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:
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!