AP Physics with Minjae Park at MEK
MEK’s Advanced Placement Course & Exam Prep classes are opening in January 2023. We’re offering small group virtual classes and private tutoring designed to give students the strategies and skills to ace their challenging AP classes and earn a 5 on the AP exam in May.
This Spring, we are offering AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2/C taught by expert instructor, Minjae Park.
Mr. Park is a Drexel University graduate and favorite among MEK students for his ability to bring physics to life. His goal is to help students visualize physics concepts as real world experiences as opposed to just equations and formulas.
We interviewed Mr. Park to get his insights as to what foundational skills students need going into AP Physics, actionable steps students can take to succeed in their AP Physics classes, and how students can build confidence in their physics skills.
Read on to see what he had to say!
Course Objectives & Advice for Problem Solving
What are the course objectives for AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2/C?
Park: CollegeBoard revamped a lot of the objectives for AP Physics. So, now there are technically four Advanced Placement Physics courses.
The courses are AP Physics 1 which focuses on moving observable objects and Newtonian laws, while Physics 2 moves away from the physical world into obscure theories about the universe, electromagnetics, light, circuitry, and relativity. Both AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2 emphasize logic and reasoning, and are Algebra based. Also, AP Physics 1 introduces students to fundamental theorems and laws. Students must be able to look at a scenario, identify information, and see that specific numeric quantities are associated with certain phenomena.
Then, there is AP Physics C, which is separated into mechanics and electromagnetism and involves Calculus to define relationships in problems. AP Physics C doesn’t use Calculus as extensively as AP Calculus BC since AP Physics uses only simple Calculus functions. But AP Physics uses Calculus definitions and concepts at a much deeper level compared to AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2.
What foundational skills should students have going into their AP physics classes?
Park: AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2 correspond with introductory college courses, whereas AP Physics C is more like an advanced (200-level) college course. So, students need a basic understanding of Physics.
Technically, there are no course prerequisites for AP Physics 1. But I would personally recommend a foundation of up to Algebra II because knowledge of quadratic formulas is important to Physics. And having knowledge of Geometry concepts is important because students will be dealing with trigonometry. However, students can get by with an understanding of middle school earth science.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to AP Physics students when solving problems?
Park: If students are familiar with solving equations, for any problem they look at, they should visualize what’s happening. I recommend students draw words out in their brain. If students have a hard time drawing pictures in their head, then draw pictures on paper. The pictures don’t need to be nice, they just need to be efficient information. The entire process of visualizing should be 20-30% more helpful in identifying relationships in problem. One common example of non-intuitive directions that should be visualized are in circular motion problems. It is very easy to miss that the direction of the acceleration (centripetal acceleration in this case) is always toward the center of the circle, while the tangential velocity is tangent or in the direction of the circle.
Annotating physics problems is also very helpful. The goal of annotating a physics problem is to get as much information from the problem as possible. Students can better understand the problem by identifying quantifiers and quantities, and noticing keywords that help them infer value or interpret motion. The more information students gather from the problem through their annotations, the easier it will be for them to solve the equation.
Pay attention to units. Different quantities have different units, and students can use those units to identify the quantities as different variables. But if students are not paying attention, they might end up solving for the wrong unit.
Does having a strong understanding of AP Physics help students succeed in other AP Science or AP Math courses like AP Calculus?
Park: The problem approach for AP Physics is systematic because the subject itself is systematic. This approach (set up the problem, find relationships between complex concepts) is important and not often seen in other courses. These steps can be translated into Calculus and Computer Science but with no specific benefits and not really building upon any concepts.
In AP Physics, conceptual talk is abundant. We dedicate a lot of time to how physics phenomena occur and the methodology of solving problems. Physics borrows from mathematics, but there isn’t a lot of overlap in terms of application skills between Physics and other subjects.
Why do some students find Physics to be a difficult subject?
