When you think about AP classes most likely you are going to imagine the top academic students enrolled in fast paced, content driven courses. Taught similarly in depth, breadth, and pace as a college course because one of the end goals for many students is to do well on the AP test and earn college credit.
Admittedly I am slightly biased, but would suggest that AP Biology is one of the more difficult AP courses offered based on the level of information required by the curriculum, as well as student feedback at my school. Due to its level of difficulty and mass of content I’ve observed and experienced it instructed in highly lecture based manner. An effective method of giving facts and memorizing metabolic pathways, functions of organelles and other biological facts. For many AP students they thrive in an environment when they are told what the information is and then later have to spew it back in a glob of memorized facts. This is how they have grown up learning and their brains are quite successful at it.
However, a down side to this is that students often don’t develop the thinking or problems solving skills to apply these facts to an unknown situation, question or problem. So, when they are given a problem to solve they are unsure of, they surrender. Instead of being able to use their knowledge to show they know what it means and apply it often there is disconnect between the facts they have memorized and the big picture they apply to.
The college board has recently redesigned the AP Biology curriculum to be much more problems solving based, using the scientific method and biological knowledge to answer questions about the natural world. I appreciate this change and redirection of the curriculum, for the outcomes of the new model are much more important for students than the latter.
It is a continued effort to create question and problems that forces students to practice thinking. Quite often, meeting resistance and having to convince and coax students to keep working and not simple say “I don’t know” and give up. Perseverance is term I’ve recently begun to use often as a teacher, working to teach students perseverance because for many of them they haven’t had to learn that skill from a young age, but will certainly need it in the years to come.
Recently, I proposed to my AP class that for a midterm project the could take the information we have covered in our unit on genetics and turn it into a song and video. Now, this was an incredibly rewarding project 2.5 weeks later, but it surely was an exercise in perseverance. Many hurdles came up along the way. There were troubles writing just the right lyrics, many attempts with several varieties of technology to record vocals and instrumentals all with moderate success and lots of failed attempts (we ended up using iPhones), malfunctioning video equipment, but in the end every thing came together with a product everyone was proud of.
So, in the eyes of some, a less than tradition assessment for an AP class, but I am certain of several things: My students learned, they stuck with it and persevered, and they had fun while doing it.
I can’t think of better outcomes.