A message "To the Teacher" about
PhysicsLAB, its Curriculum Guide and LearningXchange

Whenever I go to choose a new textbook, I look for completeness and depth of content. Realistically, we all know that no one can cover an entire textbook in one academic year. However, I am looking for a text in which the topics I do want to cover have explanations, developmental exercises and sufficient practice problems. It is along these lines that I have developed PhysicsLAB. The philosophy of PhysicsLAB is to provide you with content from which you can choose those activities that will best suit your program's needs. Content that, while being flexible and easy to access, contains instructional lessons, labs, developmental and conceptual exercises as well as worksheets that will allow your students to become accountable for their own learning.

In general, Physics is considered to be a Junior/Senior course, although more and more Sophomores have joined the program during the past three years since Mainland started its Academy of Scientific Inquiry. My recommendations are that students have a C average or better in Algebra I and Geometry to enroll in Physics I; or they have an A/B average in Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry, as well as be concurrently enrolled in a Trig-based math class, to be enrolled in Physics I Honors. Students from Physics I Honors can then take AP Physics B the next year or AP Physics C-Mechanics if they are concurrently enrolled in Calculus. My courses are year-long classes, meeting for 50 minutes, 5 days a week. In general, my classes complete an average of one lab every 10 days and have major tests once every 3 weeks. You can view sample unit time lines by going to a calendar page in PhysicsLAB, and look through a few months of assignments between August 2004 and May 2005.

The web-based delivery of PhysicsLAB's curriculum readily allows students to set their own pace as they take the time required to complete each activity. Well over 90% of the activities have some type of interactivity: pages that supply correct answers when students input their own initial answer, that provide help windows and hints, that have physlets, animated gifs, or flash animations, that have clear, diagrams and solutions. The student now has a personal repository of resources he can reference to either learn a new physics concept or to review for tests or national exams. Your job now is to facilitate his learning, to envision the course's content, its implementation timeline and to teach your students from a wide assortment of types of content. These include resource lessons, mathematical worksheets, labs, Conceptual Physics Workbook pages and NextTime Questions. There are also online tests from AAPT and the clever situations found in the Amusing Problems. For Advanced Placement teachers, a list of suggested AP free-response questions for each of the 21 units of instruction as well as a search engine to locate any other AP free-response question with a keyword search of its text.

To assist you in finding materials in PhysicsLAB, this companion website was developed. You can locate curriculum either by a Unit of Instruction, by Content Type, or through a search engine of previous assignments made throughout last year. In addition to a comprehensive listing of curricular activities found in PhysicsLAB, each unit of instruction has been correlated to (1) content standards from the Florida Sunshine State Standards, Volusia County Science Standards, and the Advanced Placement Acorn Guide for Physics-B, and (2) assessment strategies for Hewitt’s Conceptual Physics (3rd High School edition; 8th College edition), Principles and Problems (1995 edition) and Giancoli’s Physics: Principles with Applications (5th edition).

The units of instruction are presented in the classic order: mechanics, optics, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, and modern. I actually teach them in a totally different sequence. I begin my first year's course with an overview of the metric system, followed by waves and vibration, and then sound and geometric optics. Then at the semester, I move into mechanics: metric system, kinematics, dynamics, work/energy and momentum. My second year course then completes the remainder of mechanics: momentum and energy, uniform circular motion, vertical circular motion, rotational motion and SHM. The rest of the second year is spent on electromagnetism: electrostatics, DC circuits, magnetism and induction followed by physical optics, thermodynamics, atomic, nuclear, and modern. PhysicsLAB supports both mathematical and conceptual programs throughout all of these units of instruction. PhysicsLAB's curriculum complements any general high school physics text or recommended APB text.

Upon completion of the curriculum in PhysicsLAB, students are qualified to take additional physics courses beyond the introductory high   school, college (AP) level. Students will also master skills for completing on-line courses. Many of my former students have returned from college with statements about how comfortable they are with taking online courses at their universities because of the skills and confidence they gained from completing my online curriculum while in high school. This confidence is especially important since more and more courses are going online as the ratio of students to teachers grows throughout every level of education. Moreover, if you choose to implement PhysicsLAB in your classrooms as I do in mine, as an online resource to facilitate student learning while in a physical classroom with a teacher present, students will learn a tremendous amount about how to work in groups. Also, they learn how to cooperatively complete assignments and how to interact with a learning partner so that both students walk away richer from the experience. Students have told me that their computer skills have increased dramatically as a result of using the online tools in PhysicsLAB: forms, spreadsheets, word-processing. To learn more about their reactions to participating in PhysicsLAB, please take a moment to look over the student surveys that were administered and analyzed during the first five years of PhysicsLAB's inception as part of the evaluation of Mainland's US DOE Technology Challenge Grant.

In order to use PhysicsLAB there are no special technical requirements beyond having a computer with Internet access and a web browser. It is recommended that you view PhysicsLAB with IE 5.0 or better, but it can be also be navigated on FireFox and Netscape 4.6 or higher, with the exception that many of the physlets will not activate.

To deliver PhysicsLAB's content to my students, I use the databased, management program called LearningXchange. Through LearningXchange, I post my assignments and students can access them from by their Daily Schedule, a Course Calendar, or through a Course Syllabus. Alternatively, teachers can post assignments quarterly from PhysicsLAB through the PhysicsLAB Outreach administrative website. Regardless of which initial posting method, whenever an assignment is submitted by a registered student, the student's name and a time/date stamp are posted to the teacherís records as well as to each student's personal online binder. This feature provides documentation of each student's progress through PhysicsLAB assignments. When your students logon to the PhysicsLAB Outreach website, they can track their required activities and completed assignments through an individualized online binder. To get further information on how to set up student logons, track student progress, and use either LerningXchange or the PhysicsLAB Outreach website to manage your PhysicsLAB assignments, register directly with PhysicsLAB now.


* The following special resources have been included with either the permission of the author or publisher: Conceptual Physics Workbook pages, NextTime Questions, Amusing Problems, physlets, and AAPT tests.

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Catharine H. Colwell
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