The First AP Physics 1 Exam

This is a self-centered post, for which I ask my readers’ indulgence.

This has been my first year teaching AP Physics, and the first year of the new AP Physics 1 exam.  (For those not familiar with the change, effective last fall the old algebra-based AP Physics B course was split into two courses:  AP Physics 1: Algebra-Based and AP Physics 2: Algebra-Based.  There were no changes to the two calculus-based AP Physics C courses.)  Like many high schools, we turned the old honors Physics 1 course into the new AP Physics 1 course.

To say that my students were nervous going into the exam would be an understatement; some of them were basket cases.  However, when I met some of them on their way out of the test, they said things like, “It wasn’t as bad as I thought,” “It was much easier than the practice test,” “Most of it was stuff we saw in class,” and from one of my top students, “I think I got at least a 4.”

I am happy — happy for my students as well as for myself.

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Avoiding Failure by Never Trying

Each year, as students sink farther and farther into the abyss of test-driven curriculum and low-level thinking, I have to work harder and harder to teach them high-level thinking skills.  This year, my students and I seem to be approaching a tipping point. Continue reading

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The Aftermath of Standardized Test Prep

When potential students ask whether (high school) physics is hard, I tell them, “Imagine a year of algebra word problems, in which you have to understand a situation in order to figure out which equation to apply and how to apply it.  Where most students have trouble is with the difference between understanding the problem vs. merely identifying the numbers. Continue reading

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Making A Student Cry

I made one of my students cry this afternoon. Continue reading

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Your Wish is My Command

Every year, on the first day of school, I subject my classes to a ruse in which I eat a “candle”. I get out a candle holder and put a candle inside it. I lead a class discussion in which we talk about the “observations of a candle” activity (which most of them have already done at least once), and I ask them what the flame is, what it needs, and why various means of extinguishing it work. Then I lit the candle and asked them how I should extinguish it. The most popular requests are “cover it” or “pinch it”. But this year in one of my classes, a student jokingly said “Eat it!” So I did, flame and all. Continue reading

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Saving Grandpa’s Life: The Value of Science Education

My father, the wonderful and caring person whom my students can blame for much of my sense of humor, is in the hospital. (He’s doing well and should be released in a few days.) While my fourteen-year-old daughter Margaret didn’t technically save his life, she did figure out a key piece of information that enabled doctors to make sense of a key data point that was baffling them, enabling them to come up with a diagnosis that makes sense and fits all of the data. Continue reading

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Senior Prank 2014

This morning, Lynn English’s Class of 2014 pulled their senior prank, which was a brief, raucous party in the third-floor corridor of the school. Students had various types of party noisemakers. They filled the hallways with confetti as they sang, banged on lockers, and cheered for about ten minutes before dispersing and heading off to class. Continue reading

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How a Fuse Works

My physics classes are studying electricity.  One of the demos I do for electricity is to show how a fuse works by exploding a strand of wire. Continue reading

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Childhood Regained

Three years ago, I taught a one-year stint in a “no excuses” charter school.  (It was the least satisfying year of my teaching career.)  The biology teacher and I started a science team. Problem solving and building things with power tools attracted a slew of excited kids, who had been missing that kind of open-ended creativity in their daily routine.  (The experience motivated me to start a science team in my current school.)

Fast forward to last Thursday, when I found out that one of the psyched freshmen from the charter school had just enrolled in the public high school where I’m now teaching.  Continue reading

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The Ninety-Five Percent Solution

One of my father-in-law’s astute observations of human behavior is that most people do not correctly perceive ratios or probabilities less than 5% or greater than 95%.  A greater-than-95% chance of something occurring becomes irrationally either “It definitely will happen,” or “I’ll be the exception.”  Similarly, a less-than-5% chance becomes either “It definitely won’t happen,” or “I’ll be the exception.”  (If you want to see this phenomenon for yourself, ask anyone about buying a lottery ticket or about the chances of experiencing side-effects from a medication or treatment.)

I fear that the 95% principle guides educational policy much more than I would like to believe.  Continue reading

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