits out a picture.

Are there other ways to do lab work? Sure. One different approach would be to pick

one homework problem each week for which you have sufficient equipment for everyone to set it up live in class, just as you might set up a quantitative demonstration.

Making the explicit link between problem solving and lab work is always a good idea

if you can do it. Some teachers like to set up stations, in which students are asked to

make quick measurements of some quantity. After 20 minutes, students rotate to a new

station that uses similar equipment to ask for a different measurement. Any exercises

that require your students to manipulate equipment with some degree of creativity work

as AP Physics 1 labs.

Dive into real physics from the first moment of the first day of class. Within 10 minutes

of arrival, Im doing physics with both problem solving and experimentation. I introduce

the definition of equilibrium, showing with spring scales that up forces must equal down

forces and left forces must equal right forces. By the second day of class, Ive introduced

the idea of a normal force, and Ive shown what happens when forces act at angles.

Rule 1 of teaching: never condescend. What about reading the syllabus, discussing

grading policies, and describing class rules? I dont understand the thought behind even

having class rules. Your students may not be adults in the eyes of the law, but if you

want a relaxed, cooperative atmosphere in your class, you absolutely must treat your

students like adults. When adults come together for, say, a business conference or a

national meeting, the event doesnt start with an authority figure reading a list of things

that the attendees can and cant do. How would you react to such a start to a conference?

I know Id be thinking right away about how I could passive-aggressively stick it to the

jerk who is trying to tell me what to do. I mean, I signed up for this conference to learn

something, not to be a pawn for somebodys power trip.

You see what I mean. Your students are generally juniors or seniors, and good

students at that. They have plenty of experience taking high school classes. They can

readso give them the syllabus with a brief summary of grading policies and tell them

to read it. Going over the syllabus and the rules is asking for an argument and leaves the

students trying to figure out how to game their grade based on the rules you laid out.

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20

But doing physics leaves the students saying, Cool, and asking questions like, Wait,

doesnt the block also apply a force to the table?

If nothing else, you know darned well that virtually every other teacher at your

school is using the first day of class to read the syllabus and discuss policies. You will

have an especially enthusiastic audience if youre the only teacher doing something

active and content-related on the first day of school.

What about a unit of math review? Dont do that. Everyone whos ever tried an alternative to starting the class with a math review unit will never go back. If you believe

education literature, every study has suggested that students do far better without the

initial math review unit.

Remember, youre not teaching any new math,22 except possibly techniques of

vector addition and the use of vector components. And these topics are far, far better

learned in the context of physics problems.

In fact, I never use the word vector until a couple of months into the school year.

In the first week of school, we break forces into components, and I do that without

true mathematical rigor. I show a rope pulling at an angle, equilibrating a 1-N left force

and a 2-N down force. I ask, Is this rope providing an upward or a rightward force?

The students instantly see that it is providing both. Next, we calculate the amount of

force it must produce using the known horizontal and vertical components of the force.

When I draw these forces as arrows pointing right and up, they see immediately that

the resultant force of the rope cant be 3 N; the component forces have to add to 2.2 N,

using the Pythagorean theorem.23 Using the tangent function, we can predict that the

rope is angled 63o above the horizontal.

Finally, I run the problem backward; given a (new) resultant force and its angle q,

can I predict the component forces? Sure. Multiply the resultant by sin q for the vertical

component and by cos q for the horizontal component.

From this point on, I expect students to be able to break vectors into components and to find resultants. When we get to projectiles launched at an angle, I

dont have to do any further teaching; students see right away that the horizontal

and vertical components of an initial velocity can be found in the same way as those

for forces.

I save my real discussion of the conceptual difference between vector and scalar

quantities for collision problems involving energy and momentum. Momentum is a

vector, so two identical carts moving at the same speed in opposite directions have a

total system momentum of zero. However, kinetic energy is a scalar, so these carts have

nonzero kinetic energy.

