October Update

Bought a standard poodle puppy.  Bringing him home October 5, so October will be full of housebreaking, and FUN.

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Entries in AP Biology (3)

Thursday
Jan272011

Good News: AP Biology Is Changing, Part Three

In my last two posts, I described some advantages and disadvantages of the AP Biology course as it was when I taught it.  Now The New York Times reports that The College Board will rid AP Biology of its impossible quantity of reading and memorizing.  Instead, the course will require higher level thinking skills in both its factual and laboratory components.

         The new AP Biology will require students to consider broad ideas, such as:

   1) Evolution is responsible for the unity and diversity of life. 

   2) All living things—from microscopic, single-celled organisms to large animals, fungi, and plants—are systematic in the following ways:

      a. They use energy and molecular building blocks to grow.

      b. They respond to needed information.

      c. They interact in complex ways.

         This new course design allows teachers to pick and choose among the hundreds of pages of a biology book.  Any number of topics within that book can demonstrate the same broad ideas.  At the same time, students will have to think deeply to come up with the generalizations leading to and from these broad ideas.  And the AP Biology final exam will no longer be a matter of strict memorization with a few essay questions.  Instead, it will require deeply thoughtful experience in the course and deeply thoughtful answers to exam questions.

         In addition, the new AP Biology will assign labs so that students can form their own hypotheses and design their own laboratory experiments to try to support these hypotheses.  For instance: what factors control photosynthesis? 

         One of the worst faults of the AP Biology course when I was teaching it was lack of time to revise an experiment when the hypothesis was disproved.  But in the newly designed course, with a lighter reading burden, there will be sufficient time for students to reinvestigate lab results: If a hypothesis is disproved, a different hypothesis and experiment may be enlightening.  If a hypothesis is supported, the result might lead to a new, more detailed experiment.  In other words, students will be learning and practicing real science.

         And notice that the result is higher level thinking throughout.  My only regret is that I am no longer teaching high school.  I would love to teach the new AP Biology!



Friday
Jan212011

Good News: AP Biology Is Changing, Part Two

In my last post (Jan 18), I described the AP Biology course, a freshman college biology course for high school students.  I said that doing well in AP Biology could allow a person arrive at college with some credits already finished.  But I also mentioned some major disadvantages of the course.

         A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times reported that The College Board, which owns and administers AP Biology, is revising the AP Biology course to eliminate faults and add advantages.  AP Biology will become a much better educational experience.  And it will will help to correct America’s crummy showing in international school math and science competitions.

         One of America’s key failings in such competitions is that, except for the cream of the crop, American students can’t solve higher level problems, what we used to refer to as “word problems.”  With its emphasis on rote memorization of facts and pre-designed labs with pre-assigned hypotheses, AP Biology contributed to this weakness among American students.

         The College Board will test the revised AP Biology course in a few schools next academic year and launch it the following year.  This revised AP Biology will dump the tons of reading and cramming and testing.  But it will require higher order thinking and problem solving.  How will this happen?  Stay tuned!



Tuesday
Jan182011

Good News: AP Biology Is Changing, Part One

Advanced Placement Biology is a beginning college biology course for high school juniors and seniors.  The AP Biology course actually belongs to The College Board (Educational Testing Service); that’s the outfit that also owns the SAT, the GRE, and various other qualifying exams used in higher education.

         The College Board outlines the AP Biology course so that high school teachers can teach it.  The College Board also writes, administers, and grades the final exam.  Many colleges and universities will give entering freshmen college credit for taking AP Biology if they get a high enough grade on the final.

         For years, I taught AP Biology at Tinley Park High School in Illinois District 228.  It was an exciting and rewarding experience.  Since there were four high schools in District 228, and since the AP Biology class lasted two hours, we started every morning at 7:00 AM so that students could get back to their home high schools without missing too much of the day.  Getting to know and work with students from a variety of schools was great for me, the teacher, and for all the students.

         But there were also problems.  The amount of material we had to cover each year was overwhelming.  I was always looking for a textbook that could lop off 300-400 pages without dumbing down.  The course called for a lot of rote memorization, yet we had to cover whole chapters in three days, leading to 3 exams every two weeks, nearly impossible for even the most dedicated students if they were also going learn anything in their other courses. 

         We also had to cover 12 required labs throughout the year.  These were fun, but the hypotheses were built in and so called for little independent thought.  There was never any time to go back and reexamine or redesign the lab if a hypothesis was disproved.  There was never time to learn from a disproved hypothesis as scientists actually do. 

         But stay tuned: Now there is good news about AP Biology.