Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"An infinite number of biological factoids"

Because biology is a dynamic field with an ever-expanding knowledge base, focusing students more on how to interpret and understand new data as they become available will be much more important than having students memorize an infinite number of biological factoids.

That's what it says. Yes, it's a draft, yes, it's meant to be revised--but that's what it says. If my grasp of English is correct, the "infinite number of biological factoids" refers to the current system.

The College Board is a multimillion dollar operation. It spent over $300,000 last year for lobbyists. The CEO makes well over half a million dollars a year.

So what are my kids supposed to do in the meantime? Pay their $86 to show how well they memorized an infinite number of factoids?

I went bat hunting tonight--it sounds a lot more strenuous than it is. Get a lounge chair, wait for dusk, lie down with your eyes looking up, and wait.

I eventually found a bat, and watched it sweep the sky, munching on a variety of other flying critters. There aren't so many bats now as there were a few years ago.

We won't be talking much about that in AP biology class--too little time. Nor will we talk much about the decreasing phytoplankton in our seas. Nor the great mass extinction going on right now as we delude ourselves with these light machines.


I participate in the madness.
I am part of the madness.
I am the madness.


The AP Biology curriculum will not be revised before the 2012 school year, possibly later. In the meantime, I teach to the curriculum, as I am required to do.

Which is, of course, madness.

I am open to suggestions....

Yes, of course, it's Edvard Munch's painting The Scream


Anonymous said...

Not much you can do under the current conditions. No teacher can teach an infinite number of biological factoids. Do the best you can with the situation you're dealt, just as you did this past year. Over-stressing/worrying about it will only make it worse. Encourage the kids who'll get the 5's anyway, and they'll get them. Just try to keep the kids who CAN get 5's, but get accepted into college in December, from shutting off completely and end up with a 3. (Which I must say is quite an accomplishment in and of itself based on the fact that I shut down BEFORE christmas and still got a 3. Imagine if I had actually tried/focused ALL year) Oh well.

-BHS AP Bio 2010
NYU class of 2014

Jerrid Kruse said...

I assume your students also know how worthless the current system is. I assume you can engage them in the more important discussions you mentioned. I assume your students are highly motivated (they are taking AP). I assume your students are good at reading & studying. Assign them daily, weekly, whatever assignments related to the test-let them ask questions if they have them about the "test content", & when they don't have questions, get them to the wonderful places you take me via your blog.

Not perfect, but an idea. "Damn the man, save the empire."

doyle said...

Dear AnoNYUmous,

Wise words from my class philosopher: Over-stressing/worrying about it will only make it worse.

When I (finally) started to relax, I started having fun again. Not sure anyone else did.

As for seniors who shut down in December, I'm open for suggestions there, too. I'm hoping this year's revised course keeps that from happening.

Enjoy NYU and the city!

Dear Jerrid,

The students know that I am asking to do a Herculean task, but the current system is not worthless: kids get exposed to a simulated late 20th century college biology core course (including exposure to lab equipment), and they get a chance to glom some credits for college. That's the deal between the College Board, the students, and the parents. If the school wants the official AP status for the course, it must have the course audited and approved by the College Board.

Trying to do everything, though, dampened the spirit of inquiry, at least the way I approached it last year, and I may have committed the cardinal sin, shutting down a few students' interest in science.

I did explain to the students that even the CB recognizes that the current system needs major changes.

I really like your suggestion, and it meshes with the changes I am making to my class. I may still stick to the lecture/demo model for respiration/photosynthesis, at least for pieces of them, but I am hoping to turn the students loose this year using an inquiry based approach.

Maybe all my kids will earn 5's, develop life-long crushes on science, and I get to continue to teach the course of my dreams.

Hey, anything's posible in August....

John Spencer said...

A few nights back the street lamps in our neighborhood went out. It was raining and there was lightening. I got the sense that we miss the power of lightning when we have the comfort of the street lamps.

The next day, we opened our house up, turned off the air conditioning. It was in the eighties and pouring all day. The boys played in the mud. We were quiet mostly as we enjoyed the mundane tasks of folding laundry or doing the dishes.

Not sure any of this relates. I just feel like this summer has been one of relearning the art of observation. How that will transfer into the classroom, I don't know.

Anonymous said...

I think you bring up a good point relating to the alignment of assessments to lessons. Things get a little funky when standardized assessments are thrown into mix. We are forced to align our teaching to an assessment we didn't make. If the college board makes a test that tests for factoids, we just have to teach factoids.

lucychili said...

the developers are putting graders through the creek which has been resounding with frogs.

i am drawing frogs
and aiming to send some frog pictures to the council

this is also madness
but who knows what may be
valued or audible if the frogs themselves are not.