AP Biology Course Evolves
Last year there were many rumors circulating the school concerning the Advanced Placement (AP) Biology class. People were saying that the class would get harder because it was not so difficult; others said that the class would focus more on plants than animals; there would be no dissection lab; and that Honors Biology II was more difficult than the AP class, thus changes would be made. However, the AP Biology teachers, Dr. Beth Kunze and Mrs. Susan Sokolowsky, both said that they had not heard any of these rumors; they were quite surprised by them, in fact. Both teachers were interviewed to set the record straight once and for all.
Starting this year, the class will be less teacher-directed and more student-directed. Meaning, Dr. Kunze and Mrs. Sokolowsky will be taking a step back to allow the students to lead the experiments and observations themselves. Last year, the teachers gave the students the data charts, lab objectives and questions; this year, the students will have to create it themselves. This change is not brought on because the course was seen as easy, as the rumors told, but rather by the College Board, which controls and sets the standards for all AP classes across the nation. So this change is not just happening at East, but to all AP Biology classes in America; AP Chemistry will become more student-directed next year and AP Physics so the following year after that.
The change, in the first place, is happening because there were so many scientific advances and discoveries that it was difficult to keep up with the present times whilst teaching the course. Dr. Kunze said, “They wanted to balance it, so not feeling you have to have so much content coverage but more, what they are calling, ‘enduring conceptual understanding’.” Thanks to that, the course will focus less on factual recall and memorization. To Mrs. Sokolowsky, there will be less stress of having to cover everything in time for the AP exam, which is taken in early May.
The course, with this change, will also become more simplified. Mrs. Sokolowsky said, “They are trying to reduce the breadth of the course, and focus it in more depth on certain content areas. The new curriculum framework is focused on four big ideas, and you’re supposed to only include the concepts that support those four big ideas. There is some material that won’t be covered, like some of the plant and animal physiology, and we won’t go over the digestive system or the respiration system.” Last year, there were eight themes that the course focused on; the four big ideas are unity and diversity through evolution, use of matter and energy through life, storage and transmission of information (genetics), and interactions.
AP Biology classes will be performing new labs. The previous labs were called the “Dirty Dozen”; now there are thirteen investigations, eight of which are required by the College Board to be performed in the course of the year. There will also be more time to perform the labs, which may take up four or more periods, unlike those last year which took only two to three periods. Mrs. Sokolowsky said they are more adaptable. And for those wondering about the dissection: dissection of a pig fetus or cow eye was not part of the curriculum in the past years. Though it is not one of the thirteen investigations in this year’s curriculum, Mrs. Sokolowsky said there is a possibility the classes may still dissect something.
The changes made are to help the students taking the course master the seven science practices. Dr. Kunze said it should prepare students for college by getting the skills for reasoning and inquiry. College Board is pushing for the AP courses to be inquiry based. Mrs. Sokolowsky said that based on the present standards, which are called the Next Generation Standards, there is a push for science practices and inquiry learning across the country in both high schools and universities, which slowly began in the seventies.
Both Dr. Kunze and Mrs. Sokolowsky are both excited for this evolution of the AP Biology course. Dr. Kunze finds it to be a good change, whilst Mrs. Sokolowsky finds it exciting but also daunting. In the coming days, students will be introduced to the new curriculum and will find it quite different from those rumors they heard last year.