|| Excerpts from the AP Biology Teachers' Discussion Group
Question: "Does your school have prerequisites for AP Biology?"
Answer 1: "We are a pre-K through 12 independent, college preparatory school. We teach life sciences in grade 7, introductory physical science (a hands-on, investigative approach) in grade 8, and biology (green version BSCS to nonhonors and blue version BSCS to honors) in grade 9. After that we have three tracks of electives, along which we guide the students. Possibilities exist to switch up or down along the way (tenth through twelfth), depending on inclination and ability. The tenth through twelfth for our best, most scientifically gifted/inclined students would typically be as follows: honors chemistry in grade 10, AP Biology and honors physics (double up on electives) in grade 11, and AP Chemistry and/or AP Physics (independent, no course so far) and/or electronics and atomic physics semester electives in grade 12. It seems to work pretty well."
-- Barbara R. Beitch, Hamden Hall Country Day School, Hamden, Connecticut. 11/6/99
Answer 2: "In our city, we have three major school districts and several smaller ones. Our district requires science I for seventh grade (an integrated approach that combines life science, earth science, and physical science) and science II for eighth grade. For the scientifically advanced students, our district offers science tech for seventh and eighth grades. All our ninth graders, except those who attend the Health Magnet High School, take integrated physics and chemistry, which gives them an overview of both topics. From there, they can choose chemistry, biology, geology, or a combination. We offer Pre-AP™ in chemistry, biology, and physics for the academically inclined students, although there is open enrollment and anyone can enroll in the class. We offer AP in those as well. We also offer a human anatomy and physiology class. We often have students who double up on science courses."
-- Jo Ann Burman, Andress High School, El Paso, Texas. 11/7/99
Answer 3: "We require conceptual physics in the freshman year and chemistry in the sophomore year. Juniors take biology. It is excellent preparation for college work. My kids come back in droves and tell me how well prepared they are in college compared to classmates from other districts. Just today, for example, a sister of a girl I had in AP Biology two years ago told me that her sister just earned the highest mark in the class in her first test in geology at Brown. I think a lot of it has to do with our sequence -- we didn't get this kind of feedback before we used it. Students who take biology in grade 9 usually do not have sufficient backgrounds to understand concepts like photosynthesis, respiration, chemiosmosis, DNA, protein synthesis, etc. They are learning biology in a more superficial way and often don't get to take a more comprehensive course. The important thing about basic physics is not so much how to do complex problems with higher math as it is to understand the fundamental laws of the universe and how it works, how to measure, and what an experiment really is. These things are covered in a good conceptual physics class."
-- Bruce Faitsch, Guilford High School, Guilford, Connecticut. 11/8/99
Answer 4: "I agree that chemistry is an absolutely essential (prerequisite) to the understanding. I have had many students over the years take AP Biology without first having chemistry. I can get them through the class, but the first six weeks are torture to them. I had one student ask why biology students had to know chemistry but chemistry students didn't have to know biology to be successful. The answer, of course, is that chemistry occurs in the absence of life, but life does not occur in the absence of chemistry. Invariably, students who don't have chemistry before they take my course are convinced of its necessity and take it the next year. You cannot take biochemistry out of an advanced biology course."
-- Jo Ann Burman, Andress High School, El Paso, Texas. 5/28/99
Answer 5: "Biology is a prerequisite for my AP Biology course. One year I had a senior ask to take the class... this was his first science class but he had taken every math class plus AP Calculus and all the math courses at the local junior college. Hesitantly I allowed him to take the course, and of course he proved me wrong. He not only whacked out my grading scale, but also scored a 5 on the exam, and said it wasn't that hard! He is now a senior at the Air Force Academy. At times prerequisites are a crapshoot. I've always thought chemistry is vital as a prerequisite to AP Biology, but during the last few years I've found this not to be true at my school. If the students are motivated, they will be successful."
-- Dale Morejon, Gilroy High School, Gilroy, California. 4/4/00
Answer 6: "Our prerequisites are 88 percent or higher in honors biology and honors chemistry. If a student doesn't have these, they must get teacher approval (rare)."