Park: In Physics, there’s a lot going on. If you look at a Physics problem, there are four different quantities to keep track of, and students must learn the relationships between the quantities. Because there is so much information to keep track of, it’s important that students learn how to write everything out. Mental math will not help students.
How do you help students build confidence in their Physics skills?
Park: Building confidence in Physics skills means starting very small. Physics is a complex puzzle, but only one piece is missing. The relationships in the problem will help students find the solution. We focus on concepts because each relationship can be modeled into an equation.
Therefore, I teach students to break down problems into subproblems where one equation is the focus. Linear equations are simple for students and they are a first step. It’s easier for students to digest or solve a problem when they complete it bit by bit instead of as a whole.
Progress & Skill Mastery
What are your specific teaching methods for solving complex Physics problems?
Park: It’s very important for students to understand the intentions behind a problem. College Board has a specific agenda in mind when designing problems for AP courses. They outline concepts associated with the specific subject and give problems for that concept.
That’s why, in class I focus on helping students conceptualize problems through drawing or writing out problems step by step. Through these methods, students have a clear picture of the situation and then can apply the conceptual skills to a problem.
Many AP Physics problems deal with quantities involving multiple directions. It is important from the beginning to declare a direction to be positive, so that when it is time to calculate, there will be no confusion on whether to add or subtract a quantity.
For example, Torque/rotational motion problems, which use clockwise (CW) and counter-clockwise(CCW) as directions, but it may be more intuitive to set one direction to be positive and the other negative to go through the problem. If students explicitly define directions before the start of the problem, then, it’ll be easier to assign positives and negatives, keep calculations consistent, and minimize mistakes.
How do you get kids to progress and master skills to succeed in AP Physics in both the course and on the exam?
Park: It’s important for students to know their equations. They will be given a formula sheet during the AP exam, but they shouldn’t rely on it. Using keywords from a problem, students should be able to narrow down the choice of formulas and pick the one that works for all the variables.
Once students understand the concepts, it’s about execution. Students need time to get used to how the problems are handled and go through the steps. The steps are the same. The difference is how tedious the problem is. If students understand the general framework, each problem is just a variation of it.
Student Engagement & Actionable Steps to Success
How do you keep your students engaged in the classroom?
Park: I like to take students through a historical walkthrough as to how the concepts were discovered, how they were challenged, and how they became the formulas they are today. If students just see a whole bunch of equations to solve, they lose interest quickly. The history behind these Physics phenomena makes students more interested. I want to give students the skills to seek out relationships between Physics and the real world in their daily lives. If students see Physics in action, they can think of the relationships they learned in the classroom.
What are actionable steps students can take to succeed in AP Physics?
Park: The first thing students can do is to check out the wealth of Physics resources on the internet. I usually recommend two YouTube channels to my students. The first is a channel called Flipping Physics where the hosts demonstrate Physics concepts by acting them out instead of just drawing diagrams and simulations. This channel has a whole AP playlist. I often draw inspiration from this channel.
And the second channel is called 3Blue1Brown. It’s a heavily math-based channel that focuses on math that isn’t taught as part of the traditional public school curriculum. The host covers topics in math such as how things were discovered, how they came to be, and different angles of approaching problems. There’s also some really cool animation.
If students want to work on problems, there are online resources like Khan Academy. For super eager students who want to jump in, the AP Central Website has past exam questions publicly available with answers and sample solutions.
Students currently taking AP Physics should have access to AP Classroom through their course, which is an online resource where they can find many practice questions and quizzes.
AP courses are tough and may seem intimidating at first. But with a solid study plan and good study habits, students can get high grades and ace exams.
Many AP teachers focus on only the course material, leaving students underprepared for the actual 2-3 hour exam. At MEK, we take a two-pronged approach to AP Prep. Through providing students with both lectures by experienced teachers and practice exams, students gain a solid understanding of the material and learn test-taking skills to maintain their performance under time pressure.
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