22

he one student every few years who claims not to have seen the sine, cosine, or tangent before does just fine when

T

I (or some classmates) take five minutes outside of class to explain SOHCAHTOA and how to use the buttons on a

calculator.

23

Well, they say that the component forces add to 5 N. I have to point out that the spring scale doesnt have a mark for

square roots before someone says 2.236 N. We finally get the right answer when I show them that the scale can be read

only to the nearest 0.1 N or so. By the way, this is pretty much my entire lesson in significant figures, and it works just

as well or not well as a week of worksheets and reading.

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21

Until this point in the course, though, I treat speed and velocity as almost synonyms;

I replace the word magnitude with amount. The point is that I want students to focus

on using physics facts and equations to make predictions; until they have significant

experience, the difference between a vector and a scalar is esoteric and frustrating, distracting them from developing their problem-solving skills.

Im a strong advocate of a less is more approach to teaching physics. You dont have

to assign enormous amounts of work, you dont have to give tests every week, and you

dont have to assign any reading at all. One problem per night, a short quiz every day

or two, and a test every month should be easily sufficient to enable your students to

make appropriate progress. For one thing, such a small amount of assigned work will

buy you a good bit of political capital, making students willing to work harder and

without complaint.24 Even though the one problem each night has three or four parts

and requires a full page of presentation to answer, students will compare their assignment favorably to that of a math classs do problems 151 odd. They will be pleased

that your expectations seem to them to be reasonable in scope (that is, 20 to 40 minutes

per night rather than the hours expected in other AP classes) and productive in nature

(that is, not perceived as busywork).

The more important reason to use a less is more philosophy is that by keeping the

amount of work minimal, you can expect that work to be utterly brilliant.

Demand that homework problems be presented, not merely answered. A homework

problem in physics is far more similar to writing a paragraph for an English class, or

even to an assignment for AP Studio Art, than to solving a math problem. Its not

good enough for you to get the right answer, or even just to show your worka wellpresented problem should provide an annotated, reasoned solution. The explanation of

the reasoning behind the answer is more important than the answer itself.

Imagine that an English teacher assigns an essay on Hamlet. A student writes, as

an entire essay, Prince goes crazy; everybody dies. How well did this student meet

the teachers expectations? What grade is that student going to get? The student will

complain, perhaps, about not deserving an F . . . because the answer is exactly right.

You may think Im arguing ab absurdum, but have you not seen solutions to

physics problems along these lines? A student whose answer to a physics problem is

F = ma, 30/6 = 5 m/s/s has in no way engaged with the problem, any more than the

Prince-goes-crazy student has engaged with Shakespeare. You have every right, nay,

every responsibility, to require more.

Rule 2 of teaching: trust, but verify. Grading homework problems doesnt have to be

a detailed process. Grades on problem sets must exist; otherwise, less is more devolves

24

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22

into just less.25 But those grades dont have to be the result of a long, careful, rigorous

process. Ideally, youre grading homework every night or two. Unless you have no life

beyond school, you must find a way to grade a stack of problems quickly.

Start by recognizing that theres little point in writing more than a word or two on

anyones problem set. The students almost certainly wont read what youre writing, at

least not carefully. Your time is valuabledont use it in noble yet fruitless endeavors.

I recommend grading homework holistically. That means, look at the solution as

a whole. Did the student apply the correct physics principle? Did she or he explain the

important or tricky parts of the solution? Is the answer right? Is a conceptual portion

of the problem justified with a fact, equation, or calculation, and is that justification

clear and correct? Does the solution include words, equations, diagrams, and numbers?

If you answered yes to all of these, give the homework full credit. If you have doubts

about some of these issues, give the problem partial creditexactly how much doesnt

really matter. And if pretty much none of the questions can be answered in the affirmative, dont give the problem much credit at all.

But wont the students argue about my grading? At the beginning of the year, probably they will. So what? Dont engage in a discussion about homework grades, especially

during class. Answer any questions about physics principles carefully and enthusiastically. But as soon as anyone asks about points, or as soon as you hear a hostile attitude,

stop talking and move on to something more pleasant.