-- Rob Ceglie, Xaverian Brothers High School, Westwood, Massachusetts. 1/13/01
Answer 7: "Students at the Heights have to have taken biology and be taking (or have taken) chemistry. They also need their science teacher's recommendation. They are required to take the exam in Palm Beach County and the school system pays for the exams. But the standards vary from school to school. I encourage students to take the course that has been successful (A-B) in my honors biology. Regular biology doesn't prepare them adequately. A very few of my students probably could have skipped honors biology, but that would be maybe two students in eight years. They would not have earned a 5. I think their scores are higher chiefly because of the two years that they are my students. My passing rate is greater than 90 percent, which I think is good. I don't usually concern myself with what they do in subjects other than science. Science writing (the free-response questions) is unlike what they do in the language arts."
-- Kane Moore, Olympic Heights High School, Boca Raton, Florida.1/14/01
Answer 8: "Is there any way to write a proposal for a new class? (In all of that extra time you have, of course!) I have 4 x 4 block, and AP is in the second semester; it is impossible to cover everything before the exam. However, I now require all AP students to take biochemistry, where I cover all of the molecules, cells, viruses, molecular genetics, and some heredity. It eases the load for second semester and I've skated around the administration -- which allows AP Biology to run for only one semester (AP Calculus and AP English run a full year."
-- Kim Armitage, Vicksburg High, Vicksburg, Michigan. 1/15/01
Question: "Should AP Biology students take chemistry before their AP class? This question may have been asked before -- but I will be teaching AP Biology for the first time, and have heard different viewpoints. Any thoughts? I would appreciate your candor."
Answer 1: "I am probably in the minority -- but I don't think chemistry is a necessary prerequisite. This depends on what is covered in general biology. The actually chemistry in AP Biology is not that hard -- a general understandings of redox, enzymes, and dehydration synthesis/ hydrolysis -- covers most of the reactions -- chemistry of water, bonding, hydrophobic/hydrophilic forces, polar/nonpolar, endo/exo reactions are pretty conceptual and don't really take that much time. Structures of organic molecules, i.e., carbohydrates, lipids, etc. are also pretty straight forward."
-- Heda O'Brien, The Bullis School, Potomac, Maryland. 4/21/01
Answer 2: "I have found that the students who don't have chemistry before they enroll in AP Biology have a much more difficult time with the course than the students who have taken chemistry. I can get students through the course with or without the chemistry, but it is much more difficult for me and for the students. I had a student ask me why chemistry was required for AP Biology but biology was not required for AP Chemistry. The answer, of course, is that chemical reactions can occur in the absence of life but life cannot occur in the absence of chemistry. I am very much in favor of the chemistry prerequisite, I just wish that I could get our counselors to read the prerequisites in the course guide before placing students into the class!"
-- Jo Ann Burman, Andress High School, El Paso, Texas. 4/21/01
Answer 3: "I require chemistry as a prerequisite simply because, if students can make it through chemistry and earn a decent grade, then they have probably learned some very valuable thinking skills and problem-solving skills, as well as having some discipline drilled into them because of the rigors of our chemistry labs. The kids need these types of attitudes and attributes to make it through a tough course like AP Biology where they are required to take on much of the responsibility themselves. Besides, starting next year, I will be teaching all of the chemistry classes. What a great way to recruit!! Probably what I will end up doing is this: Pushing the ninth graders in biology honors that do well into chemistry honors as tenth graders, then having them take AP Biology as eleventh graders (they will have already had their prerequisites), and then possibly offering the AP Chemistry within the next couple of years to those who have taken the first year of chemistry. That way if they wanted to, they could switch the AP classes, i.e., AP Biology as juniors and AP Chemistry as seniors, or the other way around."
-- Mike Pilliod, Middleburg High School, Middleburg, Florida. 4/21/01
Answer 4: "Yes, this question keeps coming up on a regular basis. I taught AP Biology without introductory chemistry as a prerequisite for 20 years with success. It can be done. Heda O'Brien's answer was excellent. How many of those topics are found in your typical inorganic high school chemistry courses? How many redox or stoichiometric problems do we do in AP Biology? You can use introductory chemistry as a 'weeder' course if you are into limiting students instead of welcoming as many kids as possible."
-- Fred Brown, William Hall High School, retired, West Hartford, Connecticut. 4/22/01
Answer 5: "I think the students should have chemistry first. Aside from the information learned in chemistry, AP lab activities are more like chemistry than biology labs. So chemistry experience is helpful for learning to observe, set up, measure, and test."
