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September 7, 2014

A Curse and a Blessing

This year is my 25th year teaching physics, and it is the first year I am not teaching AP Physics C.  At first I was very disappointed because I love that course. I love teaching the best and the brightest in the school.  Of course there are some challenges to teaching Physics C, not the least of which is that I have to get exhausted second semester seniors to understand electricity and magnetism, including the Biot-Savart Law (think Coulomb’s Law for magnetism). 

But this year, the powers that be decided someone else should teach AP Physics C, purportedly so that I can focus my full attention on our new AP Physics 1 course.   (Did I mention I’ve taught Physics C for 24 years?) My full attention. That means I have the opposite problem of most teachers out there who teach three, four or five preps: I have one prep. I teach four classes of AP Physics 1. (Yes, I’m blessed to teach only four classes.) At first I thought this was a curse. Sometimes I still do. I had a hard time last year with three Honors and one AP C. By the third time I solved the same projectile motion problems as examples for the Honors classes, or the third time I crashed those carts together to demonstrate Newton’s third law, I could barely remember if I had or had not remembered to remind them about the quiz tomorrow. Thank goodness for (see my prior blog post “Communicating with Students”).  Now I have four of the same, not three. By the fourth time I review the answers to the same worksheet, I think about getting a new job.

But I love my job. As you can probably tell already, it’s a very good job with much better teaching conditions than most teachers I have met and many more I haven't. So I remind myself that rock stars sing the same songs show after show after show, night after night. Broadway stars perform the same scenes day after day for years if the play has a good run. So I buckle down and figure how not to bore myself this year. The first thing I did was re-imagine how we review homework and quizzes. I used the “Stacks of Kinematics Curves” worksheet from the Modeling Curriculum out of ASU, and I always need to review a few of the more challenging questions with them. But not everyone needs the help.  So they sit there bored while I explain it to the other students. Instead, I put the answers on-line, put the students in groups and sent them to the lab tables to discuss the homework for 8 minutes. The students who got all the answers correct the first time explained them to their peers who were more confused. I circulated answering questions. Students who would be intimidated asking a question of the whole class were brave enough to ask the three other people at their table.  If no one at the table understood it, I was there to help. I thought it went well, and the students seemed to like it. And I think everyone, including me, was less bored.

I’m also making a much more concerted effort to “flip” my classroom on a regular basis. I believe that students should be interacting with each other and with me while they are in the room. They should not be sitting silently next to each other taking notes. However, I take time each year in the middle of the kinematics unit, just after we finish graphs of motion to derive the “big three”: the equations of constant acceleration motion.  I derive them from the graphs of motion, from the slope of the velocity vs. time graph, and the area under the velocity vs. time graph. I didn’t relish doing that four times in one day, so I decided not to.  Instead, I took the time to make a five-minute video. The students were required to watch the video and take notes on a page in their kinematics packet. All but two or three students in each class did this, and came prepared the next day. We spent the day solving kinematics problems, first as a class, and then in groups of three or four at the lab tables. The students got to work at their own pace, and they were working with others who could help them if they got stuck. I liked the way it went, and I plan to do it again. I’m still working on the details of flipping lessons, such as holding them accountable and what to do when students don’t prepare adequately. I am grateful for websites like and all the great videos by Dan Fullerton. He does a good job presenting the content clearly, and highlights all the points I would highlight if I had made the video. But since he has done such a good job, I don’t have to. 

This is just the beginning of the year, and just two of the changes I have made. I have been given this year the mixed curse and blessing of only one prep. I choose to focus on the blessing aspects, and have fun learning new things.  

*For those of you who want help flipping your Physics C course, I recommend Viren’s Videos.    
**More resources can be found at my Teacher Training site that I created for the summer institutes I present each year. 


  1. Sounds like you've got quite the challenge ahead, but what a neat opportunity to really focus in on the new AP-1 course and set it up right! I, too, would probably be heartbroken if I had to give up AP-C. Thanks for the APlusPhysics shout-out.

    I'm sure you know this, but it makes me feel better to warn folks anyhow -- the AP-1 videos (and the AP-1 book) were all designed for a flipped-class methodology, where the video and book are just providing the baseline essentials, so that there's more time in class to do those deeper AP-1 style problems, exploration labs, group work, conceptual problems, etc. (i.e. just mastering the videos is definitely NOT a recipe for success in AP-1 or AP-2).

    I look forward to reading about your AP-1 adventure this year. Keep up the amazing work, and thank you for sharing so much of your work with the rest of us!

    Make it a great day -- Dan

    1. Thanks, Dan! Those are great reminders for folks. I do like having the extra class time I gain from flipping my course to use for ranking tasks, other TIPERs, inquiry-based labs, Interactive Lecture Demonstrations, context-rich problems and other PER-based instructional methodologies.

      Peace - Martha