New science curriculum focuses on experimentation, discovery

Stazi Prost

Under the microscope: Senior Olivia Granneman works on a lab during Anatomy class. Thanks to changes in the science curriculums across the nation, experiments are more student-driven, forcing high-schoolers to work more independently to come to conclusions on their own.
Students can put their flashcards away because of a recent change in the way educators across the country will teach science. From this school year on, rote memorization will be less important overall in science curriculum with a more practical, big idea teaching style taking place.
During the past year, the Advanced Placement biology curriculum went through a heavy reconstruction. Science teachers nationwide attended College Board conferences and listened in on how their courses would change. Shifting the focus to conceptual understanding was the main goal. This year the AP biology teachers centered the framework of the class on a focus of conceptualization.
“Some of the things that the [College Board] has done is that they’ve tried to structure the course around four big ideas,” AP biology teacher Kerri Graham said. They “really want … to connect those ideas together throughout the year so with that, some of the nitty-gritty vocabulary and details that had to be learned previously has been taken out of the curriculum.”
The AP Biology course, however, will still have a lot of detail and material to memorize. It is only the elimination of “mundane things such as having to memorize the classification of organisms” Graham said, where students will see the difference in the coursework.
Besides content, the conferences reorganized the labs as well. The new curriculum is making the curriculum more inquiry-based rather than “cookie cutter style,” Graham said.
Teachers can give some hints about the lab, but it is up to students on how to go about it and get the end result. Some students enjoy this new freedom because it provides them with a long-term beneficial skill set.
“I think it is actually a lot better,” senior Lauren Livesay said. “We don’t have a set mold that we have to fit into exactly, like in junior high where your hypothesis [was] ‘if, then [style]. Now it is really open, and we can discover and investigate on our own which makes us have to think a lot more and makes the learning process better … in the long run because we are able to develop that skill of … developing an experiment.”
This lab reconstruction and student experimentation did not just change for the AP Biology course; the science department utilized these changes for general and honors chemistry classes as well.
“Modeling is what it is called,” chemistry teacher Barry Still said. “It is kind of what you do in ninth grade physics. You build a model instead of us giving you a lot of information. It is more evidence based.”
AP biology and chemistry placed a new emphasis on conceptual understanding and inquiry so students will be more prepared for college classes and scientific questioning. By the end of the year, students will know what it means to be a scientist.
“I think a lot of it is professors are noting that when students get to college, that if we just have you memorize stuff and there is no connection to what you are memorizing, it is out of your brains the minute you are tested, so it is not like you know it when you get to college anyways,” Graham said. “So they are saying, ‘Get them to think like scientists and then we can work with that when they get to the college level.’”
By Stazi Prost