-- Joan Kiely, SUNY, Stony Brook, New York. 4/22/01
Answer 6: "...My feelings are that chemistry does in fact act as a filter and it makes the teaching of AP a bit easier -- even if the chemistry within AP is not that difficult. It appears to allow the students to understand complex chemical pathways and their connection to biology -- particularly in photosynthesis and respiration, muscle contraction/conducting of nerve impulses, etc. Although not necessary for success on the exam, I think that chemistry prior to AP gives most kids an 'edge' in terms of the exam and AP. Plus, if the chemistry instruction is good, it saves a little time in AP."
-- Michelle Harman, Northern High School, Accident, Maryland. 4/23/01
Question: "I am interested in finding out what summer assignments people give to their rising AP Biology students. Last year, I gave a summer assignment that was more reflective and introspective. Although I liked this assignment, I feel I have to move away from it because of the amount of information to be learned during the year. With the next group of students, I would like to have my students do some work over the summer that I can then skip or skim over during the year. I would love any suggestions that you have."
Answer 1: "I usually ask my students to read the 'ecology' section of their text (Starr and Taggart) and then we discuss and do the AP DO Lab #12 soon after school starts. (It is the best time for good results with real pond water.) My kids have a strong ecology background because we use the BSCS Green version as our freshmen biology text, thus this reading is not too much for them. It makes life in April and May much more relaxed, and I find they cannot read and comprehend the chemistry stuff on their own."
-- Anne Soos, Stuart Country Day School, Princeton, New Jersey. 5/21/01
Answer 2: "I give my students a summer assignment consisting of a review of the kingdoms of life and their characteristics, a review of basic inorganic chemistry (properties of water, etc.), and a set of science roots, prefixes, and suffixes to prepare them for the year. It shaves several weeks off of my teaching time."
-- Mary Beth Bauer, Ingram Tom Moore High School, Ingram, Texas. 5/22/01
Answer 3: "After many years of assigning summer readings and a few textbook chapters to stay ahead of the game a little, I have to disagree with the comment about summer being for the kids. After surveying my students for three years, I have 100 percent support from students to continue requiring two books and six chapters. My students enjoy reading the assignments and the start of the school year is more focused, and it sets the school year. Besides, as many students have confessed, summer can be boring. Most prefer a little academic structure. AND they don't have to study all summer, and there is plenty of time for other things. Let's be serious. The bottom line: If you want to assign summer activities, do it!"
-- Steve Sample, York Community High School, Elmhurst, Illinois. 5/22/01
Answer 4: "I also am in support of some summer assignments, however, I do not simply want to assign material out of Campbell. So I have assigned Kenneth Miller's Finding Darwin's God, which deals with some difficult science issues and evolution. I have used The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner, The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, One Long Argument by Ernst Mayr, and This is Biology by Ernst Mayr in the past but really found them not as suitable, so I am sticking with Miller's book. I do, however, have the students in my classes read The Beak of the Finch during the fall semester. Although it is hard, I also feel that I more than cover the material for the exam. As for the recent AP Exam, I was very pleased. The essays were fair and balanced and gave my 57 test-takers the option to shine. I just hope that they also did well on the multiple-choice part, too. Like so many things, time will tell."
-- Bruce A. Steggert, Gonzaga College High School, Washington, D.C. 5/22/01
Answer 5: "I have come to the conclusion that the 'success' (for lack of a better term) of a summer assignment depends on your school and your kids. I gave a summer assignment three years in a row. Did it do the job? Yes.... BUT, our students also have a very hefty summer reading list for English honors and AP. They are required to keep a journal, etc. To lighten their load over the summer, I did not assign summer work last year. As a change of pace, I designed/modified a project as an independent assignment to cover ecology. I made part of the project due over the course of several months-small increments of work. I did not have to actually teach those chapters. We went over the rough spots together. The kids were happy. I was happy. It worked so well, I am adding another this year. So, can it be a positive to give the summer work? Yes, but...."
-- Ruth Tummey, SRSD, Manahawkin, New Jersey. 5/23/01
Answer 6: "I'm in complete agreement. Students are asking what the summer assignment is going to be. I tell them to get their swimming trunks and meet me at the lake for some 'lake boarding.' I will keep them busy enough during the school year."
-- Dale Morejon, Gilroy High School, Gilroy, California. 5/23/01