Summer assignments are a chore. Reading books for school is a chore. Somehow, compared to other summer assignments, Mr. Ising managed to teach us effectively over the summer without making it feel like nearly as much of a chore. I don’t care if it sounds like I was bribed to say this: it was the most enjoyable and productive summer assignment of my entire high school career.
For starters, The Universe Within by Neil Shubin was a really solid book choice as a precursor to AP Bio. It gave a brief history of the universe from a biology-centric standpoint, encapsulating many of the big ideas and re-familiarizing us with the general biology concepts we may have forgotten since freshman year. Switching from historical pop-science accounts to personal anecdotes from the author’s experiences, it was right up the interest alley of many kids who elected to take this class, myself included. Ising assigned us two pages of notes and a creative “product” for each of the 10 chapters, which when split into the different weeks of summer ended up being a light and bearable workload. Instead of due dates for certain assignments, the several “tweet-ups” held on Twitter periodically throughout the summer helped keep everyone that had (or created a Twitter account for this class at the request of Ising) accountable for at least reading the book by certain dates in the summer. The “tweet-ups” were always lively and achieved Ising’s goal of direct communication between teachers and students about the subject matter as well as some friendly debating of our own opinions (climate change was nearly a hot mess).
The variety and open-endedness of the “product” side is what made it the coolest chore. Chapters 2, 6, 8, and 9 familiarized me with the art and method of sketchnoting which has come in handy every single week of AP Bio class this year. No other teacher had shown us how to take notes this way before. Sketchnotes have even bled into other classes for me (I have a particularly boring physics class this year and sketchnoting helps keep me awake). Chapter 8’s Radiolab Dinopocalypse podcast assignment was another highlight. I did not expect to have feelings about dinosaurs in the way that Radiolab made me.
The more challenging assignments were the painting for chapter 5, writing poetry for chapter 3, and either interpreting an already-existing song or writing our own for chapter 7. I’ve always enjoyed art and language arts, but tying science to a brand new art medium (watercolors) and creative writing formats that AP English curriculum doesn’t require you learn how to create yourself were huge steps into foreign territory. They weren’t impossible steps, though. Especially with the guarantee that the only people who had to see these products were myself and the teacher who assigned us these “hippy-dippy” tasks.
Ising said on my grade card for the assignment that AP Bio would probably disappoint me from here on out, but Ising’s teaching methods are reflected in this assignment and have been all the more challenging and engaging throughout the school year. The summer assignment covered basic introductory ideas without unnecessarily quizzing us, and the content of the book continually reappears as applicable to many of the “Big Ideas” covered in the rest of the year so far. I don’t know what more an AP kid could want out of a summer assignment. Ising should keep doing what he’s doing.