Recommended Practices for Advanced Physics Instruction


The term “advanced” is taken here to mean study that is substantially beyond the level of the physics required for high school graduation under the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1995). Although the goal of an AP Physics course is to substitute for a physics course that would otherwise be taken in college, that is certainly not the only possible reason for undertaking or offering an advanced program of study in high school. In some cases, traditional high school–level courses are simply not sufficiently challenging to interest the brightest students. In many cases, students undertake advanced study to enhance their college applications. In still other cases, students may be interested in particular areas of physics that are not covered in available high school–level courses (as discussed later in this chapter). Certainly, the particular program adopted by each high school will depend a great deal on exactly what goals that program is intended to meet.


The panel recognizes that the level of preparation of students entering advanced physics programs varies widely from high school to high school. Nevertheless, we believe that there are two fundamental prerequisites most entering students should meet:

  • Prior to enrolling in an advanced physics course in high school, students should have studied the physics that is suggested as a requirement for high school graduation in the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1995). This requirement can be satisfied with the first year of a 2-year physics program. This is the approach adopted by the IB program (as discussed in Chapter 3). If a 1-year advanced course is the first time that entering students encounter physics, the usual result is a packed schedule that allows too little time to develop the depth of understanding that is the fundamental goal of the program.2


The panel acknowledges that there are circumstances under which it is appropriate for students to take advanced physics as a first-year physics course. This may apply to exceptionally talented students, or to students in schools where scheduling considerations leave no reasonable alternative. Nevertheless, most students would be well advised to begin their study of physics with a sound high school–level course.

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