Monday, February 29, 2016

Everything about AP Physics changed except...

My joyless, long-winded assessment of the new AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2 exams below was long enough as it was. I couldn't suitably fit in all my misgivings and supporting tangents.

As I said, the redesigns is a shining utopia that may well be worthy of pursuing. The old AP Physics B has been torn apart and used for parts in the new, sweepingly grander vision. In very real ways, classroom teachers have been compelled to abandon the old college replacement course and deliver a course that matches what many would describe as the best college courses offered in the nation (if not the world). All in the confines of a high school setting.

The new course represents a rebuilding from the ground up. Everything is different—for the better. To pass AP Audit muster, teachers must attest to conforming to the many layers of the New Vision, and that they've rebuilt their courses from the ground up.

What good fortune it is for the College Board that in spite of the upheaval visited upon classroom teachers far and wide, the exam, itself, required no real structural change!

The old exam consisted of dozens of multiple choice questions and a handful of free-response questions. After the exhaustive overhaul required of AP-approved physics teachers, the corresponding new exam consists of dozens of multiple choice questions and a handful of free-response questions. At the College Board's end, the multiple choice will require machine scoring as it already exists, and the free-response will require readers and table leaders as they have been using since the exam's inception.

So it's not the same old wine in a new bottle. Rather, a completely new wine in an old bottle. As demanded by the bottlers, themselves. Good fortune for the bottlers; tough rows to hoe for the workers in the vineyards.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

물리학에 오신 것을 환영합니다

That's the sign I posted near my classroom door to welcome a group of South Korean visitors today. The city officials were guests of Rio Americano's Civitas program. Their visit coincided with my student teacher's class, so I was free to chat with them. They had great questions and had the foresight to document their visit photographs. My kind of people!

They assured me that my sign was a correct translation of "Welcome to Physics," and I was in no position to argue with them—or with Google Translate. A Korean student (whom I adore) later scolded me for being so formal in my greeting. I gave her the sign and the task of providing a friendlier, more casual greeting for the next time I am visited by a Korean delegation.

If you've never tried the Translate smart phone app, fire it up and try it on this message via its photo analysis feature. Very impressive!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Why I no longer recommend the AP Physics exam

[This post carries the "rant" label, so it is presumed that your mileage may vary. I never presume my own experience is universal. None of this post refers to AP Physics C.] 

Since I began teaching Advanced Placement Physics B in 1986, I have strongly encouraged all my AP students to purchase and take the AP Physics exam each May.

For now, I am recommending that they do not.

As we know, AP Physics B has been re-imagined as AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2. The old vision of AP Physics acting as a college equivalent was dispensed with in the redesign. AP Physics B (as well as content standards prevalent in the 2000s) were seen as too content-focused, and lacked emphasis on process. Not an unfair criticism, to be sure.

The newly redesigned AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2 are ambitiously constructed, multi-layered visions of physics course utopia. They are Lamborghinis sent in to replace the Camaros that existed until now. College courses, for the most part, remain largely content-driven.

The vision of the AP course being a college equivalent has been abandoned. AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2 are the best courses time, talent, and energy can buy. Meticulously crafted courses of physics perfection.

But as of now, it's beyond my budget. And beyond the budget of my highly capable students. It is very much in an experimental phase. Version 1.0 of a complex new machine that we have been asked to be the early adopters of.

There is evidence to suggest the nation's AP Physics 1 and 2 teachers and students failed to abruptly snap to The College Board's new vision. Scores between the 2014 AP Physics B administration and the 2015 AP Physics 1 and 2 administrations show a massive shift in the wrong direction.

In 2014, more than 60% of AP Physics B candidates passed the exam with a score of 3 or better. Of those, 34% passed with a 4 or 5 (over 15% were 5s).

In 2015, more than 60% of AP Physics 1 candidates failed to earn a score of 3 or better. Fewer than 20% of the candidates scored a 4 or 5 (only 4% were 5s).

It could be that America's physics students suddenly became less capable. But that's not likely. It's more likely that America's best and brightest physics students weren't prepared for the radically different new exam.

The College Board would argue that they provided extensive information on the newly designed courses. And indeed they have. Exhaustive, really.

But part of The New Vision is that there is no longer a blueprint for exactly what content is to be covered and in which amounts. Physics content mastery is no longer tested, it is now presumed. Instead of distributing questions across a well defined subject-matter topic list, questions are not cast across broadly-defined Big Ideas and Science Practices. Mastery of these can be assessed via questions that merely use physics content as the canvas upon which the Big Ideas and Science Practices are painted.

True mastery of the Big Ideas and Science Practices, via Learning Objectives and bits of Essential Knowledge, painted on the canvas of physics, demands a level of engagement I find to be unreasonable. Don't get me wrong, I'd love for my students to be single-mindedly focused on everything we do in physics: in class and beyond the classroom. But my students have other things going on in their lives that demand attention. Many, many other things, as is typical of highly capable, multi-talented college-bound students.

It is certainly The College Board's prerogative to offer a product for purchase as they see fit. But in my opinion, they got it wrong. My misgivings may well be mine, alone. But that's not the sense that I get when talking candidly to other AP Physics teachers. I assume some folks love the redesign. I trust they'll light me up in the comments because I have not talked to such folks in person.

Speaking only for myself, I would say The College Board did what most august bodies do when undergoing a revisioning process: they spent their time, talent, and energy creating a grand vision. With a multi-dimensional outline and hierarchy. A complex and ornate structure. They then committed that vision to a tome of well over 200 pages.

