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How to teach AP physics

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It’s easy to teach physics in a wordy and complicated way – but taking a concept and breaking it down into simple steps, and presenting ideas in a way that are easily comprehensible to the eager student, is more challenging.

Yet that is what Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman excelled at.  The same skills that made one a good teacher also caused one to more fully understand the topic him/herself. This was Feynman’s basic method of learning.

Feynman How to teach physics

1) Develop an array of hands-on labs that allow one to study basic phenomenon.

You can also use many wonderful online simulations, such as PhET or Physics Aviary.

2) Each day go over several problems in class. They need to see a master teacher take what appears to be a complex word problem, and turn it into equations.

3.) Insure that students take good notes.  One way of doing this is having the occasional surprise graded notebook check (say, twice per month.)

4) Each week assign homework. Each day randomly call a few students to put one of their solutions on the board. Recall that the goal is not to get the correct numerical answer. (That sometime can come by luck or cheating.) Focus on the derivation. Does the student understand which basic principles are involved?

5) Keep track of strengths and weaknesses: Is there a weakness in algebra, trigonometry, or geometry?  When you see a pattern emerge, assign problem sets that require mastering the weak area – not to punish them, but to build skills. Start with a few very easy problems, and slowly build in complexity. Let them work in groups if you like.

6) Don’t drown yourself in paperwork: Don’t grade every problem, from every student, every day. You could easily work 24 hours a day and still have more work to do. Only collect & grade some percent of the homework.

7) Focus on simple drawings – or for classes that uses programming to simulate physics phenomenon – simple animations. Are the students capable of sketching free-body diagrams that strip away extraneous info? Can they diagram out all the forces on an object?

8) Give frequent assessments that are easy to grade.

9) Get books such as TIPERS for Physics, or Ranking Task Exercises in Physics. They are diagnostic tools to check for misconceptions.. Call publishers for free sample textbooks and resources. For a textbook I happen to like Giancoli Physics; their teacher solution manual is very well thought out.

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