3 AP curricula to change next academic year

By Megan Kawasaki

The curricula of three Advanced Placement courses will change for the 2012-2013 school year, according to the College Board website.

AP Biology, which has been taught for the past 20 years mostly through lectures and occasional lab work, will now emphasize student-directed labs and conceptual understanding rather than repetitive memorization of large quantities of information, said Upper School Science Department Head Larry Axelrod.

“I’m looking forward to having more time for labs that are less cookbook-type and more open-ended or to have students put more effort into understanding the design and structure of a lab,” Axelrod said.

The number of labs will increase and will be broader and more exploratory, including computer simulations, AP Biology teacher Walt Werner said.

They will focus more on basic and essential biological processes and span over several days rather than take up one double-period class. This ensures that students can do extra hands-on work that there was not enough time to do previously.

Although teachers will present a basic method of how to complete a lab, the students will be largely left to design their experiments. The work will then become mostly discussion-based and encourage students to think about broad concepts, Axelrod said.

“They require students to be thinking and applying more because with real science, you ask a question and test it, and if it doesn’t work, then you try something else,” Werner said. “The attempt is to look at fundamental, important biological principles and to use long-term lab activities to emphasize them more. The sense is to try and get away from long lectures as much as possible.”

Certain portions of the course, such as ones on plants and human physiology, may be greatly reduced or removed entirely to concentrate on the labs, he said.

Because the teachers will be breaking new ground, Werner said organizing the class and the new labs may produce some challenges.

“It’s always interesting to embark on a variation in the education process,” he said. “It’s going to be a work in progress. I don’t think anyone really knows what’s going to happen.”

Another course that will change is AP Latin: Vergil. The class currently focuses only on reading Vergil’s “Aeneid,” but in the coming year, students will also read the “Gallic Wars” by Julius Caesar, which is about his military campaigns in Gaul. With this addition, parts of the “Aeneid” will no longer be studied, concentrating mainly on the first six books of the work.

“The trade-off is that students will get to read some prose as well as poetry,” said Upper School Foreign Language Department Chair Paul Chenier. “The students are being introduced to the writings of one of the most famous and influential figures in antiquity.”

Students will be able to sight-read Latin with more facility by studying prose, which Chenier said will help them with the AP exam. They will also get a very different perspective of the Roman Empire than what they were studying before, he said.

“[The ‘Gallic Wars’] gets away from Italy, so students will look at topics that have to do with a province of the Roman Republic,” Chenier said.

The course will still consist of daily reading and class discussion, but Chenier hopes that the combination of the poetry and prose, as well as historical context, will offer new depth to the class.

“It really does help to read prose,” he said. “You get to sample a different style of Latin and read it closely too, not just Vergil.”

The third AP course that will be changed for next year is AP Spanish Literature, soon to be called AP Spanish Literature and Culture, according to a preliminary draft of the course guide written by the College Board.

The amount of required readings will be reduced to allow more time for teachers to introduce students to the cultural contexts of the works and further their understanding with a variety of media such as music and television.

“Right now, we’re just reading and discussing and writing about it,” said Upper School Spanish teacher Roser Gelida. “[The College Board] wants us to relate cultural products, like a short story, to others, like a painting or a movie, and [study them] in a historical context.”

Gelida said that although she finds the course changes to be relatively significant, she is optimistic about the new additions.

“What’s always been the goal of this AP is to promote the understanding of literature and analytical skills while discussing and reading and writing,” Gelida said. “That’s still there, but now it’s been expanded with something more interdisciplinary, which goes well with the school philosophy and is similar to what students will find in college.”

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