Since youre grading problems every night or two, your students will quickly come

to the realization that a point on one nights problem set, like a teensy drop of gasoline

that didnt quite make it into the tank, is negligible and thus not worth worrying about.

Especially once they realize that you wont even argue, theyll just drop the issue and

move on. A few malcontents might complain behind the scenes, but thats going to

happen no matter what your grading style might be.

However, if youre worried about defending yourself to administrators, you might

consider posting your solutions on a bulletin board. When a student or a parent complains, Teacher took off points and wouldnt tell me why, you can point to the posted

solutions: Oh, thats weird. I asked Johnny to compare his work with the posted solutions and to come back to me if he still needed help solving the problem. He never

came back, so I assumed that he understood. Did Johnny compare his work with the

posted solutions? Make any argument that ensues be about physics comprehension and

appropriate steps toward learning physics, not about grades.

Treat tests as the best teaching tool ever invented. Because your students care so much

about their test grades, milk the tests for all they are worth to firm up their physics

ability. A test can be visited and revisited at least three times: once on the test itself,

25

ou are welcome to believe that students should do the work on their own initiative, because their love of learning and

Y

their dedication to intellectual improvement are the greatest motivators. Now show me a football coach who doesnt

make practice and conditioning a required part of being on the team. You cantsuch a coach would be winless and

unemployed.

20/06/14 7:48 PM

23

once when students do corrections on the problems that they missed, and once more

when you ask targeted quiz questions about issues that the class struggled with. The

process of giving and debriefing a test can be compared to a football teams treatment of

a regular-season game. Perform on game day; then, win or lose, deconstruct what went

right or wrong so that the next game is even better.

Start with an authentic test. Thats going to be tricky for a few years, while theres

still a scarcity of AP-style questions. Ideally, a test should have a style and format identical to those of the AP exam itself. That means that students are given a bit less than

two minutes per multiple-choice item, and two minutes per point on the free-response

items. That means that the test should have few, if any, questions that ask merely for a

one-step calculation, and certainly no questions at all like, Write the equation for net

force in terms of acceleration.

For now, use the items released by the College Board and use the questions in the

practice exam in 5 Steps to a 5 and some of those at the end of the chapters. See if your

textbook offers test questions in the style of the AP Physics 1 exam. Be careful about

test question sources, though. Try to find questions written by people with a connection

to the AP program. And use your own spidey-senses, tooby reading all the available official sample questions, you can get a feel for the kinds of questions that will

appear. Since every test has a few hard questions and a few easy questions, be sure

that your tests mix difficulty levels so that the overall test is consistent with what you

see in official samples.

Make the test as long and as broad as time allows. I use my extended lab period for

testing once a month. This allows me to give a nearly half-length AP-style exam. If you

dont have that kind of time available, try giving the multiple-choice section on one day,

then following with the free-response questions on the next day. The longer the test, the

better students will perform because the more likely it will be that theyll find questions

that they are comfortable with, and, therefore, the more time theyll have to approach

the difficult questions.

Make the test cumulative, including all material youve covered this year. Otherwise,

you give your class an excuse to forget or ignore old topics. Testing on only the current

unit sends the message that the previous unit isnt important anymore, and that attitude

will come back to bite your students in April, when they are preparing for the exam.

When every test has several questions from previous topics as well as some free-response

questions that integrate techniques from multiple topics, your students will spread their

review time over the course of the year rather than trying to cram their review into an

all-nighter on May 13.

Urgent: never, ever, allow students to ask questions on a test. Every year when I grade

AP exams, I see students writing diatribes about how they dont understand the question, or the question is unfair, or the sort of complaint thats generally accompanied by

palms-up, hands-waving, frustrated anger. And I wonder about itpresumably these

students have been in an AP class all year. So they cant answer one of the questions

why the hostility?

