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2023-2024 AP Environmental Science Playbook

Updated: Sep 5

Here we are again at the beginning of another exciting school year of teaching AP Environmental Science! Each year we receive several inquiries about our instructional plans for the upcoming school year. We hesitate to be too prescriptive because there are many methods of highly effective instruction, but we are happy to share our recommendations for the year ahead. In particular, we hope that teachers who are newer to the course will benefit from this open discussion that has historically turned out to be our most popular blog post.

The 10 Foundations of our Instruction for the 2023-24 school year:

1. Vibrant discussions centered on case studies that include FRQ-style questions. Each case study is completed in 2 - 3 days. The conversations and some of the work are done in class and some of the reading, math practice, and analysis are done at home so that students are prepared to have thoughtful and robust conversations during our class time together. For tips on how to most effectively use case studies in your classroom, check out the following blog posts:

The Case Study Method of Instruction

How to Use Case Studies

2. Laboratory investigations, field studies, simulations, and demonstrations selected from the Science Outside Lab Manual 3rd Edition (A variety from each unit, we swap a few in and out of each unit each year). We do a lot of investigations and demonstrations. Some of the demonstrations only take 15 minutes to do, while some of the longer investigations take 1 - 2 class periods. After the AP test is over, we will do some more of the lab investigations and field studies we didn’t have time for prior to the exam. We’ll also try out some of the new free labs available on the College Board AP Environmental Science website.

3. Mr. Jordan Dischinger-Smede’s YouTube videos accompanied by Fill in Notes (Fill in Notes for his videos are readily available on the National APES Teachers Facebook Group). We ask students to watch 1 each night for every school day starting during the second week of school. There is one video for every subunit in the curriculum. These are almost always done by our students at home for homework. Alternatively, some teachers prefer to use the AP Daily Videos on the College Board website or Tony Villareal’s Video Series, which is also aligned with the AP Environmental Science CED and organized by unit and topic. Personally, we pick and choose videos from each of these sources.

4. Science Outside’s Climate Change Virtual Escape Adventure

5. AP Classroom Multiple Choice Exams are taken online for each of the 9 Units

6. Mr. Dischinger-Smedes AP Environmental Science Ultimate Review Packets (available on his YouTube Channel) and Paul Andersen’s Bozeman Science AP Environmental Science Videos.

7. 2 - 3 Practice Exams available on the College Board’s AP Environmental Science website

8. We recommend that all AP Environmental Science Teachers join the National APES Teachers Facebook Group. It’s the largest professional learning community (PLC) for teachers of the course, and it’s a great place to ask questions and access resources. Via the comments to posts, you’ll be able to interact with James J. Lehner, Kristin Shapiro, Jordan Smedes, Matt Wells, Kati Morris, and other well-known APES teachers who often share great advice based upon their vast experience with the course.

9. As a professional AP Environmental Science teacher, we also recommend reading Kristin Shapiro’s monthly APES Newsletters. You can find them at the following link: They are full of helpful tips and insights to the course and a great place to check your pacing and get new ideas.

10. And, of course, if you have the opportunity to attend an AP Summer Institute, we highly recommend it. You’ll meet lots of professional colleagues and learn tons about the course you teach.

Our instructional methods continually evolve, and so does our playbook. Yet, for those who are interested, this is our playbook for the 2023-24 academic year, and we hope some teachers, especially those newer to the course, benefit from our sharing it. And, for those who desire us to be even more prescriptive, we are happy to share again the specific case studies we intend to use in the following order (though we always reserve the right to mix and match to keep things exciting, differentiate our classes, and to adjust to specific student’s needs):

Unit 0: Introduction to Environmental Science

Environmental Science Safety Contract

Reading: Thinking Like A Mountain by Aldo Leopold

Investigations: Life in a Drop of Pond Water, Dollar Voting

Unit 1: The Living World: Ecosystems

Case Studies (Choose 2): Sea Otters (definitely) plus one of the following: American Bison, Cicadas, Oysters, Eating at a Different Trophic Level (Free on the Science Outside website)

