The following description of the new AP Biology curriculum was kindly provided by the College Board and can be found in full here:
The AP Biology Curriculum Framework
The revised Advanced Placement® Biology course shifts from a traditional teacher-directed “content coverage” model of instruction to one that focuses on helping students gain enduring understandings of biological concepts and the scientific evidence that supports them. This approach enables students to spend more time understanding biological concepts while developing reasoning skills essential to the science practices used throughout their study of biology. A practice is a way to coordinate knowledge and skills in order to accomplish a goal or task. The science practices, as noted in the AP
Biology Curriculum Framework, enable students to establish lines of evidence, and use them to develop and refine testable explanations and predictions of natural phenomena. Because content, inquiry, and reasoning are equally important in AP Biology, each learning objective combines content with inquiry and reasoning skills described in the science practices.
The key concepts and related content that define the revised AP Biology course and exam are organized around four underlying principles called the big ideas, which are as follows:
Big Idea 1: The process of evolution drives the diversity and unity of life.
Big Idea 2: Biological systems utilize free energy and molecular building blocks to grow, to reproduce, and to maintain dynamic homeostasis.
Big Idea 3: Living systems store, retrieve, transmit, and respond to information essential to life processes.
Big Idea 4: Biological systems interact, and these systems and their interactions possess complex properties.
These four big ideas will be referred to as evolution, cellular processes: energy and communication, genetics and information transfer, and interactions, respectively, for the sake of brevity. The big ideas encompass the core scientific principles, theories, and processes governing organisms and biological systems. For each big idea, enduring understandings incorporate the core concepts that students should retain from the learning experience.
A more student-directed, inquiry-based lab experience supports the AP Biology course revision and curricular requirements by providing opportunities for students to design plans for experiments, data collection, application of mathematical routines, and refinement of testable explanations and predictions. Such a lab experience reinforces the revised curriculum’s focus on quantitative skills.
The suite of laboratory investigations within the new lab manual supports the recommendation by the National Science Foundation (NSF) that science teachers build into their curriculum opportunities for students to develop skills in communication, teamwork, critical thinking, and commitment to lifelong learning (Waterman 2008, NSF 1996). These labs will allow teachers to develop and use investigations they design based on their own experiences as an investigator and teacher. The manual’s engaging, inquiry- Preface based approach will inspire students to investigate meaningful questions about the real
world. The investigations are organized under the four big ideas, and are integrated into the curriculum. They align with best practices and the goals of laboratory learning reported in America’s Lab Report. (America’s Lab Report looks at a range of questions about how laboratory experiences fit into U.S.
high schools, and investigates factors that influence a high school laboratory experience, looking closely at what currently takes place and what the goals of those experiences are and should be.)
The goals are as follows:
• Mastery of subject matter
• Development of scientific reasoning
• Understanding of the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work
• Development of practical skills
• Understanding of the nature of science
• Interest in science and science learning
• Development of teamwork abilities
Development of the Lab Investigations
To create a model of excellence for the lab component in AP science courses, the College Board worked in conjunction with the AP Lab Manual Vision Team and AP Biology Lab Development Team to create an innovative vision and approach to lab investigations. Both teams of subject matter experts consisted of AP Biology teachers and higher education faculty members, as well as experts in the fields of inquiry instruction, quantitative skill application, and lab investigations. Collectively, they created AP Biology Investigative Labs: An Inquiry-Based Approach. The labs in this manual support the
concepts, content, and science practices within the revised AP Biology course.
The Goals of the Laboratory Investigations
The instructional strategies that underlie the labs in this manual abandon the traditional teacher-directed content coverage model in favor of one that focuses on student-directed experimentation and inquiry. This approach enables students to identify the questions they want to answer, design experiments to test hypotheses, conduct investigations, analyze data, and communicate their results. As a result, they are able to concentrate on understanding concepts and developing the reasoning skills essential to the practices used in the study of biology.