20/06/14 7:48 PM

24

Its likely such students are not used to a testing situation where they do not have

their teacher to rely on for guidance. Watch a colleague give a test in math or science

class. How many times do you see students get stuck on a problem and instantly come

to the teachers desk to ask for help? Sure, a lot of the time, the teacher may say something innocuous like, Why dont you read the question again, which gets the student

unstuck so that he or she can make progress on the test. I agree that such a teacher is

not being unethical or dishonest. But that teacher is doing the students a tremendous

disservice.26

When the AP exam presents a new and challenging situation, your students will

not be able to ask you or anyone else a question to point them in the right direction.

They will be on their own. They need practice in figuring out problems on their own.

If students havent had such practice, if theyve always had the teacher show them how

to start difficult problems on their in-class tests, then its no wonder that they get upset

when their training wheels are yanked away on the biggest test of the year. And even

if you never gave truly useful hints, just the fact that at the exam they cannot come

to a teachers desk to ask for clarification of a question will throw your students for

a loop.

I am utterly convinced that your school could boost its SAT and AP scores in math

and science instantly if only every teacher would test authentically by refusing to allow

students to ask questions.

Prepare your students ahead of time for your no questions on tests policy. A day or two

before the test, go over testing procedures with the students. Pass out the cover sheet,

on which is written the number of questions and the time for each section, and the AP

table of information. Then explain: Unless you are missing a page, you may not ask

a question during the test. No exceptions.

But think why students ask questions. Its not true that most of them are desperately

hoping that youll give them the answer. Most are genuinely confused 27; and when a

smart student is confused, she or he quite reasonably assumes that the issue is with the

test question itself. (After all, that student has gotten 90 percent and above on every

other test for a lifetime; why should physics be any different?) So the student comes to

your desk to ask something like, You didnt tell us the mass of the cart; shouldnt you

do that, please?

Well, as a physics teacher, you know that this student is missing something importantperhaps the mass isnt necessary to solve the problem, or perhaps the mass can be

calculated or estimated using some indirect method. But no matter what your response,

by allowing the student to ask the question, you have defeated the point of the test question. Even saying, I think you can solve this problem, implies to the studentand to

26

nd the teacher who actually does help, who talks the student through the problem, has in my mind breached testing

A

decorum. Thats comparable to a referee helping a quarterback read the defense: Now, son, you know they havent

covered your tight end the past three plays. You might want to throw to him. How would you feel about that referee?

27

Im excluding Joey, who thought he was so clever on second-grade spelling tests when he asked, Could you spell that,

please?

20/06/14 7:48 PM

25

the rest of the classthat the mass isnt important. Thats for the students to figure out

for themselves, not for them to hear from you!

And its an unfortunate fact that every other time the student has challenged a test

question in the past decade of school, the teachers answer has been something like,

Oh, sorry, that question has a major typo.

So ahead of time, you must give your students a strategy for what to do when they

think a problem is misstated. While you may not ask me a question during the test,

you may write anything you like on the test. If you think you need more information

to solve a problem, tell me somake up the information and solve the problem. If you

think a multiple-choice item doesnt include the right answer or is ambiguous, write

that down. When the test is over, Ill look at what youve written. Chances are, youre

missing something; writing down your concern and moving on is the best approach for

getting as much credit as possible. However, in the unlikely event that the question is

poorly phrased, I will look at what you wrote and consider how to award credit fairly.

Proofread your tests rigorously. When you test, youre entering into a covenant with

your studentsthey must, without help from you or their classmates, show you what

they know so that you can evaluate their physics knowledge. But in turn, you must write

a test that fairly and clearly allows them to demonstrate that knowledge. If after every

test you have to explain, Yeah, number 4 wasnt stated clearly; I meant find the speed

of cart A, but I said find the speed of cart B. Oh, and number 6 had an issue, then

youll lose your classs confidence.

Sure, mistakes happen. Theyve happened on the real AP exam; several released

exams say, Number 67 was not scored, or, Since the problem as stated was not clear

on this issue, either of two answers earned credit. If you screw up a question, be fair

about itaward credit for any reasonable approach, or just throw out a bad multiplechoice question. When you return the test, make sure your students know what happened and how youre dealing with it.