Demonstrations: Convection Currents, Dorito Calorimetry, Photosynthesis

Investigations: Local Tree and/or Plant Identification, Carbon Cycle, Nitrogen Cycle, GPP, Respiration, and NPP

Unit 2: The Living World: Biodiversity

Case Studies (Choose 1 - 2 of the following): Beavers, Moose, Benthic Macroinvertebrates, Bighorn Sheep, Pronghorn, or Ruffed Grouse

Investigations: Soil Your Undies, Island Biogeography, Benthic Macroinvertebrate Diversity and Water Quality, Natural Selection

Unit 3: Population

Case Studies (Choose 2): Mule Deer, Wild Turkeys, or Canada Goose plus The Human Population (definitely)

Investigations: Predator/Prey, Quadrat Sampling, Estimating Population Size Using the Lincoln Index, Cemetery Survivorship Analysis, Exploring the Demographic Transition Model with Gapminder, GDP and Human Demographics

Unit 4: Earth Systems and Resources

Case Studies (We recommend doing both of these): Earthworms, Earth’s Climate

Demonstration: Convection Current

Investigations: Geologic Time Scale, Plate Tectonics, Soil Particle Composition, Soil Properties and Macronutrients, Global Wind Pattern, Angle of Solar Incidence, Earth’s Seasons, Specific Heat of Soil vs. Water

Unit 5: Land and Water Use

Case Studies (Choose 1 - 2): Coast Redwoods, Sustainable Agriculture

Investigations: Tragedy of the Commons?, How Much Space is Required to Feed You?, Root Length in Grasses, Virtual Mining, Copper Extraction, Ecological Footprint

Unit 6: Energy Resources and Consumption

Case Studies (Choose 2): Firewood, Hydroelectric Power, Nuclear Power, or Wind Power PLUS Electric Vehicles (definitely)

Classroom Model: Pumped Hydro Energy Storage (PHES)

Investigations: The Energy Project, Formulate a research question that explores how a person’s income impacts the size of their ecological footprint, Electricity, Build a Simple Electricity Generator, Generating Electricity with Wind, Energy Efficiency, Geothermal Heat Exchange (from AP Classroom), Snap Circuits Green, Energy Audit, How Many Solar Panels, The Global Cooling Problem

Unit 7: Atmospheric Pollution

Case Studies (Choose 2): Photochemical Smog, Asbestos OR Radon, Brook Trout in the Adirondacks

Investigations: Air Pollution Modeling, CO2 Emissions from Transportation, Photochemical Smog, Field Testing for Ground-Level Ozone, Thermal Inversion, Chalk Drawings, Acid Deposition, Formulate a research question on the impact of acid rain on the environment, Noise Pollution

Unit 8: Aquatic and Terrestrial Pollution

Case Studies (Choose 1 - 2 of the following): Plastic Pollution, American Alligators, Bald Eagle, The Great Stink, Solid Waste, Mountain Lions

Demonstration: Desalination

Investigations: Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Cleanup, Fecal Coliform Bacteria, Eutrophication, Bioaccumulation and Biomagnification, Campus Litter Survey, Plastic Footprint Calculator, Design Your Own Water Filter, Water Quality, One in a Million, LD50

April 1st: Sasquatch or another fun case study!

Unit 9: Global Change

Case Studies (Choose 2): Stratospheric Ozone Depletion, Climate Change, Gray Wolves in Colorado, Great Barrier Reef

Investigations: Ozone Depletion Model, Greenhouse Effect PhET, C-ROADS Climate Simulator Activity (free on our homepage), En-ROADS Climate Simulator Activity (free on our homepage), Albedo, The Impact of Melting Ice on Sea Level, Virtual Urchin - Our Acidifying Ocean, Ocean Acidification, Invasive Species

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