Dixon AP Biology Parent's Guide

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A Parent’s Guide to Dixon’s AP Biology

I assume all of you have read the course expectations and other information distributed on the first day of school. Here are some more things that I can tell you so you can know what to expect from the class and how you can help your children.

1. Keep up whatever you are doing. Thank you for sharing your teenagers with me.

2. My goals for the students are to capitalize on their natural intelligence, skills at learning information, and curiosity to help them appreciate the relevance of biology and develop thinking skills and work habits that will help them as students in the college. Oh, and doing well on the AP exam wouldn’t hurt either.

3. When I first started teaching honors and AP level students, I decided to adopt an approach that answered the question: “How do I teach people who are smarter than me, but don’t know as much as I do?” It’s proven to be an interesting approach, and not always true (in either way).

4. Our textbook is written for college students who will be able to delve deeper into the more complicated areas. Look through it, there’s a lot in the book that wasn’t in ours! If reading comprehension is a problem, let me know.

5. Try to get an AP exam review book. They really do help.

6. I encourage all the students to take the AP exam. It will have been a focal point for the course, they will be well prepared and there is no penalty for doing poorly.

7. It is impossible to “cover” the entire book/curriculum in any meaningful way during a senior year course. We will do pretty well by keeping class work focused and doing outside projects.

8. Grading is based on total points: a point on homework is equal in value to a point on a test. However, by the end of the term there will be more points from tests than homework. The students will be able to keep track of their grades with ease.

9. Homework:
• The students will be reading and taking notes.
• They will also use these to create a study guide (and leave their books at home).
• A rule of thumb: If I said they could use the notes on a test, would they feel OK with them or want to add more?

10. In class we emphasize understanding and thinking.
• I ask a lot of questions. I encourage the students to “Dare to be wrong”.
• They ask a lot of questions (perhaps those written for homework). This is how we work on understanding. Everyone’s question is important to everyone else.
• The student questions drive the lecture.
• Students can take notes on the page on which they did the objective. No need for separate HW and class notes sections of their notebooks. It also means they only need to write down what they don’t have and can spend more time thinking/understanding.
• Students really are partners in this class.
• Yeah, I tell a lot of stories. It sets up interest and learning associations. They really are relevant. Well mostly.

11. Unit exams will come at the end of the unit and will usually consist of multiple choice questions and an essay. There will be AP Biology style questions that will require higher thinking. We’ll work on these skills in class. I sometimes give a quiz part way through the unit as a check of understanding and a study motivator. I’ll plan tests well ahead and discuss quiz dates with the students so they are not overloaded. There will be an occasional pop quiz.

12. As the year progresses there will be an increasing concentration on essay writing in a college/AP style. We’ll be working on essay writing skills that are less oriented to MCAS and more to college science class. Sometimes the students will self grade using AP Bio answer keys. It is interesting to hear students say that they wrote a whole page and only got one point. The average grade on an AP Bio Exam essay question is about 3.5 out of 10.

13. Expect one (occasionally two) large projects each term. These will help the students explore biology themes, cover material and continue to work on skills.

14. Typically a term ends up with about 500 points. I try to maintain a balance among assignments and try to keep student grades fair.

15. After ecology we will study: chemistry, cells, biochemistry, cell metabolism, heredity, molecular genetics, continue evolution, and organismal biology. I try to work in current, real world issues such as stem cells and cancer as much as possible.

16. 47 students took the AP bio exam in 2011. We had 24 – 5s, and 14 – 4s. I don’t take credit for this. Success is based on three things: Student effort, student skills, and breakfast. Conversely, I don’t expect to receive the blame when any of those things are lacking.

17. I’m available after school almost every day for extra help. I mean that for you too. As some of you know, senior year can be a bumpy ride at home.

18. On the other hand, around February I’ll be dealing with the other form of Senioritis! This will manifest itself as a general state of giddiness alternating with lethargy, a desire to discuss cartoons of the late 1990s, an obsession with wearing new sweatshirts, and a resistance to doing work. By the way, they still have to do work! (See above).

19. Of course, contact me whenever you have any concerns, problems, information, offers of major pieces of lab equipment or whatever. Email me at James_Dixon@sharon.k12.ma.us