“The learning objectives should be used to guide teaching and learning.”
~ AP Biology CED, pg. 126
About a year ago I was fortunate enough to attend the AP Annual Conference and sit in on a session presented by the AP Biology Development Committee. A key point I took away from the session was that AP Biology Exam questions are written using the language of the learning objectives. The released free response questions and the summary of results for this year’s AP Biology test reinforce this claim.
The subject of biology is vast. AP Biology textbooks are enormous. I celebrate transparency in the new exam. The learning objectives are a guide for not simply what students should know, but for how they need to demonstrate their understanding of the most salient points in the AP Biology curriculum framework.
Here is a quote from Trevor Packer, The College Board’s Head of AP, in a recent correspondence to the AP Biology community.
“To earn a 5, students must learn the course content well enough to be able to perform the skills required in the grid-ins and the free-response section: when confronted with scientific data or evidence illustrative of the required course content, students must be able to ‘calculate,’ ‘predict,’ ‘justify,’ ‘propose,’ ‘explain,’ ‘perform,’ ‘specify,’ ‘identify,’ ‘describe,’ ‘pose a scientific question,’ and ‘state a hypothesis.’ True understanding requires that students develop the depth of understanding required to perform such tasks with accuracy and precision.”
The table below lists a refinement of the “performance statements” used to write the AP Biology learning objectives. Next to each statement is the total number of learning objectives in which that statement appears.
|Frequency of Performance Statements in the 149 AP Biology Learning Objectives||Frq|
|construct, create, describe, refine, or use representations or models to predict, analyze, describe, explain, connect, or pose questions||39|
|use evidence to make, construct, or justify a scientific claim, explanation or prediction||28|
|describe, explain, or represent connections between concepts||12|
|describe or explain how||12|
|evaluate or refine evidence, scientific questions, or hypothesis based on data||12|
|use or analyze data to predict or explain||11|
|predict consequences or effects||8|
|describe a process, theory, or example||7|
|justify the selection of data||7|
|design a plan||4|
|generate or pose scientific questions||4|
|compare and contrast||1|
Clearly, there is a connection between the words in the table above and what Trevor Packer states students must be able to do in order to demonstrate an understanding of the course content and score well on the exam. The AP Biology learning objectives are not specifications as to what students should know, but an indication of the of the manner in which they will be called upon to demonstrate what they know through application.
In the days proceeding May’s exam, there were multiple reports of feelings of consternation as students walked away from an assessment that, in the mind of many of those being assessed, did not provide enough opportunity for factual recall. I can certainly understand the frustration; most students probably had limited experience with this type of assessment. If they had been expecting the old AP Biology exam, it probably felt like a bait-and-switch. The College Board is not to blame. In their defense, I’ll reference page 126 in the AP Biology Course and Exam Description. Under the section titled How the Curriculum Framework Is Assessed are seven bulleted statements. Below are two of those bullets. They completely lack ambiguity.
- The exam will assess the application of the science practices.
- Questions on the AP Biology Exam will require a combination of specific knowledge from the concept outline as well as its application through the science practices.
In college, my biology education became completely sidetracked when I developed an interest in the social sciences. Fortunately, I learned a few ideas in my classes on social theory. One concept that comes to mind is that of praxis (not the pre-service teacher assessment coincidentally produced by ETS, makers of AP exams). Here’s how Dictionary.com defines praxis:
“practice, as distinguished from theory; application or use, as of knowledge or skills.”
I’ve always liked that word, “praxis.” I’m really glad that the AP Biology Development Committee does too. The AP Biology learning objectives are praxis.
The importance of the AP Biology learning objectives has been firmly established. Teachers of AP Biology need tools to aid them as they continue to organize and assimilate the objectives into their courses. I’m a visual learner, but I also like to manipulate information in a tangible way; I made lots of flashcards in college. And so—driven by my love for manipulatives—I formatted the 149 AP Biology learning objectives into sheets of equally sized boxes, perfect for cutting into cards. The cards can be downloaded by clicking on the images below.
Here’s a short primer on the layout of the AP Biology learning objectives.
What are Learning Objectives?
Embedded in the AP Biology Curriculum Framework are 149 student Learning Objectives. The objectives are “action” statements indicating tasks students should be able to complete after completing an AP Biology course. Learning Objectives are created by merging the AP Biology Science Practices with the statements of Essential Knowledge.
How Are Learning Objectives Formatted?
Learning objectives are coded to correspond to one of the 4 Big Ideas in the AP Biology curriculum framework. Let’s take a look at the meaning of the codes from learning objective (LO) 1.8 in the diagram below.
The Learning Objective Code tells us which of the four Big Ideas this learning objective is associated with. In this case 1.8 means that this is the eighth learning objective of Big Idea 1: The process of evolution drives the diversity and unity of life.
The Essential Knowledge Code tells us which essential knowledge and enduring understanding this learning objective is connected to. The code EK 1.A.3 ties this learning objective to Essential knowledge 1.A.3: Evolutionary change is also driven by random processes. We can also see that this essential knowledge is rooted in Enduring understanding 1.A: Change in the genetic makeup of a population over time is evolution.
The Science Practice Code indicates which science practice is being utilized in order for the student to demonstrate an understanding of the essential knowledge. The code SP 6.4 refers to Science Practice 6.4: The student can make claims and predictions about natural phenomena based on scientific theories and models.
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