AP Reader Reflection - Ideas for Improving Multimodal Understanding of Concepts

text: AP Chemistry Reading REFLECTIONS

I recently watched Veritasium’s Youtube video “The Biggest Myth in Education". In the video, Derek Muller explains, “There is a large body of literature that supports the claim that everyone learns better with multimodal approaches.” He ends the video by saying, “The best learning experiences involve multiple different ways of understanding the same thing.” These statements got me thinking about my recent 2021 AP Chemistry Reading experience. For the past 5 years, I have spent a week in June scoring AP Chemistry Exams as an AP Reader. This year the reading was virtual and, for me, it involved scoring about 1500 long free-response questions. While I cannot discuss the question I scored directly, Veritasium’s video got me thinking about a skill many AP Chemistry students are lacking - multimodal understanding of concepts.

In recent years, the AP Chemistry exam requires students to translate their understanding between descriptions, graphs, equations, symbols, and/or particulate models. In addition, long free-response questions have students analyze a chemical scenario through various unit lenses like Bonding, Thermodynamics, Equilibrium, and/or Electrochemistry. As I score responses I notice students confuse terms and concepts from one unit to another. This becomes apparent when students are asked to translate their understanding to a different modality or unit.

Figure 1: Example of completed Concept Summary Sheet - Ionization Energy (editted 8/4/21)


AP Chemistry Concept Summary Sheet

This school year, I plan to explicitly help my students understand AP Chemistry concepts in different modalities. I am going to have students summarize a key concept at the end of the unit through various modalities using a Concept Summary SheetStudents will show their understanding of a concept through descriptions, particulate diagrams, graphs, symbols/equations, make connections to other units and point out common misconceptions or other concepts students confuse this concept with. I made an Ionization Energy example for my students (see figure 1). To encourage students to think about a concept multimodally, like First Ionization Energy, I will encourage students to highlight part of the concept in all of the different boxes on the Concept Summary Sheet. For example, I highlighted the first ionization energy (IE1) in the particulate, graph, and symbolic boxes to make the different representations of the same idea explicit. I made the squares the size of a 3” by 3” Post-It note. This enables students to cover up each box with a Post-It note so they can flip up the Post-It note to quiz themselves to promote retrieval practice and help them actively study their notes (see figure 2). I made a version of the Concept Summary Sheet where the sticky area of the Post-It notes is grayed out so students know where to write without obstruction from the Post-It note. Download a copy of the document from the Supporting Information below. If you have ELL or foreign exchange students, I have found success in the past year allowing students to describe the concept in their native language in addition to English. I plan to have students complete this Concept Summary Sheet on their own at the end of a unit. During class, students will present their Summary Sheets to their peers on whiteboards. Students will be able to see different ideas so they can add to and improve their own Summary Sheet. I am hoping this activity will spark class discussions where I will be able to help clear up misconceptions and help solidify connections across modalities.


Figure 2: Completed Concept Summary Sheet with Sticky Notes


Chief Reader Report

The Chief Reader Report summarizes the student data and misconceptions for each question of each year’s released operational exam. It is a treasure trove of information and is worth a look at! You can find the Chief Reader Report linked in AP Central under previous AP exams: https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/courses/ap-chemistry/exam/past-exam-questions?course=ap-chemistry. The 2021 Chief Reader Report will be discussed during the AACT Best of ChemEd 2021 virtual George Hauge AP Symposium on Wednesday, July 28th at 12:00 EST. During this symposium, AP Chemistry Chief Reader Paul Bonvallet will discuss this year’s reading, student data, and prevalent student misconceptions. You won’t want to miss it! You can register for this free event here: https://teachchemistry.org/news/sign-up-for-best-of-chemed-2021 and AACT members can access the recording on the AACT website and all AP teachers can access the pdf copy of the report on AP Central at a later date.


Becoming an AP Reader 

If you are interested in becoming an AP Reader, log into your AP Central account and click on the Professional Development tab in the upper right. There you will find application information. College Board hopes to host a hybrid reading in Salt Lake City, Utah June 3-9, 2022 where some readers grade in person and others grade at home virtually. Paper tests will be scanned in and scored via computer. Find out more information here: https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/professional-learning/become-an-ap-reader. It is a valuable experience where you can expand your AP Chemistry teacher network, gain confidence in applying the scoring rubric to student responses, learn about student preconceptions, and improve your grading efficiency. 

Join the conversation.

