New Physics Curriculum Brings Big Changes


All over the country and in our very own 100 hallway, students are exploring vectors, forces, electricity, Atwood machines, and the world of physics just a little bit differently. After the College Board recently decided to alter the AP Physics curriculum, mustangs are seeing a drastically different approach to the class.

“The AP Physics curriculum underwent a rather large change,” Physics teacher and science department head Teresa Rudnick said. “AP Physics, as it used to be in the past from about 1974 till last year, was designed to be a second year physics class for students who had taken physics the year before and it was designed to do two college semesters of physics within one year.”

The new curriculum, brought on as a result of the negative results of the old one, showcases a new division of the class to promote in depth learning.

“Nationally the results for [the old AP Physics curriculum] were not as what the College Board was hoping they were getting some feedback from universities that students could be coming better prepared,” Rudnick said. “So they actually took the class and broke it into two separate years and they got rid of the prerequisite of having to have had physics before you take the class.”

Students will now take AP Physics 1 their first year and AP Physics 2 their second year. Rudnick believes this division will ultimately benefit student learning.

“[The students] are also focusing a little bit more on not only being able to do the mathematical side of physics but being able to understand the conceptual side of physics,” Rudnick said. “So the idea is that since it is a little slower and a little more in depth rather than a lot of material very quickly, students should be coming out of the class with a deeper understanding of physics.”

Although the curriculum is now more meticulous, the lack of a prerequisite physics class presents some problems for students coming to grips with difficult AP material.

“`Last year when I was teaching AP Physics and students had physics the year before the first two days of any unit would be something along the lines of ‘hey do you remember this from last year? OK good let’s move on,’” Rudnick said. “I can’t do that this year because my students haven’t had physics so we have to start in the same place that our general physics starts and work our way up to that AP Curriculum so it has definitely been quite a large change in terms of teaching the class.”

Senior Victor Gonzalez agrees there exists an inherent learning curve for students who didn’t take regular Physics, but believes Rudnick has been able to overcome problems with a comprehensive and hands-on teaching style.

“I think [taking regular Physics] definitely does make it easier, because I find myself explaining certain concepts because I know I struggled at times last year with some of them, and some of the juniors are having the same problems,” Gonzalez said. “They can get confused at times, but I think Mrs. Rudnick’s doing a pretty good job so far. I think she does a good job with interacting with us enough, getting whiteboards out, doing labs. She does a good job of mixing it up.”

In terms of her teaching style, the new curriculum has allowed Rudnick to use alternative teaching methods to really engage her students.

“Something I have been doing especially with my AP class is that we have been working with an educational thing called modeling where I do as little lecture as I can and students actually talk each other through the process,” Rudnick said. “I think being able to hear me explain how to do something and hear the other people explain how to do something and also getting that opportunity to verbalize it to someone else is really helping deepen their understanding and helping to feel more confident about it.”

Rudnick’s junior students also agree that although the material may be at times difficult the way Rudnick teaches her class helps them tackle the curriculum better.

“I have been enjoying Mrs. Rudnick, I think shes a good teacher shes willing to help you,” said junior Patricia Lu. “She is really focused on kinesthetics so we do labs often and its a [cooperative] environment and we work with a group. We do a lab once or twice every two weeks.”

In terms of the actual AP exam in May, Rudnick explains that the College Board is looking to alter the focus of the test to match the more in depth curriculum.

“The format has changed slightly.They used to not allow students to use equations on the multiple choice section. They’ve changed that this year so students can an equation sheet and a calculator on the multiple choice section,” Rudnick said “ But because they’re allowing them to do that the level of question is going to be much more complex and because the questions are more complex there are now fewer of them on the multiple choice section.”

The free response portion of the exam will also change, focusing more on explanation and the conceptual side of physics.

“For the free response section they have taken out a couple of questions but they have replaced a lot of questions,” Rudnick said. “It used to be just calculate calculate calculate and explain, but there’s going to be at least one question on the AP exam in the free response section where the students will have to write a paragraph explaining a situation and there’s next to no math involved so they are definitely taking a more conceptual approach to it.”

For sophomores deciding on whether or not to take Physics next year, Rudnick explains that even though the course has a learning curve, students will be able to develop the needed skills in class.

“Physics is very different from some of the other science classes we offer and it’s because it’s at the same time it is both highly mathematical because we do a fair amount of equation solving but it is also very conceptual and it is one of those classes where you have to combine those two skills,” Rudnick said. “To ease [the student’s fears] I don’t expect them to be able to combine those two skills right away that is something that we are going to work on in class.”