As teachers we can easily get tired of giving PowerPoint Presentations. We feel the pressure to cover content at an ever-increasing pace. This steals the joy of teaching because we are constantly stressing about the fear of low AP scores. As a result, we end up racing through the curriculum and often still get disappointed by lower than hoped for AP scores. Personally I used to have nightmares about the score release day in July! So the question is, if we're stuck in this cycle, why do we continue it year to year? There is a better, more joyful way to learn and increase AP exam scores that will help our own well-being and that of our students.
Let’s start by taking the focus off of AP exam scores for a moment. I think we can all agree that there are higher goals in education, such as cultivating students who are:
Able to contribute new knowledge to humanity
Next, let’s create a plan to create a classroom environment that embraces those values and delivers the curriculum effectively. Let’s elaborate on topics that students are unsure of or are fascinated by. I’ll share my approach to teaching AP Environmental Science for the upcoming school year. Perhaps you’ll find elements of this approach that you can incorporate into your teaching.
Personally, I don’t rely on PowerPoint Presentations or a textbook. In fact, I don’t use a textbook at all anymore. I leave a class set in the room for reference, but for the most part they sit unused all year. Unless there is a special presentation by a guest speaker, the students don’t view PowerPoint Presentations during class anymore either.
Instead, I make the foundation of our class:
Vibrant discussions centered on case studies that include FRQ-style questions
Laboratory investigations, field studies, simulations, and demonstrations selected from the Science Outside Lab Manual (We use 1 - 4 from each unit)
Mr. Smedes or AP Daily videos
AP Classroom Multiple Choice Exams taken online for each of the 9 Units
Everything is carefully chosen to support the AP Environmental Science Curriculum, but it doesn’t feel like it to the students. Instead of fear, students approach the exam with calm confidence. The only test prep we do is the practice exams together during the 2-3 weeks just prior to taking the exam.
Class is more fun for teachers and students when most of the time is allocated to actively participating in discussions or actually doing hands-on activities. I used to be the “Sage on the Stage” and now I’m the “Guide on the Side”. More importantly, this approach is far more effective at developing students who possess the aforementioned characteristics.
This is not the “right” way to teach the course, and our teaching should evolve every year. Yet, for those who are interested, this is my playbook for the 2021-22 academic year, and I hope some teachers benefit from my sharing it. And, for those who are wondering, this year I’m planning on using the following case studies in the following order:
Unit 0: Introduction to Environmental Science
Unit 1: The Living World: Ecosystems
Cicadas, Oysters, Eating at a Different Trophic Level
Unit 2: The Living World: Biodiversity
Unit 3: Population
Wild Turkeys OR North Atlantic Right Whale, The Human Population
Unit 4: Earth Systems and Resources
Earthworms, Earth’s Climate
Unit 5: Land and Water Use
Coast Redwoods, Sustainable Agriculture
Unit 6: Energy Resources and Consumption
Firewood, Nuclear Power, Wind Power
Unit 7: Atmospheric Pollution
Photochemical Smog, Asbestos OR Radon, Brook Trout in the Adirondacks
Unit 8: Aquatic and Terrestrial Pollution
American Alligators, The Great Stink, Solid Waste
Unit 9: Global Change
Stratospheric Ozone Depletion, Climate Change Virtual Escape Adventure, Climate Change, Gray Wolves in Colorado, American Bison