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Learning and Understanding: Improving Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in U.S. High Schools, Report of the Content Panel for Physics SOURCE: (IBO, 1999a)
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PHYSICS so that providing such explanations quickly becomes automatic for all stu- dents in whatever they do in the course (see Chapter 41. For these reasons, very broad curricula, such as 1-year Advanced Placement (AP) Physics B courses, should either be extended to 2 years (as is done in International Baccalaureate physics) or eliminated in favor of more compact curricula that can be covered in depth (see Chapters 2 and 3~. 3. All students of advanced physics should study a nationally stan- dlardized one-semester unit in Newtonian mechanics. This unit should have the coverage of current AP Physics C Mechanics (including rota- tional dynamics) but should not require formal calculus. The study of Newtonian mechanics provides an ideal framework for developing the scientific habits of mind and deep conceptual understanding that are the primary goals of advanced physics instruction. Since familiarity with Newtonian mechanics is universally expected of students who have completed an advanced high school physics program, it is logical to create a standardized mechanics unit to serve as the foundation of all advanced physics study. College physics departments could then depend on a thorough knowl- edge of this unit in developing courses for the further education of ad- vanced physics students (see Chapters 2 and 69. This new common unit should contain all the important physics currently found in the AP Physics C Mechanics curriculum, including rotational dynamics. To permit the study of the common mechanics unit by all advanced physics students, however, knowledge of formal calculus should not be required (see Chapter 2~. It is important to understand that the omission of formal calculus would have no adverse impact on achieving the important goals of advanced phys- ics instruction. On the contrary, it would permit increased emphasis on con- ceptual understanding by eliminating the need to spend time studying cal- culus-intensive problems. For example, students would no longer need to be able to perform path integrals to find the work done by a force, but they would need to understand the connection between work and kinetic energy change. They would also have to be able to find the work done by a force that varies as a function of position by using the area under the force curve. We note that this recommendation is in keeping with the recent trend on AP Physics C examinations to reduce the emphasis on mathematical complexity. When the concepts of calculus are essential to the development of the physics, these concepts can be introduced in other ways. For ex- ample, instantaneous velocity can be introduced as the slope of a tangent line to the graph of displacement versus time. Finally, the panel stresses that the examination for the common me- chanics unit is likely to be more difficult than the present AP Physics C Mechanics examination. For one thing, research has shown that students 475
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476 3: CONTENT PANEL REPORT have more difficulty with the kinds of conceptual questions that would make up the new examination than with problems that can be solved by math- ematical techniques. In addition, successful students will be expected to be thoroughly familiar with the new mechanics unit, and the standards for suc- cess on the examination will be higher than they are now. The consolidation of mechanics into a single common unit does not by any means represent a lowering of present standards, but quite the opposite (see Chapter 21. 4. In a 1-year advanced physics program, students should study only one major area of physics in addition to Newtonian mechanics. To keep the size of the curriculum manageable, the panel strongly rec- ommends that 1-year programs cover only one other major area of physics beyond Newtonian mechanics. There should be great flexibility in the choice of the optional topic to be covered in the second semester, including the possible choice of a nontraditional unit designed to provide advancement by enrichment. (See Chapter 2.) 5. Meaningful real-world (laboratory) experiences should be in- cluded in all advanced physics programs. There is ample evidence that traditional "cookbook" laboratories do not meet this standard. The panel strongly believes that real-world experiences are an essential part of advanced physics study. Science is distinguished from other ways of thinking by its reliance on evidence about the physical world and the impor- tance of reproducible consistency in judging the truth of conjectures, laws, and theories. However, these experiences must be meaningful; that is, the educational benefits derived from the activities must be worth the time and effort expended. There is ample evidence that traditional cookbook labora- tories do not meet this standard (see Chapter 2~. 6. Teachers of advanced programs must be able to respond to their ongoing assessment of their students' understanding (see Chapter 4~. Therefore, curricula that require spending specific amounts of time on particular subject areas or on certain kinds of activities should be avoided. 7. The scoring of written examinations must emphasize the evalu- ation of student understanding. A rigid scoring rubric in which points are awarded for very specific correct responses to small parts of each question is not appropriate; rather, the reader should evaluate the student's response as a whole. A maximum score should be given only for complete and clear physical reasoning leading to the correct