What would have been more useful to me is for them to have spent more time, talent, and energy developing valid practice items. Practice multiple choice, practice multi-correct, practice free response (all types). I am very much "an assessment guy," having served on AAPT's Editorial Exam board, California's Golden State Exam development team, and California's Content/Assessment Review Panel.

So my process is inductive rather than deductive. If you show me a large sample of assessment items, I can determine what your grand vision was. But if you show me your grand vision, I cannot figure out exactly what your assessment items will look like. Maybe others can deduce better than I can.

But I have yet to see a grand, sweeping process (including you, NGSS) that respects the value of assessment and released items. The spotlight is always shown upon The Vision. Pesky questions about assessment and released items are marginalized with responses such as, "We'll get to that later," "We don't have the budget for that," "The task of item development will be given to other people who are not part of the Blue Ribbon Visioning Panel".

AP Physics redesign advocates encourage teachers to participate in week-long AP training sessions, and I do not doubt that such trainings offer great value (assuming the time and money can be managed). I also know of someone who did the AP training and was left with the impression that rotation was a huge focal point for AP Physics 1. Workshops will always carry the biases of their instructors.

What's more, suppose a student does make a passing score on the redesigned exam. They've shown they can drive that Lamborghini with aplomb. As far as I know, colleges are no more likely to grant credit for the post-redesign exam than they were for the pre-redesign exam.

I'm already past TL;DR territory, so I'll wrap it up. For now, I cannot recommend my students pony up $100 to (most likely) end up on the wrong side of the cut points on an experimental exam. I'll do my very best to prepare them for the exam. But it's fair that they know the extent to which the odds are not in their favor.

With luck, there will be a time in the future by which a sufficient catalog of released items exists so that I feel comfortable that my students will be able to fare well on the AP1 or AP2 exam. But I have no reason to think released item development is a priority for The College Board. So I'll have to wait them out. I do not know how long it will take.

I do know of schools that are switching from AP1 and 2 to AP Physics C, and I know of colleagues who are looking for college credit alternatives to AP1 and AP2. I understand the motivations for these moves completely. To those who are delighted with the redesign, I wish only happiness and good cheer. And the hope that they realize their own experience is not universal.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

New and improved video pages

New: An index page for Jearl Walker's Kinetic Karnival series, with links to the videos and links to question set worksheets for four of the six episodes. Oldies but goodies.

Also new, an index page for The Mechanical Universe episodes I use. It links to Annenberg's Mechanical Universe page and to my question set worksheets are there for the College Editions. The high school adaptations don't yet stream, so you'll need to pony up to get the short and sweet versions stripped of the calculus. But links to my question sets are there. Is The Mechanical Universe growing long in the tooth? Perhaps. Is there a video series as solid on the fundamentals of physics? None that I know of.

Improved: I've update the burgeoning YouTube Physics page to include this video set, the Mount Tavurvur Volcano Eruption, the Victoria Phyz Falls Baird Bungee Bounce, and Bree's Color Subtraction videos, among others. Worth a visit if you've never been or haven't been in a while.

ClassicsThe Hewitt Drew It Physics Screencasts remain conveniently catalogued here.

Full Conceptual Physics Alive! Hewitt lecture videos are available for purchase on DVD or streaming from Arbor Scientific. My video question sets are also available at ArborSci. The videos and questions sets come in very handy for everyday lessons, and become golden in the event of unexpected absences (illness, jury duty, etc.).

Also classic: Cosmos. Cal Sagan's Personal Voyage and Neil deGrasse Tyson's Spacetime Odyssey.

Because there are so many flavors of video I like to have access to, I've created a separate index page (and removed most links from the home page).

The Video Index Page of Phyz. Now how silly do you feel for squandering that ski week that's coming to an end?

Got a hot tip for a pedagogy-rich video clip or series? Let us know!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Too many teachers are getting climate science wrong

There is consensus among climate scientists:
"They've all said: [climate change is] happening, and it's being caused by human activity. Add to that the fact that most of the published literature that you see in the big journals, like Science and Nature and Geophysical Research Letters, is all showing a consensus. It's overwhelming."
But many classroom science teacher are getting climate science wrong. How so?
Well, roughly 30 percent tell students that humans are only partly to blame for climate change, along with natural causes. The problem with that, Plutzer says, is that it sends mixed messages, suggesting that the causes of climate change are still up for debate — when there is no debate among the vast majority of climate scientists. As for the rest ...

"About one in 10 [teachers] seem to be denying a human role altogether," while the remaining 5 percent don't talk about causes at all.
It's likely we came up in a time when the debate over global warming was robust, and consensus did not yet exist. And we may be accustomed to basic tenets of science not evolving so quickly. So we're comfortable teaching climate science as we learned it 20 years ago or so.

But the needle has moved on this one. Fairly dramatically. If we hope to convey contemporary reality to contemporary students, we need to move out narrative accordingly.

NCSE: Climate Confusion Among US Educators

NPR: Why Science Teachers Are Struggling With Climate Change

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Gravity's just a habit

Few people have more fun with physics—while being paid for it—than physics teachers. The band members of OK Go are an exception to this rule. It was not hyperbolic to characterize their video for "This Too Shall Pass" as an instant classic.

And if you haven't enjoyed their video for "Upside Down & Inside Out", consider this post to be a public service. It would be parabolic to characterize this one as an instant classic. Here's the video. And you'll want to go full screen.

OK Go - Upside Down & Inside Out

Such a work of video wonderfulness deserves a worthy "making of" companion. Once again, OK Go doesn't disappoint.

OK Go - Upside Down & Inside Out: Behind the Scenes - How We Did It

If you know of additional resources related to this video gem, let us know in the comments.