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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

New AP Biology curriculum emphasizes depth over breadth

Notorious for its 1,000-point labs and nightly 5-hour homework load, AP Biology has long been one of the school’s most challenging classes. This year, however, the College Board has changed the nature of the test to emphasize applying knowledge over rote memorization.

Science teacher Cheryl Lenz, who is teaching two sections of the class this year following the retirement of longtime teacher Bob Kucer, attended the AP Biology Summer Institute at Stanford University to learn about the new program.

Many experienced teachers also attended and provided advice, which Lenz found “very helpful.”

Lenz also “spent a lot of time reading, planning, and watching biology videos” to prepare for her new role as AP Biology instructor.

According to its website, College Board President Gaston Caperton believes that these adaptations will keep the course “fresh and current” and will help students “develop not just a solid knowledge of the facts but also the ability to practice science and think critically about scientific issues.”

This year, Lenz hopes to help her students gain a deeper understanding of biological concepts and help them “connect themes between different aspects of biology.”

The first couple of months of AP Biology have included multiple labs that allow students to collect and evaluate data. Lenz hopes to guide students through science practices such as “questioning, analyzing, and modeling” through these labs.

When senior Kevin Chen initially signed up for the course, he was worried that reading multiple chapters every week would be too heavy of a workload.

“I feel like the new curriculum gives me a more firm grasp on what the textbook is actually talking about because I get so much hands-on experience,” Chen said. “My education is more all-rounded.”

While Kucer’s course was also heavily lab-oriented, this year’s labs will be more inquiry-based.

“We will start with an experiment where the students learn basic lab techniques, and then they will apply it to their own question,” Lenz said.  “I think it will help students engage with the material.”

The new curriculum requires more active involvement on the part of students.

“It’s not enough to just memorize the content; students need to apply it as well,” Lenz added.

Lenz has incorporated some new strategies to achieve this goal, such as modeling and kinesthetic learning, where students build paper macromolecules or illustrate the path of a protein through the endomembrane system in small groups.

The curriculum now focuses on four main ideas: evolution, cellular processes, information and interactions. Only 40 chapters of the textbook will be covered in the new course instead of the previous 55, emphasizing depth instead of breadth.

“The first weeks have been challenging and busy, but good overall,” Lenz added. “I really want students to be involved in the scientific thinking required for the course.” 

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