But if you have to correct a mistake more than once or twice in a year, you are not

proofreading carefully enough. Take every test before you give it, even if its a test youve

given before or a test you got from someone else.

Stick to your guns when they try to ask you questions anyway. I will bet my life

savings28 that, no matter how well you prepare your students for your first test, one of

them will get up and try to ask you a question. I know I cant ask questions, but . . . ,

the student will say.

Cut that student off.

Are you missing a page? Did the copy machine mess up? Then what the heck are you

doing up here, interrupting the rest of the class as they try to concentrate? Sit down, please,

and consider apologizing to the class later for your disturbance.

Its worth fighting this battle. Once all your students realize that they cant just go

to you for hints, they will settle down and do great work. By the second test, you will

28

$134.95.

20/06/14 7:48 PM

26

be able to get enormous amounts of your own work done during a test. You can have

colleagues or substitutes give tests on days when you have to be gone. You will reduce

stress levels among your class.

Most important, when it comes time for the real AP exam, your students will have

the requisite confidence to deal with difficult and unusual problems, even though no

help is available from the proctor.

Be prepared for tears after the first test. Im not exaggerating when I talk about

smart students who have never earned below 90 percent on a test in their entire

lives. For a number of smart students, the first AP Physics test will be the first time

ever that they havent gotten virtually everything right. Many will feel that they

failed the test even if they got a 5in their mind, 65 percent is a failing grade,

not an A. It doesnt matter how well youve explained the grading scale; Im talking

about a visceral, subconscious emotional reaction to a smart students perception of

failure.

You personally have to be strong to deal with the backlash. Oh, Mr. Jacobs, Im

sure I failed; can I do extra credit? I know I need to drop the class. My daughter

cried all night last night; what are you going to do about it?

On the one hand, I dont recommend engaging with sad and worried students. The

more you try to comfort a student, the more upset that student will get. Its sufficient

to say politely, Well see how you did tomorrow, when well start test corrections.

Remember, we have eight tests this year, and this is only the first. Lets not discuss anything else until we have something concrete to work with. If you can, stay away from

your students until the tests are graded, and grade them as quickly as possible. Just be

as patient as you can with the emotionally shattered students. The few days after the

first test are critical to rebuilding your students confidence.

How do I communicate test grades? Im frequently asked how to convert an AP-style

test to a standard high school grading scale. Generally, it takes about 65 percent of the

available points to get a 5, 50 percent to get a 4, 35 percent to get a 3, and 25 percent to

get a 2. But a typical school scale tells us that 90 percent is an A, and 80 percent is a B.

Ill tell you how I make the conversion. However, my method is not gospel

you need to be creative within the parameters of your class, your school, and your

personality.

When students first get their tests back, they see a grading sheet exactly like the

one on page 235 of 5 Steps to a 5. They can see the range of raw scores necessary to

earn each AP score listed at the bottom. I circle the AP score of 5, 4, 3, 2, or 1. Thats

the first step toward building back confidenceeveryone who thought that he or she

failed sees a real AP score that he or she can understand. And most will find that they

did far, far better than they expected.

I do not communicate a letter grade yet. I make the students earn their letter grade

through test corrections (discussed later). Students get back half the credit they lost for

each problem they correct.

20/06/14 7:48 PM

27

Finally, I use a square root curve29 to convert the AP scale to the school scale.

The practical outcome is that, with good corrections, 5s on the AP scale become As,

4s become B+s or Bs, and 3s become Bs and B-s. But a lack of corrections means that

even 4s might become Ds.

That sounds complicated. First of all, Im okay with somewhat complicated grading.

I dont want students worrying about grades, I want them doing physics as well as they

can. Complicated grading means that students spend less time in cynical calculation

and more time just working hard. But, I also know that even the worst of my students

can make quick and accurate calculations of what his or her grade would be if he or she

did all the corrections, and what that might mean for the overall course average and his

or her probability of admission to [insert overrated college here].

The exact method I use is not whats important, anyway. The important part is

giving students a tremendous incentive to do good corrections to the problems they

missed. Do that by any means necessary.

Test corrections are the most important assignment you can give. Theres nothing wrong

with missing a test question. Your class will see that even the best students arent getting perfect test scores. However, there is something very much wrong with fatalistically

resigning oneself to missing test questions because physics is hard. For each student,

the test exposes areas of physics that he or she doesnt fully understand. Its now the

students job to use the test as an opportunity to improve his or her understanding.

For each multiple-choice question missed, a student is required to justify the answer

thoroughly on a half-page of unlined paper. For each lettered part missed on the freeresponse portion, a student is required to redo that part and to answer any further questions I may pose. For the free-response items, Ill generally change the input values for

a calculation question, or Ill ask a follow-up question so that merely copying someone

elses original response isnt a sufficient answer.

Especially after the first test, I find it is worth taking a day of class time to

allow students to collaborate on test corrections. Anyone may ask me questions, and

I will talk that student through the problem. However, theres a price for my help: when

the next student asks about the same issue, I dont answer. Instead I say, Hey, good

question. Jimbo here just asked me the same question. Jimbo, could you talk Kearney

here through it? The process of writing the correct answer, followed by explaining that

answer to a classmate, generally improves physics understanding better than 10 of the

best professors best lectures.

As the students do their corrections, youll see their demeanor change from selfpitying sadness to gritty determination. Count how many times you see students hit

29

square root curve takes the square root of a percentage and multiplies by 10 to get the score on the school scale.

A

Thus, an 81 percent becomes an A: the square root of 81 is 9, 9 10 is 90, and 90 is an A. A 64 percent is a B, and a

49 percent is a C. I use this curve on all work, making it practically impossible for a student who does all the work to

earn below a C, or even a B-.

20/06/14 7:48 PM

28

themselves in the forehead, either figuratively or literally. They quickly see that half of

their mistakes were silly things where they knew better, but panicked under the pressure

of the test, or where they did everything right except one little step. The corrections

process allows students to see that the test wasnt nearly as impossible as they may have

originally thought.

Test corrections can help you deal with parents and colleagues. Its hard to sell a parent

on, Your kid isnt really doing a good job on the homework. Your kid needs to work

harder in order to do well. The student will protest mightily to her or his parents that,

Im trying; its just that physics is too hard. And mom and dad will believe their child,

not you. However, test corrections can give you concrete evidence to bring to a discussion with parents.

If a students corrections are strong, you can show them to the parents and indicate

in a friendly manner that the student now understands the level of work necessary on a

nightly basis; and, incidentally, the fact that the student earned back a bunch of points

on the test buys you a good deal of political capital. Such a student, with continued

effort, will usually end up doing quite well.

In the event that a student does a poor job on test corrections, though, you have

all the evidence you need to show to parents: Mrs. Jones, here are Ralphs test corrections. We worked on these in class, and he was encouraged to work with me and with

the other students to get them right. However, as you see, he got only three of fourteen

corrections right; he even left two of them essentially blank. Had he done all these, he

would have earned a B+ on the test. Instead, he earned a D. I can help Ralph only if

hes willing to help himself.

Follow up on test corrections where students struggle. Often youll find that most of the

class still missed the point of a test question, even after corrections. Dont despairtreat

that as feedback, showing you a weakness that you can help class members shore up.

Maybe you post a message to the classs electronic bulletin board, or perhaps you mention the issue briefly in class. Explain how to solve the question correctly. But also make

sure that everyone knows that youre going to follow up againand make sure to ask a

pointed question on the next quiz about the question that everyone missed. The message

youre sending is that nothing in physics goes away. Its better to confront a hard topic

head-on than to ignore it and hope it will disappear.

