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New emphasis outside of the Big Five

July 15, 2013

Putting the new emphasis amongst the Big Five aside for a moment, I also wanted to take a look at some other potential re-thinking that will have to be done with the new curriculum. I have split this analysis into two types, general and specific. Amongst the general, there are few areas which stand out for me in a big way, almost to the point that they seem a little obsessional from the College Board.


1. Particulate views – particulate diagrams are mentioned over and over and over again in many contexts, both in terms of kids being able to construct them, and interpret them. The word ‘particulate’ is mentioned 59 times in the course description and in 7 of the LO’s!

This is something that I always considered to be a really basic skill, and one that was not necessarily even appropriate at the AP level. I always thought that if kids needed lots of diagrams that represented atoms, ions or molecules, that they somehow didn’t have a very good grasp of the abstract ideas, and perhaps they wouldn’t be the strongest students in an AP class. The College Board is basically 180 degrees opposed to that view as far as I can tell, and they (apparently) desperately want kids to think of chemistry at the particulate level, with a strong emphasis on pretty pictures to illustrate some fundamental ideas that I think ought to be grasped without the need for such illustrations.

This stuff can be seen in the course description example questions (MCQ’s 3 and 5 and FRQ 3) and in further places in the practice exam. IMO some of these questions are simply not up to AP standard at all, and there are some particulate diagram example questions that I would be disappointed if my middle-school kids could not get right.

2. Heavy-lifting in terms of math is downplayed – it really looks as though especially in the multiple-choice section, the rigorous application of math is basically, gone.

I was never the strongest mathematician if the truth be known, BUT in my experience, the strongest AP chemistry students, are! I know that the AP chemistry exam ought to be about chemistry, but some degree of math is an essential element of that, and the course seems lightweight without it. What this means is unclear to me, but it smells a little of making AP more ‘accessible’ to larger numbers of kids, by avoiding having them being scared off, which to me is a euphemism for dumbing-down the curriculum. In the past 3 years (2012, 2011 and 2010), almost 1 out of every 3 kids that takes the AP exam ends up with a ‘1’. That’s staggering to me. There might be a number of reasons for this, but one of them is that kids that have no intellectual business taking the AP exam are being encouraged to do so in name of ‘inclusion’. Anyway, I digress.

3. Coulombs law – the references to a coulombic attraction between opposite charges are numerous.

This is interesting to me, since the various attractions between oppositely charged particles is of course something that we have always talked about, but there is a significant new emphasis being placed on it here. There are a number of areas where the size of the charges and the distance between them are referenced in this context, which of course makes perfect sense, but it seems that they are really trying to move away from a, ‘like charges repel and opposite charge attract’, simplicity. I have no problem with that, but I do find it a little odd in a couple of ways. Like the particulate view stuff it really seems quite obsessive, and secondly, given the emphasis on the qualitative application via the equation, even if we are not going to be asked to do quantitative stuff, I would still like to have seen Coulombs law on the equation sheet – it’s not there.

Of course, none of this adds up to much more than ‘electrostatic interactions’, but expect some new, dressed up language here – to what end, I don’t know.

4. Biological references and applications – there are several.

It ALL seems so forced! As if because siloing is currently not popular, that we MUST force applications of one discipline into another – I hate it, and I shall rebel against it, I’m not a biologist.

A good example of this nonsense appears to be the references to the coupling of ADP and ATP reactions at the end of Big Idea 5. As far as i can tell (and maybe I will change my mind), it looks as though it’s a lot of stuff dressed up to simply say that when you combine equations with negative and positive Delta G’s, that if the combo leads to a negative Delta G overall, then the set of reactions as a whole, works! Quite why we have to get into biology to state that, is beyond me. As I say, maybe my interpretation needs a re-think, but to me, for now, that’s it!


I have already dealt with a couple of large, specific changes in PES and Mass Spec in earlier posts, so what follows here are some observations about new things and new emphasis in addition to those, and outside of the Big Five that I also dealt with earlier.

Big Idea 1

– because of PES, I’m wondering if ‘binding energy’ will replace ‘ionization energy’ in many contexts. Also look out for potential confusion/inconsistency of the units of the same (I’ve seen MJ, kJ and eV).

– quantum numbers may be gone, but electronic configuration still features; don’t confuse the two.

– Beer Lambert seems to be getting more play, probably because of it’s link to labs and spectroscopy. I’m expecting a bigger emphasis on it in many areas.

Big Idea 2

– Equations for diffusion, effusion and urms are all gone, but qualitative applications of the same (Graham’s law and root mean square speed) remain very much ‘in play’.

– Chromatography. may have featured in a few, old MCQ’s, but becasue of the Coulombs law obsession (above), now it’s firmly ‘in’.

– Distillation. See chromatography, above.

– A nod to suspensions and colloids. Will it add up to much? Who knows?

– Surface tension and capillary action, things I have NEVER taught in 25 years – ever.

– Alloys in quite a specific way. Although the College Board made a mess of this and had to retract some stuff!

– Semi-conductors, again a brief nod to them but what it adds to, we’ll have to see. There is a specific reference to n-type and p-type, and I think, reading between the lines, this may be linked to periodicity.

Big Idea 3

– (as I said earlier) with solubility rules largely gone and question 4 no longer as a specific entity, equation writing takes a huge hit

– combustion analysis – I’m not sure that I will be keeping that in my rotation, but global references to ‘stoichiometry’ have me concerned that it could be relevant going forward.

Big Idea 4

These ideas are dealt with most by the change in emphasis of one of The Big Five, namely Kinetics.

Big Idea 5

These ideas are dealt with most by the change in emphasis of one of The Big Five, namely Thermochemistry.

Big Idea 6

These ideas are dealt with most by the change in emphasis of two of The Big Five, namely Equilibrium and Acid & Bases.


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