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  • Writer's pictureNathan Belcher

AP Physics C: Mechanics and Electricity and Magnetism - Course Outline for 2020-2021

This is my third year teaching at the Singapore American School--I am excited to begin another school year!

As I have learned and grown as a teacher, I have changed the structure of my courses to reflect my learning of physics content, skills, and pedagogy. In addition, different schedules require different course structures--I came from a school where AP Physics C: Mechanics and Electricity and Magnetism had 93 minute blocks everyday all year, but the blocks at SAS are 80 minutes long with an alternating day schedule for the year. This drastic decrease in time face-to-face with students caused a shift in my thinking, making the first year an adjustment. Students were moderately satisfied with the course and performed well on the AP exams, but it seemed there was a better way to structure the course for students at SAS.

Inspired by a post by Greg Jacobs that describes a different approach to the structure of the AP Physics C class, I implemented a new structure for the second year: Algebra-Based Electricity and Magnetism, Calculus-Based Mechanics, and Calculus-Based Electricity and Magnetism. This structure made sense for students at SAS because they have completed a physics course with an emphasis on Mechanics, so beginning AP Physics C with Mechanics was boring and dull for students (their words!). The structure that begins with Algebra-Based Electricity and Magnetism allows students to experience new material at the beginning of the course and creates space for the calculus teachers to progress through their storyline. In addition, students are less familiar with topics in Electricity and Magnetism; working through the topics twice in a single year helps deepen their understanding of the content and skills of the topic.

At the same time I changed the structure of the topics in the course, I also changed my grading and scoring strategies. Courses at SAS are standards-based, so I created multiple assessments for each standard. The assessments had problems of various difficulty, which allowed students to demonstrate their understanding of the topic. Students enjoyed this strategy because they were assessed over a longer period of time; instead of cramming for one major assessment, they had the opportunity to show their learning over multiple assessments. This assessment strategy is an application of both spaced practice and retrieval practice because students are forced to reexamine their understanding of the topic for an assessment--leading to a deeper understanding of the topics. In addition, students worked with topics in Electricity and Magnetism twice throughout the year; once in an algebra-based context and another in a calculus-based context. Learning the Electricity and Magnetism topics twice forced students to access and update their earlier learning, leading to a more robust understanding of Electricity and Magnetism.

Below are screenshots of the assessment strategy for the first and second semesters. The Scoring System is also available in the file on pages 15-17. Note: Singapore has the COVID-19 situation controlled, so we are allowed to start school in-person with some distancing restrictions. If the situation changes, the date of the assessments will change.

Semester 1 - Scoring System
Semester 2 - Scoring System

Because students enjoyed and were successful with the class structure from the second year, I have decided to stay with this structure. Students will learn Algebra-Based Electricity and Magnetism, Calculus-Based Mechanics, and Calculus-Based Electricity and Magnetism.

For full details of the course, please use this link--the document is also available in the "Modeling in AP Physics C" page. Here is the Table of Contents of the document:

- Section 1: Course Organization – Page 1

- Section 2: Schedule – Page 3

- Section 3: Scoring System – Page 15

- Section 4: Comparison of Models with Book Chapters and AP Problems – Page 18

- Section 5: Models for Electricity and Magnetism – Page 21

- Section 6: Models for Mechanics – Page 28

- Section 7: Model for a Concept in AP Physics C – Page 42

I hope this is helpful for my physics education colleagues--I would love to hear your feedback, especially if you use all or part of these strategies!

All the best to everyone with the uncertainty around schools in the States; my heart goes out to you, your school, and your family.

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