This is my third year teaching AP Physics.  I have the benefit of being able to teach a group of students who have already completed (successfully) a year of honors physics (which I also taught).  This is fabulous, except for the fact that they already know pretty much all of the content they need.  In the past, no matter how interesting I tried to make the class, it still felt like I was just re-teaching them stuff they already knew (which I was) and they were bored (for valid reasons).  This year, I completely changed things around.

The first week or so of class I spent going over some details that we had kind of breezed over last year (when to rotate coordinate systems, further analysis of the difference between static and kinetic friction, etc.).  We then spent one day reviewing the “models” that we had developed last year – ie, constant velocity, constant acceleration, projectiles, COE, COM, central force, etc and reviewed when each was and was not valid.  (During this time, the students were also working through some AP problems for homework.)

Now that they have their heads back in the game and refreshed their memories, we have the rest of the trimester (until about Thanksgiving) to do some real physics.  Stuff that they are interested in and that requires a little more thinking than just trudging through problem after problem (or watching me trudge through problem after problem).  I realized (not surprisingly) that there are about a million youtube videos out there that are AP problems in disguise!  Except they’re even better, because they require the students to decide what information they need (instead of having it listed for them at the top of the page).  Awesome.  (Plus, the students think they’re pretty cool.  That never hurts anything.)

Today, we started our first project.  I showed them this video:

Without any prompting, the kids immediately asked “is that real?”  Well, I have no idea.  Why don’t we find out?  (Actually, I do have a pretty good idea.  But I wasn’t about to tell them that.)  The class was split between students who were convinced it was fabricated and those who really, really wanted it to be real.

Since this was their first problem of this kind we came up (as a class) with a list of information that they would need to collect in order to solve the problem.  (I let them come up with the list and simply wrote their suggestions on the board.  I really, really wanted to jump in a few times to point out why some of these pieces were irrelevant, but I refrained.  Remember how I’m trying to be less helpful?  Yeah, that’s hard sometimes.  But worth it.  As it turns out, once they started working the problem most of them figured out what info was irrelevant and what stuff mattered.)  The students spent the rest of class looking up distances and determining whether or not this could reasonably be a real shot or if it was faked.  Tomorrow we are going down to the gym and using my Flip camera to collect videos of them attempting half-court shots.  (And let me tell you, they are pretty darn excited about that.)  That way we can compare the analysis of a real shot to the youtube video.

Next project:  car crash anaysis, maybe?