If youre not familiar with training programs for track or swimming, it would be worth

your while to talk to someone who does those sports. Just as your class trains all year

for the AP exam, the track and swim teams train all season for the championship meet.

Some of the general principles of preparation are quite similar.

Early in the season, the members of the swim team push very hard in practice.

Maybe they even take a training trip during a school vacation, on which the swimmers

exhaust themselves thoroughly during two rigorous practicesplus weight liftingevery

20/06/14 7:48 PM

29

day. This is the time when swimmers build their muscles, their technique, and their

endurance.

But in the weeks leading up to the championship meet, the swimmers taper.

Practices become easier as swimmers allow their bodies to recover from the rigor of the

midseason practices. They conserve their energy for the big day. Its critical that the

swimmers still practice every day, but they are no longer building skill. Rather, theyre

reinforcing what they already have. Theyre maintaining their muscle memory, maintaining their strength, and keeping themselves rested and poised to perform at the

championship. As it turns out, swimmers who work hard and tirelessly early on and

then taper appropriately usually swim considerably faster on race day than they ever

have before.

I suggest a similar approach to AP Physics. Early in the year, when school is still

fresh, the seniors are building their college rsums, and the exam is far in the future

thats the time to push the pace. Mistakes in the early part of the course, whether were

talking about mistakes by students or mistakes by the teacher, can be corrected without

the pressure of the impending exam. While students may panic about their marking

period grades, at the beginning of the class no one panics about the AP exam itself.30

Time the course such that you finish covering all the relevant material by March or

early April.

Then, in the month or so before the exam, taper. You must still assign work on the

same regular schedule that youve been using all year. However, the assignments can be

substantially shorter. All youre trying to do during the taper period is to review material

that youve covered before, to keep it fresh in the students minds. As you review, your

students will become confident about topics that previously confused them.

Long or intense assignments are unnecessary and counterproductive during the

tapering period. In the spring, everyoneespecially seniorsis developing priorities

other than schoolwork. Every other AP teacher is probably piling on assignment after

assignment, demanding more as the students are willing to do less. Remember the less

is more principle: what matters is the quality of the work that your students do, not the

quantity. If you are assigning only about half the quantity of homework in the spring

as you did in the fall (while other teachers are assigning twice the quantity), arent you

more likely to earn your students cooperation in paying careful attention to physics?

Give different assignments to different groups of students. I tend to lump my students

into two tracks when its time to taper. Students who have been earning 5s on the tests

can focus on tougher material. I might give them problems in rotation or standing

waves in pipes.31 But for the rest of the class, theyre probably better served solidifying

their ability to deal with more straightforward subjects.

30

I n fact, they usually dont think much about the AP exam itself until at least April. Theres a reason that sales of 5 Steps to

a 5 peak in April, not in September or January.

31

Or whatever the class struggled the most with, or a topic that I didnt quite get to in the detail I wanted, or even a topic

on the AP Physics 2 exam in preparation for the next year. For a top student, learning about magnetic fields and forces is

an excellent review for AP Physics 1level mechanics.

20/06/14 7:48 PM

30

I dont like to truly individualize review, for three reasons. (1) Students are generally not diligent or self-aware enough to personalize a study plan for themselves.

They need me to structure their assignments and to hold them accountable for completing the assignments. (2) Students still need to work with one another during the

review. They will usually learn more from helping classmates and being helped by

classmates than from anything I can show them. Thus, they need classmates who

are also working on the same things. (3) I cant keep up with more than two tracks

at a time, and I still need to be involved in the review if anything is going to get

done effectively.

Relax the format of the class during the taper. By the spring, the tone of your class

has long ago been set. I still give daily quizzes during the taper process, and I still

give tests (and do test corrections). But rather than a weekly, structured lab, students

do an open-ended laboratory project that extends over several weeks and can be

worked on piecemeal. Rather than lecture or go over problems, I use class time to

foster collaboration. Its quite effective to put on music, hand out an assignment, and

expect the students to show you their answers or experimental results as they finish.