All comments must abide by the ChemEd X Comment Policy, are subject to review, and may be edited. Please allow one business day for your comment to be posted, if it is accepted.

Comments 7

Yu-Sung Wu's picture
Yu-Sung Wu | Wed, 07/28/2021 - 14:11

Hi Melissa,

Thank you for sharing your template.  I think this kind of template would be beneficial for students to connect different representations of the same concept. Would you mind sharing some of the common "misunderstandings" or "misconceptions" you saw during the reading?  





Melissa Hemling's picture
Melissa Hemling | Wed, 08/04/2021 - 22:58

Hi Yu-Sung! Unfortunately, this year I scored an unreleased form of the exam and cannot disclose anything. I did not score the released Form O (operational exam) so I will be reading the Chief Report closely when it is released or watch the AACT recording of the Chief Reader's presentation. Good news though, the Chief Reader report has a list of all of the misconceptions and common errors. Here is an example from 2019: https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/pdf/ap19-chief-reader-report-chemistr.... Scroll to the charts to see the misconceptions listed. Honestly, the same misconceptions are noticed year after year. The list is long! Some examples include: Describing the system only in terms of “disorder” or “chaos” (preferred terms: arrangements or dispersion of matter / energy) in the absence of chemical reasoning, stating that all processes with Delta S > 0 will always be thermodynamically favorable, confusing intermolecular forces with intramolecular forces (e.g., explaining boiling point trends in terms of attraction between an electron and the nucleus), and interpreting “bond energy” as a heat of formation.  I hope this helps!

Dave Doherty's picture
Dave Doherty | Tue, 08/03/2021 - 16:12
In the lower left corner of figures 1 & 2, it states that the ionization energy is proportional to the Coulomb force.
This is not correct.
The ionization energy is equal to the difference between the:

energy of the bound electron

energy of the unbound electron
This is different from the forces in these two situations.
It's a pretty common error to confuse potential energy and force.
In the Coulomb's Law case:
F ~ Q₁Q₂ / r² (force)
E ~ Q₁Q₂ / r (energy)
If you want to understand the difference between potential energy and force:
Simply put, the force is the first derivative of the energy. (Negative of it, if you really care.)
If you think of a typical potential energy plot, the points on the curve are the energies at various distances.
The slopes (first derivatives) at various points on the curve are the forces.
Where the curve is steep, the force is high.
Where the curve is flat, the force is low.

Melissa Hemling's picture
Melissa Hemling | Wed, 08/04/2021 - 23:12

Hi Dave! Thanks for pointing out my oversight and explaining the difference! I fixed the example handout accordingly. The AP Chemistry CED (https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/pdf/ap-chemistry-course-and-exam-desc...) on pg. 40 discusses Coulomb's Law using the E ~ Q₁Q₂ / r² equation. I think that is why I have been gravitating to that version of the equation, not realizing the differences between force and energy. I appreciate the explanation so I can understand better.

Side note: I should mention for new teachers to AP Chem, students only need a conceptual understanding of Coulomb's Law as it applies to periodic trends and lattice energies. Students are not required to do any calculations with Coulomb's Law.

Huynh Thanh | Tue, 08/03/2021 - 20:13

If possible, why dont we cooperate to make more? 

Melissa Hemling's picture
Melissa Hemling | Wed, 08/04/2021 - 23:18

Hi Huynh Thanh!  I like your idea for crowd-sourcing. I am hoping to have my students generate their own versions. I made an IE example to help communicate expectations. As I go through my units this year I plan to make some myself combining my ideas and my students. I will try to post them here as the year progresses. I encourage others to do this same! If made in Google Docs, a sharable link could be placed in the comments. It would be beneficial to see how other classes and teachers organize and find connections between the different modalities for a key concept. 

Dave Doherty's picture
Dave Doherty | Fri, 08/06/2021 - 08:58

Excellent. I write a lot of simulation code and am very tuned in to how energy and force are related. I have also noticed that a lot of chemistry teachers struggle with this concept.  I have wondered why the CED uses the force version of Coulomb's law.  It is differences in energy (not force) that matter for most things like spectroscopy or IE, as in your example.

btw, I really like your Concept Sheets, especially the idea of covering the squares with Post-Its. Better than the old "cheat sheets" that we used to make and that looked like a whole telephone book crammed onto a single page.  The Post-Its reduce the visual distraction of the rest of the material.  Well done.
(Meant to mention that in my first post.)