AP Bio course expectations

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Dixon's Bio Web

AP Biology

AP Bio Course Expectations

Hillis Website

2012 Cell reproduction Wiki]

2011 Taxonomy Wiki]

2013 Diversity of Life Wiki]


BioBuilding Synthetic Bio Curriculum

Parent's Guide to AP Bio

Anatomy and Physiology

Standard Bio

E-mail me!



Welcome to AP Biology. This is a challenging and fascinating course. We will learn about cells, genetics, evolution, organismal systems, and ecology. We will delve deeper into topics you learned in eleventh grade biology and investigate new topics. We will do this at an advanced pace that will well prepare you for college and to pass “The Exam”.

The AP Biology course description presents the goals of this course as: “The two main goals of AP biology are to help students develop a conceptual framework for modern biology and to help students gain an appreciation of science as a process. The ongoing information explosion in biology makes these goals even more challenging. Primary emphasis in an Advanced Placement course should be on developing an understanding of concepts rather than on memorizing terms and technical details. Essential to this conceptual understanding are the following: a grasp of science as a process rather than as an accumulation of facts; personal experience in scientific inquiry; recognition of unifying themes that integrate the major topics of biology; and application of biological knowledge and critical thinking to environmental and social concerns.”

Our Approach: There is a great deal of material to cover in the AP Biology curriculum, perhaps more than in any other AP course. Despite the rapid pace and demanding workload, we can not cover the entire curriculum in the time we have. You must plan on taking charge of your learning and doing a great deal on your own. If you do this you will not only be successful on the AP exam, but develop skills that will help you in college. Remember that I will always be there to help and support you, but the success you have in this course will be entirely dependent on what you do. I do have some requirements, strategies and suggestions that will help you make the most of the course:

• I am well aware of what you learned in Biology and Chemistry. I will use these and build on these, in some cases refreshing your memories but quickly going further and deeper by making you think more critically about the material. It is important that you examine your notebooks and other materials from these courses. We cannot simply repeat junior bio. If you feel weak in an area that I have only briefly examined, please come and see me for help.

• As in Biology we are taking an approach that integrates ecology, evolution, organismal and cellular physiology, and chemistry. In this way we can see the relationship and relevance of the molecular to the organismal and ecological levels. To quote a student: “We keep going back and forth between molecules and bigger stuff, is that on purpose?” This means we will not be reading the book in order. Your prior knowledge makes this possible and advantageous.

• However, there are differences between this course and Biology. AP Bio puts a greater emphasis on labs (and the classic experiments on which our labs are based), independent learning, and critical thinking.

• The assignments (objectives, essays, labs, projects and exams) are all designed to help you learn independently. They will help you prepare for the exam and for college.

• We will do all the labs in the AP lab manual, as well as some others. This means that labs will account for about 30% of our class time. Many of the labs are new this year and will require you to design experiments. I’m excited about that.

• However, that means lecture time will be limited. While I will present college type lectures, I will also put a great deal of emphasis on discussions and problem solving in class. This will allow you the opportunity to use, think about, and increase understanding of concepts you have read about and taken notes on (objectives) at home as well as remember from previous courses. Do not expect every detail discussed in the book to be discussed in class.

• Do expect that concepts will reoccur during the course. Given their importance, at times it will seem that the course should be called “AP Proteins and Evolution.” That’s not too far off.

• Although we will often discuss the AP Exam, it is not the primary goal of this class. My first goal is to deepen your understanding and appreciation of the concepts and processes of biology. The second goal is to help you develop the skills to do well in college. Although the exam will be a focal point and culminating activity for the course, it is only the third goal.

• Therefore, I do not try to teach to the test. The AP Bio curriculum is so broad that to base this year’s teaching on last year’s exam would be pointless. However, you should expect to see AP style questions as well as actual questions from prior AP courses.

• However, even though I don’t teach to the test, Sharon Students do very well. Last year only 5% of the students nationwide earned a 5. For Sharon it was 25%. Nationally, 21% earned a 4 while Sharon had 38%. Nationally, 37% received a 2 or a 1. We had 6% get a 2 and no one earned a one. I write this not to brag, but earn trust in our system. And to show you that Sharon students are wicked smart!

• I recommend that you purchase and use an AP Biology Study Guide. There are a number available at many bookstores and on-line. The Barron’s book is considered a good one by previous students. Don’t wait until your final AP exam preparation; use the book as we go along. No product endorsement is implied.

• Make use of the internet resources associated with your book. Previous students have found the on-line quizzes and activities very helpful study aids.

• Please check out my web page. You’ll find information about the summer project, power points from last year, and all major projects and resources from last year. I’ll be updating all this as the year goes on, but you may enjoy checking out what we did last year. There’s also a poem based on Rudyard Kipling’s If.

• There is a new AP Biology curriculum this year. I expect there will be some growing pains. However, the new curriculum is not much different than what we have been doing, so I expect we will be fine.

• We will be using a new book this year. It has excellent reviews as an AP Bio text that fits the new curriculum.

• The emphasis of this course is developing sophisticated understanding of the material. Your job is to learn it. My job is to help you have a deeper understanding of the material. To quote a graduate,

I am in a special honors bio class as part of a talent advancement program. Most of my peers also took AP Bio and aced the exam; however, most of them had difficulty with the tests because everything is understanding and logic based. The other students are used to memorization in their AP bio classes. I felt really prepared for the style of teaching and testing because of how much you emphasized that type of learning in our class.(I also got the highest test grade in my class) Thank you!

