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2012 April 26

San Leandro fund-raising for AP Physics

Filed under: home school — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:46
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According to a Patch article, Advanced Physics Class $8,500 Away – San Leandro, CA Patch, an anonymous donor contributed $10,000 if the community could match it, in order to fund $20,000 worth of instructional materials and lab equipment to start an AP Physics class at San Leandro High.

While I applaud the donor(s) for trying to start a physics class in San Leandro, I wonder a bit at the price tag.  It is certainly possible to spend that much on high school lab equipment—I get the Pasco catalog and they do have some high-priced toys!  But it is also possible to teach AP Physics with much less equipment and with much cheaper equipment (even just changing to a lower-price vendor like Arbor Scientific can save a lot).  I’ve been home-schooling AP Physics this year and most of the equipment was stuff we had around the house. Even buying it all new would probably come to only $300, plus $90 for the textbook.

Granted, equipment designed to last several years in the hands of teenagers might need to be a bit more robust than what I could cobble together at home to last for one lab session, but I suspect that a class of 30 (about all they’re likely to get the first year) could be reasonably well equipped and provided with new textbooks for under $10,000.  I’m curious what the $20,000 will buy.

I’m also curious to hear from people who have been teaching AP Physics for a while.  How much does a decent (not luxurious) lab setup for AP Physics cost these days?  I suppose there are several components:  consumables (1/student every year), textbooks (1/student, good for 5–7 years), student lab equipment (1/group of 2–3 students), classroom equipment (1/classroom), and school-wide equipment (1/school).  What I’m interested in hearing how the budget is divided among the different components.  Put another way—if you had $20,000 to start an AP Physics class (for equipment and materials, not staff), how would you spend the money?

My expenses have been small in part because I don’t need much “demo” equipment—nothing needs to be seen from the far side of a classroom, so I can use little things rather than big ones.  I also had the luxury of having students who were good at math—they already knew how to visualize and add vectors, so I did not need to do all the force table demos and labs.  I was also limited in the time I had with the students (2 hours a week to cover all the material, do the labs, and check the homework), so I may have shortchanged the students a bit on labs. I hope they got enough good lab experiences, and we’re going to do almost all lab stuff after the AP exams, but I do wonder if they would have gotten more useful lab work in a traditional class.

Of course, a big part of savings comes from the simple fact that I’m cheap.  For a one-time lab, I’d rather duct-tape together something that works well enough than pay hundreds of dollars for the shiny Pasco toys, as fun as they are to look at in the catalog.  (Since I’m an engineering professor, they send me the “Engineering” catalog, which I think has even fancier and more expensive building toys than the “Physics” catalog.)  It may well be that the time it takes to make and debug jury-rigged equipment would make it more expensive than the commercial stuff, if a teacher or other staff person were actually being paid to do it, and if the labs had to be run year after year.

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