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PHYSICS conclusions. The recent trend toward increased emphasis on con- ceptual understanding should continue. Because the final assessments in advanced programs involve high stakes, students and teachers tend to do whatever they must in order to score well on those assessments. This fact makes it absolutely imperative that the ex- aminations measure the depth of understanding that is the fundamental goal of advanced physics instruction (see Chapter 21. The assessment of understanding necessitates requiring students to ex- plain their reasoning and evaluating those explanations. Since there is no way to anticipate all possible correct and incorrect explanations, it is impos- sible to perform this evaluation within the confines of a rigid scoring rubric. Current rigid rubrics must therefore be abandoned in favor of a more flex- ible approach in which each student's response is evaluated as a whole. This is the approach taken in grading essay questions in the humanities or social sciences, without any apparent problems due to lack of consistency in evalu- ation. Moreover, one member of the panel participated in an experiment in which AP physics examinations were graded in this fashion, and the consis- tency of the evaluation turned out to be at least as good as under the rigid scoring rubric (see Chapter 21. 8. The panel recommends that sufficient time be allowed for stu- dents to complete the entire final examination (see Chapter 2~. Final examinations must measure what students know, not how fast they can recall and apply that knowledge. 9. The standards for success on final assessments should be raised. .~ The panel believes that if its recommended curriculum changes are imple- mented, successful students will know the material in the new, more man- ageable curricula thoroughly. Therefore, the panel recommends high stan- dards of performance on the new final examinations (see Chapter 29. 10. More well-q~lifled teachers are desperately needed for ad- vanced physics programs. A concerted effort should be made through- out the physics community to contribute to the training of highly skilled physics teachers. Peer assessment programs should be imple- mented for certification and continuing assessment of physics teach- ing skill. With the continued growth of advanced physics programs across the nation, there is a severe shortage of qualified teachers for such programs. The panel endorses a concerted effort by all elements of the physics com- 477
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478 CONTENT PANEL REPORT munity to train more qualified teachers. It is also imperative that the salaries and professional status of physics teachers be raised to make them competi- tive with those of other professionals, so that sufficient talent will be at- tracted to the physics teaching profession (see Chapter 49. The panel also recommends that, as is done in other professions (e.g., medicine), peer assessment programs be implemented for the certification of physics teachers and the continuing evaluation of their teaching skills. On this matter, we endorse the National Board for Professional Teaching Stan- dards; however, we recommend that peer assessment be discipline specific rather than for all sciences. 11. The preparation and skill of the teacher are the principal factors that determine the ultimate success or failure of advanced physics instruction. Thorough understanding of the subject matter is a necessary but not sufficient condition for good physics teaching. Teachers must also be trained in the special pedagogy of physics. The panel stresses that implementations of advanced physics programs differ widely from school to school. The way in which a program is imple- mented by a given teacher is often much more important than the choice of which program to implement (see Chapter 49. 12. Skilled physics teachers continually diagnose the understand- ing of their students and change their objectives and strategies as that diagnosis indicates. It is impossible to assess the understanding of students without requiring them to explain their reasoning. (See Chap- ter 4.) 13. Advanced courses should have greater interdisciplinary con- tent and make increasing use of cyberspace and information technol- ogy. Modern developments in both science and society as a whole indicate that physicists will be increasingly called upon to address problems that cross the boundaries between traditional disciplines (see Chapter 51. At the same time, the explosion of information technology provides a vast array of possibilities for improving advanced physics instruction (see Chapter 51. Teachers and administrators should be aware of these developments and help advanced physics programs expand their involvement in both areas over time. 14. Information technology should be used to create networks that will enable teachers, college faculty, and other professionals to share information useful for advanced physics teaching.
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PHYSI CS The Internet provides a rapid mechanism for exchanging ideas and in- formation among professionals interested in advanced physics instruction. The panel encourages the continued expansion of networks of such profes- sionals. Such networks are a powerful means of encouraging the creation of a professional community of physics teachers, consistent with the panel's recommendations for peer assessment (see recommendation 10) and greater emphasis on professional development (see Chapters 4 and 5~. 15. Fairness must be ensured on future computerized final assess- ments for advanced physics programs. The panel is aware that the use of information technology may allow more efficient administration of nationwide examinations for advanced physics programs. However, the panel stresses the importance of ensuring that these more efficient assessments remain fair to all candidates. 16. Given the scarcity of data on the long-term outcomes of phys- ics education, an effort should be made as soon as possible to follow the progress of physics students over many years. The panel believes there are far too few data on the long-term outcomes of physics education to allow important decisions about the physics educa- tion of large numbers of students to be made with confidence. 479
Representative terms from entire chapter: