Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Standard Set #3: AP Biology Units 3 and 4

Two more units worth of AP Bio standards today. Unit 3 covers energy transformations, starting with basic energetics and enzymes. Energy capturing (photosynthesis) and energy releasing (cellular respiration) pathways are also covered. For the organismal aspects, the animal digestive system is covered, as well as some basics of animal nutrition. In the past, we had covered plant nutrition as well, but with the new curriculum guidelines from the College Board we removed most of that, and rolled it in to other plant information.

I was able to pare the animal digestive system and nutrition down to one standard, since these topics were not stressed in the College Board curriculum framework. However, these standards may be expanded in the future. When I shared these standards with the other AP Biology teacher, she felt as though there should be more specific standards for the different pathways (glycolysis, fermentation, Calvin cycle, etc.) Also, I am not sure that something as important as the digestive system can be adequately covered with a single standard. I will have to look more closely at the curriculum framework before making a decision about it.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Standard Set #3: AP Biology Unit 2 and Reworked Science Practices

Today I have two sets of standards to post: Unit 2 of my AP Biology Class and a reworked Science Practices standard set.

Unit 2 of AP Biology covers transport, beginning with the cellular and molecular details of diffusion, moving into cellular membrane structure, and how that structure regulates what enters and exits the cell. These principles are then applied to organismal processes such as the excretory and circulatory systems. Writing these standards made me realize that what had been a fairly large unit in terms of class time was able to be distilled down to a handful of standards.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Standard Set #2: AP Biology Unit 1

Continuing with my posts of my standards I hope to implement next year in my AP Biology class.

This set of standards apply to the first unit of my AP Biology course. The first unit covers review material that students should have been exposed to in previous classes, such as basic characteristics of living things and chemistry. I did not include any chemistry standards because I feel that this is such a small piece of the overall course that they did not need to be given their own entries. Also, much of the chemistry knowledge that AP Biology requires can be assessed at other points in the course when students are required to apply that knowledge (photosynthesis/respiration reactions, enzyme activity, etc) or are picked up by other standards within this unit (water properties, hydrolysis/dehydration, etc).

This is the first set of standards that I wrote completely myself. The writing was fairly quick, which surprised me. It was also interesting to see what had been previously seven chapters in a textbook reduced to 10 entries in a spreadsheet. But this forced me to sit down and really think about what I expected the students to know or be able to do by the end of the unit. That may be one of the "hidden" bonuses of standard based grading, that it forces teachers to really think about what they need from students, and not focus on the minutia.

Please feel free to use these standards as is, download them and edit them, whatever. Again, the formatting is to make them easy to upload into BlueHarvest.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Standard Set #1: AP Biology Science Practices

The first set of standards I will be using in my AP Biology class next year can be found here. This set covers science practices and comes directly from the College Board course description. Along with the four Big Ideas, there were also seven Science Practices that students should be familiar with after completing the class. The standards numbered x.0 will most likely not be assessed, as they are the main headings for each of the standards underneath.

Overall, I think these standards will be fairly easy to assess, as they will work for multiple labs, and can also be assessed via written or mathematical responses.

The standards are formatted for easy import into Blue Harvest, which is the standards based grading system I will be using next year. I will post more about that as I begin to use it. If you want to use them in Blue Harvest, download them as a comma separated values (.csv) file. This can then be uploaded into Blue Harvest via bulk uploader on the add/modify standards screen. The period in the standard name ( ex APSci2.3) seems to disappear, but can be added back one by one in Blue Harvest.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Course Overview

Before I start describing my standards writing process and posting the standards themselves, I thought that I should give some insight into my course setup. The College Board published a new course outline last year, which separated the content into four “Big Ideas”: Evolution, Cellular Processes, Genetics and Information Transfer, and Interactions. While these big ideas work well for helping students organize their thoughts about the class, and to see connections across multiple areas, I do not think they work well as a framework for actually moving through the content.

A few years ago I sat down to rework the order I presented the material. I identified 8 major units in the course, each trying to follow the general format of introducing the cellular or molecular aspects of a topic, and then expanding on that and introducing how these processes work in context of complete organisms.

So here are the units I use; I will be posting my standards for each unit, plus the basic Science Process Standards from the College Board, over the next few weeks.

Unit 1: Cells and Molecules
Unit 2: Transport (Membranes, diffusion/osmosis, plant transport, animal circulation)
Unit 3: Energy (Energy basics, enzymes, photosynthesis, cellular respiration, animal nutrition and digestion)
Unit 4: Communication (Cellular basis of communication, hormones (animals and plants), immune system, nervous system)
Unit 5: Reproduction and Development (Mitosis, meiosis, animal reproduction, plant reproduction, animal development)
Unit 6: Genetics (Mendelian genetics, molecular genetics, biotechnology)
Unit 7: Evolution and Diversity
Unit 8: Ecology

Friday, May 24, 2013

Why SBG?

As I reflected upon this past year's AP Biology class, I decided that I wanted(needed) to make some changes in how I run the class. Maybe some drastic changes. I was very unhappy with the preoccupation my students had with their grades. Almost every time an assignment was given, students would ask "Is this going to be graded?" My response was usually along the lines of "Will my answer change the amount of work you put in? And if your answer to that is yes, should it be?"

I was also often asked the question “What can I/my child do to improve my test grades?” I felt as though students did not know what areas they needed to concentrate on the most in order to improve. And more importantly, students never worried about their learning, just how to increase their grade. So the question is: Do my grades actually reflect student learning, or are they measuring something else? How can I fix this situation so that learning is more important than a number on a test/quiz/lab/report card? And since I am required to have grades for my students, how can I be sure that learning is actually what is being measured by my grades?

All of these thought processes led me to Standards Based Grading. I am not going to go into the finer points of SBG philosophy, others have done that much more eloquently than I could (Word doc). This blog is meant to simply be a way for me to keep track of my thoughts, and maybe help some others out in moving towards SBG. Next post, I will begin sharing my standards writing procedure for my AP Biology class.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


Why am I doing this?

When I decided to give Standards Based Grading a try in my AP Biology class, I thought that it would be good for me to record my thoughts and experiences as I go through it. So here we are. In the next few days/weeks, I will be posting my initial thoughts about preparing for SBG, my plan for integrating it into the points based system used at my school, and my standards writing experiences. I will make my AP Biology standards available here as I finish each unit. If anyone decides to use them, please let me know and if you have any feedback or suggestions for improvement, please let me know as well.

Next post I will outline what led me to the decision to implement SBG and some of the initial processes that went into planning for next year.