Saturday, March 21, 2015

Doing the AP Physics course audit wrong, part 1

If you're an AP Physics 1 or AP Physics 2 instructor, you've already been through The College Board's 2014-15 course audit.

The AP course audit came into being c. 2007. I recall being given release time at school to complete the detailed paperwork. In brief distillation, you had to prove to The College Board that your course wasn't simply a test-prep mill. My AP Physics B course was never such. It was—in fact—that rare gem: a second-year physics course, just like The College Board feigned to prefer. In theory, they wanted students in AP Physics B to have already completed a yearlong high school physics course. The audit process, however, made it clear that that high school course should not have covered kinematics, Newton's laws, energy, momentum, electricity, magnetism, waves, light, optics, or modern physics. Everything a student was to know about those topics had to covered—stem to stern—in the audited AP Physics B course, alone. In hindsight, I should have recognized the redness of that flag.

As of May, 2014, we were expected to dispense with our vision of AP Physics B and embrace the grand, new vision that was AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2. Yes, two challenging, college-level high school physics courses that we should hope can draw sufficient enrollments amid AP Biology, AP Chemistry, and the popular AP Environmental Science course. (Who wants to be slowed down in freshman environmental science at the university when you can test out via AP?)

Like I said, the AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2 visions were new. And sweeping. Sure, there was still content to be covered, but what College Board really wanted to enforce now is exactly how you covered it.

The audit was intended to ensure you completely embraced and adhered to their strict, new multi-faceted regime and hierarchy with lists of

Big Ideas 
Enduring Understandings
Learning Objectives
and Essential Knowledges

All of which had to be supported with laboratory exercises (using "real", low-tech apparatus) that aligned to a list of

Science Practices.

And there have to be extended, outside the classroom activities and real-world applications. The whole of The New Vision was spelled out in the new 231-page course description.

In all, a robust physics course that no college anywhere has ever even claimed to offer its own students. Well, maybe one or two. But any college with a physics course matching the audit's expectations would be a truly rare (1%-ish) standout.

Examples of syllabi that were deemed acceptable were published.

They're filled with meaty lists such as,

Kinetic energy
Potential energy: gravitational and elastic 

Conservation of energy
Big Ideas 3, 4, 5
Learning Objectives:
3.E.1.1, 3.E.1.2, 3.E.1.3, 3.E.1.4, 4.C.1.1, 4.C.1.2, 4.C.2.1, 4.C.2.2, 5.A.2.1, 5.B.1.1, 5.B.1.2, 5.B.2.1, 5.B.3.1, 5.B.3.2, 5.B.3.3, 5.B.4.1, 5.B.4.2, 5.B.5.1, 5.B.5.2, 5.B.5.3, 5.B.5.4, 5.B.5.5, 5.D.1.1, 5.D.1.2, 5.D.1.3, 5.D.1.4, 5.D.1.5, 5.D.2.1, 5.D.2.3

Note that more characters of type are devoted to alignment documentation than to actual physics content terminology. 

And with labs,

20. Forensic Investigation (OI) [CR6b]
Lab Practicum: Apply principles of conservation of energy, conservation of momentum, the work-energy theorem, and a linear model of friction to find the coefficient of kinetic friction.
Science Practices 1.1, 1.2, 1.4, 1.5, 2.1, 2.2, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 6.1, 6.2, 6.4, 7.2

[AP Physics 1 Example Syllabus 1

The audit was no longer a matter of conveying that you covered the material, but that you covered the material in alignment with College Board's newly-adopted BI / EU / LO / EK + SP schema. Exacting specificity was required.

All the published example syllabi were very specific in their alignment to the new schema. I wonder how many man-hours were devoted to the creation of each one. And how many were developed voluntarily without release time or compensation.

What savvy teachers across the nation did, by permission of The College Board, was to declare that they—by golly—just happened to be following the exact same syllabus as one of the four published examples. This was the correct response. Expedient, efficient, generally not a wholesale lie, and—most importantly—expedient. Doing so kept you in The College Board's good graces, and keeps you in their "circle of trust".

Mind you, AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2 teachers spent the year cobbling together brand new AP Physics courses aligned to The New Vision. Burdensome if you'r bring one course to life, doubly burdensome if you're bringing two courses to life. And that's what I was doing.

Doing the AP Physics course audit wrong, part 1? Deciding to do it. That is, writing detailed descriptions of my own courses—and how they aligned exactingly to The New Vision. Mind you, the courses had not yet run for a full academic year. But The College Board demanded full accounts, and I agreed to provide them.  

Huge mistake on my part.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds very familiar.

Round 1: "I'll submit my syllabus, developed over many hours and drawing on considerable experience teaching every essential understanding. It'll be a good exercise."

Rejected for not explicitly using some synonyms for my intended content in topic descriptions and not describing in detail the apparent course in rhetoric and debate that should be included.

Round 2: "Forget this. I have 3 more units to write for my workbook. Better just submit the sample syllabus." (Admittedly, sample #4 is pretty close to mine.)