Teacher Contact:

James Dixon



Web site: http://openwetware.org/wiki/Dixon%27s_Bio_Web (AP Bio link on left side)


Hillis, et. al., Principles of Life (2012)

Other readings will be provided during the course

School-Wide Academic Expectations for Student Performance (emphasized in this course):

Solve problems analytically and critically

Use technology effectively

Behavioral Expectations:

All rules in the SHS Student Handbook will be enforced.

I think it is reasonable for us to have certain expectations for each other. You can expect me to treat you with respect, as individuals, and to not insult your intelligence. I will come to class prepared, return work in a timely fashion and make the subject as interesting as I know how. I will be available almost every afternoon should you have any problems, questions or comments.

I expect you to treat me and each other with respect, to not insult your own intelligence by taking the lazy way out and saying "I can't do this!" without really trying. You should come to class prepared, ready to think, and with an open mind. I expect you to seek me out after school should you be having any difficulties.

It comes down to this: Respect yourself. Respect each other, Respect this place.

Assessment Methodology and Grading Policy: These will be consistent with the school-wide rubrics, as presented in the student handbook.

Grades will be calculated on a Total Point System and therefore these percentages should serve only as approximations.

A. Testing. At the conclusion of each unit, there will be a major unit exam. This exam will be of varied format, multiple choice, matching, short answer, and essay. Smaller quizzes will also be given during the unit. These may be of a surprise nature. I will use as many “AP Style” questions as possible in the construction of these tests and quizzes. Approximately 60-65%

B. Outlines/Objectives. The AP course will require a great deal of reading and independent learning. I expect that all assigned reading will be completed on time and will presume so during each class. In addition, to guide your learning, I have compiled a list of chapter objectives. You will be creating a study guide as you go. Approximately 10-15%.

C. Lab reports, essays and projects. Each unit will involve one or more of the twelve required AP labs. In addition, we will complete other labs selected for the course. In college and in the AP curriculum there is a great emphasis on essay writing. These essays help you learn by forcing you to think deeply and make connections among various parts of the curriculum. In each unit I will assign AP exam essays for you to do. Approximately 20-25% of unit grade.

E. Effort and Participation. You will be expected to take lecture notes, keep a notebook and/or portfolio, participate in class activities and make up all work. Approximately 5% of unit grade.

Note: Due to its abbreviated length and the emphasis on review projects, these percentages do not apply to the fourth term.

The Curriculum:

The new AP Curriculum is built around 4 Big Ideas and a set of Science Practice objectives (included on the next page). More specific Essential Knowledge goals and learning objectives will be presented as the course goes on. However, these can be found as part of the AP Curriculum guide on my web page.

AP Biology Big Ideas

Big Idea 1: The process of evolution drives the diversity and unity of life.

Big Idea 2: Biological systems utilize free energy and molecular building blocks to grow, to reproduce, and to maintain dynamic homeostasis.

Big Idea 3: Living systems store, retrieve, transmit, and respond to information essential to life processes.

Big Idea 4: Biological systems interact, and these systems and their interactions possess complex properties.

Science Practices for AP Biology

A practice is a way to coordinate knowledge and skills in order to accomplish a goal or task. The science practices enable students to establish lines of evidence and use them to develop and refine testable explanations and predictions of natural phenomena. These science practices capture important aspects of the work that scientists engage in, at the level of competence expected of AP Biology students.

Science Practice 1: The student can use representations and models to communicate scientific phenomena and solve scientific problems.

1.1 The student can create representations and models of natural or man-made phenomena and systems in the domain.

1.2 The student can describe representations and models of natural or man-made phenomena and systems in the domain.

1.3 The student can refine representations and models of natural or man-made phenomena and systems in the domain.

1.4 The student can use representations and models to analyze situations or solve problems qualitatively and quantitatively.

1.5 The student can re-express key elements of natural phenomena across multiple representations in the domain.

Science Practice 2: The student can use mathematics appropriately.

2.1 The student can justify the selection of a mathematical routine to solve problems

2.2 The student can apply mathematical routines to quantities that describe natural phenomena.

2.3 The student can estimate numerically quantities that describe natural phenomena.

Science Practice 3: The student can engage in scientific questioning to extend thinking or to guide investigations within the context of the AP course.

3.1 The student can pose scientific questions.

3.2 The student can refine scientific questions.

3.3 The student can evaluate scientific questions.

Science Practice 4: The student can plan and implement data collection strategies appropriate to a particular scientific question.

4.1 The student can justify the selection of the kind of data needed to answer a particular scientific question.

4.2 The student can design a plan for collecting data to answer a particular scientific question.

4.3 The student can collect data to answer a particular scientific question.

4.4 The student can evaluate sources of data to answer a particular scientific question.

Science Practice 5: The student can perform data analysis and evaluation of evidence.

5.1 The student can analyze data to identify patterns or relationships.

5.2 The student can refine observations and measurements based on data analysis.

5.3 The student can evaluate the evidence provided by data sets in relation to a particular scientific question.

Science Practice 6: The student can work with scientific explanations and theories.

6.1 The student can justify claims with evidence.

6.2 The student can construct explanations of phenomena based on evidence produced through scientific practices.

6.3 The student can articulate the reasons that scientific explanations and theories are refined or replaced.

6.4 The student can make claims and predictions about natural phenomena based on scientific theories and models.

6.5 The student can evaluate alternative scientific explanations.

Science Practice 7: The student is able to connect and relate knowledge across various scales, concepts, and representations in and across domains.

7.1 The student can connect phenomena and models across spatial and temporal scales.

7.2 The student can connect concepts in and across domain(s) to generalize or extrapolate in and/or across enduring understandings and/or big ideas.