Sunday, April 12, 2015

NGSS and AP Science Courses

How will NGSS affect AP science courses?  This is not only a good question, but one that MUST be considered when designing new courses to incorporate the standards.

This list of AP science courses that are currently available are:
  • AP Biology
  • AP Chemistry
  • AP Environmental
  • AP Physics 1
  • AP Physics 2
  • AP Physics C Mechanical
  • AP Physics C Electricity and Magnetism
For those who have never taught or taken an AP science course, it is important to note the tremendous rigor involved in these courses.  Not only is the content much more in depth than the regular course counterpart, but the labs are much more challenging.  I would comfortably argue that if taught correctly, the AP high school course is likely much harder than the college compliment (but that argument is meant for another day).  Many believe that students should take the high school course before the AP course, but over the years I have realized that this is not always true.  A dedicated student who is willing to work hard can do very well in an AP course.  I currently have two sophomores in my AP Physics 1 class.  Both are doing really well.  Of course, they do have the math background to support them.

If we're honest, NGSS will likely take 3 years to cover.  If that the case, then students will be doubling up in sciences their junior year if they want to start taking AP sciences or they will have to wait until their senior year to take any AP sciences.  Will your school allow students to skip courses before enrolling in an AP science class?  Where will AP sciences align on your school's curriculum map? These are all topics that must be addressed.

Luckily, NGSS will be releasing an accelerated pathway course model in the near future.  It will be available here.  At this time it is unknown if this pathway will be integrated or for individual courses.  Hopefully both.  But what happens to the kids that don't take the accelerated pathway and only realize later that they really like sciences and want to take more?

The Next Generation Science Standards are supposed to be mastered by students before they graduate.  How we get them to master these standards is really up to districts and school sites. I was curious if the AP courses alone would cover the NGSS content, at least at an individual course level, so I started digging.

I currently teach AP Physics 1, so I evaluated the NGSS standards associated with that course first.  I am confident that a teacher could cover all necessary NGSS standards in AP Physics 1 and 2 quite easily.  IF the school is not going to offer AP physics 2, then teachers would have to get just a bit creative in sprinkling in the additional standards that would normally be covered in AP Physics 2.  But, this could be masterfully executed after the AP test is administered in May.

Years ago I taught AP Biology.  So, I pulled up the Life Science standards and compared them to the AP Bio content and I am confident that if a student were to take AP Bio they would get the appropriate life science standards.  If a teacher is clever, he or she could sprinkle in quite a few additional standards as well.

I have never taught AP Environmental.  AP Environmental serves as a capstone course.  I pulled up the content and realized it would hit a ton of earth science, chemistry and life science and engineering standards.  

I have never taught AP Chemistry.  I have been told by an AP Chem teacher that the content in  the course would not adequately cover the NGSS.  I did not get specifics, but I glanced at the standards.  I will assume that if cleverly taught, the AP Chem course could incorporate at least the chemistry content.

SUMMARY

AP science classes can cover the bulk of NGSS.  The ONE topic I did not see in ANY of the the AP courses involved HS-ESS1 Earth's Place in the Universe.  These 6 performance expectations could be sprinkled within AP science courses, but are not currently in those courses.  

My two cents: as districts are looking to determine the best course pathway for students, you need to consider what will happen to the AP classes.  Make sure to talk to AP teachers to determine IF they believe they can adequately cover the NGSS and which standards they need to cover,  You need to evaluate if students are going to be allowed to skip courses and go straight into AP sciences.

AP classes are an amazing way for kids to learn science.  From a teacher's perspective, they are fun and challenging to teach, and allow us educators to really push the kids.  I believe that we should make sure that NGSS is embedded within the AP curriculum.  These cannot become classes that are uniquely distinct from whatever new courses we will be rolling out.  Science should flow from one course to the next without noticeable seams.