Revised AP Physics, U.S. History Coming Soon

By Erik W. Robelen — October 04, 2012 3 min read
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The College Board today announced the release of redesigned AP programs for U.S. history and physics, with a focus on reducing the amount of content coverage required to allow more time for studying key concepts in greater depth. Schools will offer the revised courses starting in fall 2014.

As one signal of the shift, new exams for both subjects will feature fewer multiple-choice questions and increase opportunities for students to apply their skills and knowledge. In U.S. history, for instance, the number of multiple-choice questions will be chopped down from 80 to 36, the College Board said in a press release.

For physics, the changes also involve replacing the “Physics B” course with two separate, yearlong courses titled AP Physics 1 and 2.

I should note that new U.S. History program is behind schedule. A College Board official said in an email that the redesign was going to be issued a year earlier, but it was delayed amid feedback from history professors on a draft document. (Likewise, implementation was pushed back from fall 2013 to fall 2014.)

In any case, the curriculum framework for the revised U.S. History program is now available (all 102 pages), as well as a similar framework for physics.

The emphasis on covering less material in greater depth surely rings a bell with lots of this blog’s readers, given that this is a core mantra these days, emphasized, for example, in the Common Core State Standards in mathematics, as well as the common science standards now being developed by a coalition of states and others.

“The redesigned AP history and science courses eliminate the pressure on teachers and students to rush through course topics,” said Trevor Packer, who leads the College Board’s Advanced Placement Program, in the press release. “The great achievement of this redesign is a strong agreement among colleges and universities regarding the knowledge and skills students need to cultivate in order to qualify for credit and placement.”

The press release says the extra time in teaching U.S. history will enable teachers and students to focus on the close reading and analysis of primary and secondary source material, and the development of skills practices by historians, such as argumentation. In the physics course, the College Board suggests more time will be dedicated to the hands-on practice of the scientific method, with students designing and conducting experiments and collecting data to test hypotheses.

Both AP Physics 1 and 2 are equivalent to one-semester college courses in “algebra-based physics,” the College Board explains, but are designed to be taught over a full academic year.

Topics covered in Physics 1 include Newtonian mechanics; work, energy, and power; and mechanical waves and sounds. Physics 2 covers fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity and magnetism, optics, and atomic and nuclear physics.

The revised physics program was guided by recommendations from the National Research Council and the National Science Foundation, as well as collaboration with “master AP teachers and eminent educators from colleges and universities.”

The College Board has been rolling out a series of revised science programs, with a new AP biology program taking effect this fall and new AP chemistry coming next year.

As for U.S. history, the key objectives of the changes include:

• Alignment with evolving U.S. history curriculum at the nation’s top colleges and universities;

• Providing teachers and students flexibility to focus on specific historical topics, events, and issues in greater depth; and

• Increasing student practice of historical thinking skills as central to understanding history.

Fritz Fischer, a history professor at Northern Colorado University and a past chairman of the National Council for History Education, praised the final program design, noting that the College Board seemed to take seriously concerns from history educators about an earlier drafts.

“I really applaud them for working to improve their framework, and think they have done a very good job of including historical thinking skills in the new framework,” he said in an email. He noted, for instance, that the assessment is “moving in a direction that does a better job of evaluating true student learning in history.”

Any thoughts to share on the revised programs, Dear Reader? Post a comment.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.