Dont cram! AP Physics 1 is not a broad class. With even a slow but reasonable

pace, you should be able to cover all the material with a month left for review. In the

course of that month, you can slowly and deliberately remind students of the facts

and techniques that are applicable to each topic. It takes that sort of time to absorb

physics. A five-hour study session in physics is not measurably more productive than

a one-hour session.

But since youve made every test cumulative, cramming in the traditional sense

will be unnecessary! You wont have to return to topics that havent been touched in

seven months, because even the kinematics and Newtons laws that you covered in

September have been reviewed regularly throughout the year through regular tests with

corrections.

So what kinds of things do you assign during taper? I tend to give one AP-style

problem each night, preferably an authentically released exam question. These questions tend to integrate multiple topics, and they prepare the students for the precise

style and format of the exam. Of course, for the AP Physics 1 exam, such questions

are currently in short supply. Old AP Physics B questions rephrased to require less

calculation and more explanation are a good start. Use the practice exam in 5 Steps

to a 5, the released exam from the College Board, and any other source you can find

online or in textbooks.

In 5 Steps to a 5, the Extra Drill chapter provides a targeted review of important

topics. The problems in this chapter are not at the AP Physics 1 level; instead, theyre

designed to drill these situations until basic calculational approaches are second nature.

Assign these to students who are struggling with a particular topic, or give a test that

includes a problem on one of these topics and assign the drill to anyone who performs

poorly on that problem.

20/06/14 7:48 PM

31

When you combine and follow all five steps to help your students get 5s, your class will

do quite well on the exam. But what is quite well?

One evaluation: How many students got 5s? How many passed? Note that you should

never look at the percentage of students who earned a certain score. Thats a meaningless

statistic thats open to manipulation. Who do you think is more deserving of a raise: the

teacher with 150 AP students, 40 of whom got 5s; or the teacher with 8 AP students,

7 of whom got 5s? Look at the raw number of your students who earned 5s and the raw

number who passed. Then see if you can get those numbers to go up in each of the first

five years that you teach AP.

Nevertheless, I dont think saying, Your goal is to get a 5, is productive. Sure, every

sports team sets out to win a championship. But failure to win a championship isnt

really failureespecially and critically at the high school level, where outcomes

beyond wins and losses are so important. Did the players have fun? Did they develop

relationships with their teammates? Did they win humbly and handle defeat nobly? Are

they enthusiastic about playing again next season? Most important, did they improve as

individual players and as a team unit?

Some students just wont be able to earn a 5, no matter how hard they work. Some

students will not get their 5 because they have a bad day on the exam. Some are so talented that a 5 should be the minimum expectation; such students might stop working

hard once they realize how easily they can meet the goal of earning a 5.

But what if your class goal is simply get better at physics every day? Be proud of

the slow student who finally figures out Newtons third laweven if all his classmates

figured it out weeks ago. Encourage the physics genius to help her classmates improve

their scores; she might enjoy the challenge of not just doing, but also explaining physics. Take opportunities to show your students how much theyre progressing, not only

by grading tests, but also by showing them the predictive skills theyve developed, or by

showing them the everyday situations that they now understand from the perspective

of a physicist.

And you, as a teacher, can also get better all the time. Dont worry about the demonstration that bombed; make a note, and do it right next week, or even next year. Find

the way to teach conservation of angular momentum that works for you and your students, even if your approach has fallen flat for a couple of years. Try setting up a new

demonstration, doing a new activity, or attempting a different spin on a topic thats

gotten stale for you.

Your first year of teaching AP, especially with this new and different exam, might

well be humbling. Stay the course. Pick little things to work on in the next unit, in the

next semester, and in the next school year. Eventually, you may not have 50 students

earning 5s, but your class will do better and better on the exam, and your program will

grow as it develops a reputation for quality.

20/06/14 7:48 PM

AQ1: Adding space OK? The material changes from examples of demonstrations back to straight text.

20/06/14 7:48 PM

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