February 4, 2011

Modified AP curriculum meshes with AP 5 Bio sequence

The Advanced Placement (AP) Biology curriculum is shifting from memorization to more inquiry-based learning in order to better prepare students for modern science, which the University biology division expects will better coincide with the goals of the AP 5 Biology sequence.

Currently, students entering the University with a 5 on the AP Biology exam can take an accelerated three-quarter sequence that assumes students have solid understanding of basic concepts and know how to approach more challenging inquiry-based work.

The University’s biology department believes the changes will better prepare students for the AP 5 sequence, according to Master of the Biological Sciences Collegiate Division José Quintáns. “Those changes are going to very helpful and increase the number of students excited by biology by doing away with memorization,” he said. “Science should be exciting and hands-on, not painful.”

Professor Rosemary Zaragoza, who is teaching the AP 5 Bio sequence this year, found some incoming students overwhelmed by the pace. “We go through the fundamentals quickly and then focus on one particular area,” she said.

She has also found some students unprepared for the lab work required in the sequence. “I had a handful of students who’d never touched [a pipette, an instrument for dropping liquids] before,” she said. The changes to the AP curriculum will allow high school teachers to focus on broader concepts and let students have more of a role in designing experiments, according to AP Communications Director Jennifer Topiel.

“Based on colleges’ recent review of the revised AP Biology curriculum, the [new] course [will prepare] students to develop inquiry-based strategies, to engage in key science practices, and to apply quantitative skills as they interpret the results of their explorations,” she wrote in an e-mail.

The new curricula and tests are developed in consultation with committees of college professors and AP teachers across the country, said Topiel.

First-year Azfar Basunia explained that his high school AP biology course included only generic experiments, while the college AP sequence asked him to adapt experimental procedure. “Putting people in the mindset of creativity will be tremendously helpful [when they take the AP 5 Bio sequence],” he said.

Still, fourth-year biology major Justin Demmerle believes the AP course should continue to include memorization, and balance that with a focus on broader concepts. Demmerle himself did not take AP Bio, but said he was not at a disadvantage in the AP 5 Bio sequence because it relied on different skills than the high school course.

According to Topiel, educators are looking forward to the changes. “The general public has not seen the changes, but we’ve had the opportunity to share the proposed changes with a large segment of AP biology teachers and college and university biology educators, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.”

But biology professors will have to wait to see the critical thinkers of the new AP Bio course in their courses. While the changes were announced this year, it will take time for high school teachers to change their curricula, and the new tests will not be given until May 2013.