11 things every AP Science Teacher should know

There really is no end to the conversations we can have about effectively teaching Advanced Placement © Science classes. This is list is not intended to be the end of the dialogue. Quite the contrary, I am getting my thoughts on paper so we have a shared understanding of what effective science education looks like. These are my ideas, most of which were stolen from teachers I admire and learned from. I would love to see this list expand. Perhaps by August 2011, we will have a collaborative page of 100 things AP Science teachers should know.

Number 1: My sole reason for is existing is to help you become a better teacher and help you engage your students so they have a better understanding of science. If you are struggling with the curriculum, I will help you work around the rough spots. If you’re a good teacher, I want to help you become a great teacher. If you’re a great teacher, I want to help you be one of the best teachers on the planet.

Number 2:
As you plan each unit, or each learning cycle, or each daily lesson, I want you to keep two guiding questions in mind. Regardless of your learning objectives, consider these questions, “What do I want my students to know?” and, “What do I want my students to be able to do?” These questions should guide our actions in the classroom.

Number 3: Science education should be a progression. Concepts and skills students learn early should be easier and less complex than the concepts and skills they acquire later in the year. Further, the concepts they learn early should support the concepts they learn later while the concepts they learn later should reinforce the concepts they learned earlier. This is the essence of a Learning Cycle. The goal is for students to gain understanding of the subject they are learning.

Number 4: Teaching is a social endeavor. We must acknowledge students’ preconceptions and misconceptions, and we have to acknowledge the realities of being a teenager in the 21st century. These are not limits on what we can do in the classroom, but by understanding where our students are coming from, we can more easily get them where we want them to go.

Number 5: Own the culture of your classroom! Teach bell to bell and engage your students in the learning. You should be pushing and stretching your kids. Yes, they will be working hard, and they should be rewarded for their efforts. As the old saying goes, “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.” Be great; and never let obstacles derail you. Find a work around to a problem. Reach out to your Lead Teacher or reach out to me. We are in this together.

Number 6: Bring AP style questions and especially real Free Response Questions (FRQ) into your classroom. Answering these questions is a learned skill. It requires familiarity and practice. Avoiding AP level questions until the end of the year is a disservice to your students.

Number 7: “3 plus or minus 2”. This is a saying from a good friend of mine who was the leading paddling instructor in the nation back in the 90s. It means on a given day, you can teach somebody three new skills. When conditions are excellent, you can teach them five things. On the worst days, you may only teach them one skill. This has applications in the classroom and the laboratory as well. If every student in your AP classes learns one new thing everyday, you are doing well. If each of your students learns 3 new things every day; then rock on with your bad self. If you can teach every student five new things, call me immediately, I want to hear about it.

Number 8: AP Science is a marathon, not a sprint. Even if you hit the wall, you will finish, and you will be praised.

Number 9:
I want all science teachers (regardless of what they teach) to be Consciously Competent. To be Consciously Competent requires three things: you know what you’re doing, you know why you’re doing it, and you focus on doing it…not talking about it.

Number 10: The teaching trinity: Ideal science teachers in the 21st century have command of their content, they know the appropriate pedagogical approaches, and they employ appropriate technology to engage their students and teach their lessons. Let me know how I can help you with any of these three areas. This trinity model is quite fluid (e.g. some days technology takes center stage, other days are more content driven), and we can all improve in each of these areas.

Number 11: You have the power. Talk is cheap. We can talk about science, and science education, until we’re blue in the face. You can sit through hours of training and professional development. But…you’ve got to implement the things that you learn. You’ve got to implement the best curriculum and the best activities into your classroom. You’ve got to engage your students. In closing, you’ve got the power. Use it well.

9 Responses to 11 things every AP Science Teacher should know

  1. Mendeluz Bautista says:

    Hi, Ryan. I’m Mendy Bautista. I’ve been teaching AP Biology for almost 10 years at an international school in Thailand. I wonder if I can join your network? I won’t deny that I do have a lot of misgivings about the AP Biology Exam – but I have had consistently good results year after year (more than 50% of my students get 5). I’m excited about the new curriculum and eager to learn more from you.

  2. ebonbon says:

    Hi Ryan, my name is Esi. I’m a brand new teacher and I’m teaching AP Bio as well as Bio and Chem. I know – I’m crazy, but I didn’t exactly know what I was getting myself into when I started. Well, I found your blog and it is amazing and really helpful. I was wondering if I could get some of your tests and activities you talk about. I have…no clue what I am doing with my students and we’re only on cells. I’m still trying to figure out teaching in general in terms of what kinds of activities will actually work with them (and it’s not lecture) but I feel like we could catch up.

    Thank you for doing this blog though! It is SO helpful and I will be back soon. 🙂


    • Ryan Reardon says:

      Esi, I’m so sorry I didn’t see this post until tonight (8/19/12)…almost a year too late. I hope you survived last year. I start in a new school tomorrow…and I’ll be updating the AP Bio portion of this blog regularly. Look for links soon.


  3. Cheryl Williams says:

    HI Ryan– I would love to join your network. This is going to be my 9th year teaching AP biology and with the new design in curriculum I would love to hear about your experiences.

    Sincerely, Cheryl Williams

    • Ryan Reardon says:

      Cheyrl: check out jcibapbiology.wordpress.com for updated strategies for obtaining the redesigned curriculum. I’m back in the classroom and treading water, so the new blog is a work in progress.

    • Ryan Reardon says:

      Cheryl: If you haven’t done so, check out jcibapbiology.wordpress.com. You’ll see how I’m diving into the new course. I am feeling my way through it…just like the rest of us.


  4. kathryn Cross says:

    Thank you for this shared information. I am a newbie to AP Bio and I certainly appreciate the warm tips.

    • Ryan Reardon says:

      Kathryn: check out jcibapbiology.wordpress.com to see my latest attempt to engage students in apbiology. I’m running on about two hours of sleep right now…so my thoughts are more than a little scrambled.

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