Beginning in the fall of 2012, the revised Advanced Placement (AP) Biology Course and Exam Description (CED) will serve as the guiding document for developing AP Biology curriculum. The revised AP Biology CED includes the AP Biology Curriculum Framework (CF) as a topical outline highlighting important content needed for building a deep understanding of biology concepts.
At its uppermost level, the AP Biology CF is organized into four major “big ideas.” Concepts relating to the “big ideas” are then organized into “enduring understandings.” Within each “enduring understanding” are statements of “essential knowledge.” At the lowest level, each “big idea” features learning objectives that offer very explicit statements as to what students should be able to do after studying each “big idea.”
The AP Biology CF offers clarity as to what students must know in order to be successful in an AP Biology course and on the AP Biology Exam. However, when considering the level of detail provided by the AP Biology CF it may serve useful to identify underlying trends and themes that are not immediately explicit within the outline. Doing so may help educators as they refine their AP Biology curriculum, helping them make further distinctions between the “need to know” and “nice to know” concepts.
The purpose of this analysis was to discover patterns within each Big Idea as described in the Concept Outline of the AP Biology CF. The importance of any single term or phrase was determined by the frequency in which it appeared in the text. Terms and phrases that appeared the most often were determined to be the most important. This quantitative analysis was intended to establish an objective hierarchy between phrases and terms within the text, based solely on usage frequency. This analysis does not provide a suggested sequence as to the order in which these concepts should be presented.
The text of the AP Biology CF included phrases with similar meanings but non-verbatim structures. An element of subjective judgment was required in order to recognize and combine these similar statements. Parentheses were used to offset words that varied between similar phrases.
Studying the AP Biology CED lexicon is, in itself, an exercise likely to yield benefit. At the very least the reader will become familiar with the wording styles likely to appear in the AP Biology Exam. Emulating the AP Biology CED vernacular in the classroom will help to minimize the chance of students encountering unfamiliar terminology during the AP Biology Exam.
Initially, the text of the AP Biology CF contained words and characters that were part of the original document but not included in the final frequency tables. This text included “artifacts” such as page numbers, bullets, headers, and footers. Punctuation marks were not included in the final analysis nor were any parts of speech, words, or phrases not directly related to science concepts or whose meaning was not obvious when viewed out of context.
Every attempt was made to remove any smaller phrases that were reproduced in longer phrases at the same frequency. For example, the two-word phrase “capture free” occurred 8 times as did the three-word phrase “capture free energy.” It is therefore reasonable to assume that “capture free” and “capture free energy” are not distinct entries but rather “capture free” is always part of the larger phrase “capture free energy”. In comparison, the two-word phrase “feedback mechanisms” occurred 14 times and was included in several three-word phrases such as “negative feedback mechanisms” and “positive feedback mechanisms.” Therefore, the two-word phrase “feedback mechanisms” was not excluded because its value could not be determined by looking at any single three-word phrase.