Figure 1.3 Correlation between conceptual and conventional problem scores from Figure 1.2. The radius of each datapoint is a measure of the number of students represented by that point.

Clearly, many students in my class were concentrating on learning “recipes,” or “problem-solving strategies” as they are called in textbooks, without considering the underlying concepts. Plug and chug! Many pieces of the puzzle suddenly fell into place:

  • The continuing requests by students that I do more and more problems and less and less lecturing—isn’t this what one would expect if students are tested and graded on their problem-solving skills?

  • The inexplicable blunders I had seen from apparently bright students— problem-solving strategies work on some but surely not on all problems.

  • Students’ frustration with physics—how boring physics must be when it is reduced to a set of mechanical recipes that do not even work all the time!

Degree to Which AP Physics Courses Are Organized Around Key Concepts to Promote Conceptual Understanding

As discussed in Chapter 2, Newtonian mechanics should provide the conceptual foundation for all advanced physics programs. Both AP courses have a substantial mechanics component, but AP Physics C Mechanics, with its coverage of rotational dynamics, is closer to the Newtonian mechanics foundation recommended for all advanced high school physics programs in Chapter 2. On the other hand, we believe that the current AP Physics C Mechanics curriculum contains excessive mathematical complexity that should be eliminated in favor of increased emphasis on conceptual understanding.

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