AP Physics curriculum changes provide more time for conceptual understanding

By Carolyn Perlmutter | News Editor

IMG_7854.JPGThe changes the AP College Board made to the physics curriculum have gone into effect for this year all across the country. These changes were created to improve students’ conceptual understanding of physics.

“This change was driven by research on how kids learn physics,” AP Physics teacher Barbara Watson said. “It has been shown that students do better when they figure out stuff for themselves.”

The study these changes were based upon was conducted by the National Research Council. The NRC concluded that AP Physics B covered too many concepts too quickly and that students needed a stronger conceptual basis of physics and more hands-on lab experience.

AP Physics was originally divided into AP Physics A, AP Physics B and AP Physics C. AP Physics A was completely conceptual and had no math in the curriculum. AP Physics B was algebra-driven and AP Physics C was calculus based.

“Colleges did not take AP Physics A credits so it was never really taught,” Ms. Watson said.

Schools across the nation implemented AP Physics B as a first-year physics course when AP Physics B and C were both originally meant to be second-year physics courses.

“The pace was fast and constantly moving,” senior Madalyn Katz said.

This year the AP College Board split AP Physics B into AP Physics 1 and 2. Juniors now take AP Physics 1 and seniors have the option of taking AP Physics 2, AP Physics C or any other sciences offered. AP Physics 1 and 2 are both algebra-based, while AP Physics C remains calculus-based.

“This change affects my teaching hugely,” Ms. Watson said. “Before we had 40 minutes for a lab, where now we have four days.”

AP Physics 1 focuses on students having a deep conceptual understanding of physics concepts.

“I don’t really feel like I can judge whether or not the changes to the curriculum have helped because I wasn’t in physics last year,” junior Sophie Kellner said. “I don’t personally feel comfortable with the pace. I feel like it’s an okay pace for others, but if you’re not naturally good at physics like me, you have to go in for tutoring a lot.”

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