The change in the AP Biology curriculum brought fear and trepidation into the hearts of many an AP teacher. Okay, maybe that’s a bit melodramatic, but the truth is, many of us that have been in the trenches a year or two – and probably some newbies as well – have had at least one or two sleepless nights about changes in pacing and shifts in lab methodology.
I would like to share with you the beginning of what I feel sure is going to be a success story. – one that affirms the positiveness of the change to the AP program.
I teach on a true block schedule so I just got my AP kiddos in January. Being the rule follower that I am, I dutifully started our semester with the Wisconsin Fast Plant lab, asking my students to identify one quantifiable trait that we could manipulate to cause a directional shift in the population. (I start with evolution)
That went all fine and well, but what’s cool is what came out of that lab. As my students discussed various traits, they began to develop some independent questions that were – gasp! – testable. Admittedly, I was a little slow on the uptake. I was so focused on the first part of the lab that I ALMOST let those questions drift into cyber-land somewhere. As I was thinking about it one night, it dawned on me – there are our semester research projects!
So, I announced to the class that that’s exactly what we would be doing, and lets go! Do the research, write the procedure, set up the lab……they better get busy. They were excited…..well, until they hit their first road block, which was immediately. Small stall – maybe Mrs. R would forget about this project …. Rats! Procedure due by the end of the week. Okay. Work through problem, do some research, hit the next problem. And it continues……
Honestly, it is a beautiful thing to watch. These kids have taken ownership and are running their own investigations. They’re learning that research is tougher and more time consuming than they thought. They’re worried they might not get good data (which they probably won’t) and then what? They’re losing plants because of poor watering system design, they’re confused on how to mix chemical solutions, they don’t know how long to expose seeds to UV light, they don’t know how to hold temperature constant………well, you get the idea.
And yet, they’re doing it! They’re making their own mistakes, and then figuring out how to fix them. They’re working in teams and participating in a collaborative effort. I essentially sit in the lab with them and watch them work. I don’t know if their data will be good enough to draw valid conclusions, but I DO know the experience is worthwhile and valuable – better than any perfect results from a cookbook lab. I love it!!
Stay tuned……I will report as the semester continues!