How to Use the Lab Investigations in your AP Biology Course
The revised AP Biology course emphasizes depth over breadth of content. The scope of the course affords educators time to develop students’ conceptual understanding and engage them in inquiry-based learning experiences. It also enables teachers to spend time differentiating instruction and targeting the learning styles and interests of their students. This lab manual contains 13 student-directed, inquiry-based labs to offer at least three laboratory investigation options for each big idea. Because inquiry-based labs typically take more time than traditional labs, the number of required labs has been reduced from 12 to a minimum of eight. As per the AP Biology Course Audit requirements, teachers are required to devote 25 percent of instructional time to lab investigations, and this translates into a minimum of two investigations per big idea. Instructors have the option of using the labs in this manual or updating their existing labs to make them inquiry based and student directed. Chapter 3 in this manual provides ideas for lab modifications. Implementing inquiry-based labs should not require a significant investment in new equipment. Teachers and their students may perform the labs in any order. Each lab includes a section that explains alignment to the curriculum framework, and offers suggestions for when during the instructional year to conduct the lab. Each lab also includes a section about assessing students’ understanding and work. Chapter 6 provides additional suggestions for ways for students to present their lab results, and for you to evaluate students’ work.
What is Inquiry?
Instructional practices that involve modeling the behavior of a scientist at work qualify as inquiry because the student conducts an authentic scientific investigation (Johnson 2009). It is unreasonable to think that every part of a particular lab in AP Biology will be completely student directed. However, as written, the labs lead to student-directed, inquiry-based investigations. The four levels of inquiry, adapted from Herron (Herron, M.D. (1971). The nature of scientific inquiry, School Review, 79(2), 171–212.), are as follows:
• Confirmation: Students confirm a principle through an activity in which the results are known in advance.
• Structured: Students investigate a teacher-presented question through a prescribed procedure.
• Guided: Students investigate a teacher-presented question using student-designed/selected procedures.
• Open: Students investigate topic-related questions that are formulated through student-designed/selected procedures.
In student-directed, inquiry-based laboratory investigations, students model the behavior of scientists by discovering knowledge for themselves as they observe and
explore. Beginning with observations, students employ a variety of methods to answer questions that they have posed. These include conducting laboratory and field investigations; manipulating software simulations, models, and data sets; and exploring meaningful online research (Waterman 2008). By designing experiments to test
hypotheses, analyze data, and communicate results and conclusions, students learn that a scientific method of investigation is cyclic, not linear; each observation or experimental result raises new questions about how the world works (Johnson 2009), thus leading to open-ended investigations. Students also appreciate that inquiry requires identification of assumptions, use of critical and logical thinking, and consideration of alternative explanations (National Committee on Science Education Standards and Assessment and National Research Council 1996, 23).
Inquiry-based instruction encourages students to make connections between concepts and big ideas and allows scaffolding of both concepts and science practices to
increase students’ knowledge and skills, thus promoting deeper learning (see Appendix C for the science practices). As students work through their investigations, the teacher asks probing, follow-up questions to assess students’ thinking processes, understanding of concepts, and misconceptions. Teachers can modify these and other labs to be more or less inquiry based to meet their students’ needs. New challenges arise as students ask their own questions and perform their own experiments. By their very nature, inquiry-based investigations take longer to conduct, and additional materials and classroom space may be required. No new major lab equipment purchases are needed to conduct any of the labs in this manual, however. Students can work in small groups and share resources. If students do not achieve results at first, they may troubleshoot their experimental design, perhaps repeating a procedure several times before obtaining meaningful data. If time is a concern, instead ask your students what problems/errors they encountered, how these problems/errors could be avoided, and how the experiment would be different if it were to be repeated. Meaningful data are the goal, but students must be able to articulate nonmeaningful data and explain their causes. This is true science at its best. When students have the opportunity to mimic the practices of professional scientists, the benefits of an inquiry-based laboratory program far outweigh any challenges.