As a middle school principal who does not face the direct pressures of the AP debate, I realize that I may possess a “too-simple” understanding of the discussion. However, I admire the dialogues that a few colleagues of mine are precipitating on their blogs: Quantum Progress and Experiments in Learning by Doing. Addtionally, I found the recent New York Times article on AP to be fascinating. I sent the following email to the PLC (professional learning community) facilitators at my school because I think the article illuminates two important discussions about PBL (project-based learning) and EL (essential learnings – the process of deciding “What students need to learn”).
A committee of the National Research Council, a part of the National Academy of Sciences, called attention to these problems in 2002. It criticized A.P. science courses for cramming in too much material and failing to let students design their own lab experiments. It also said the courses had failed to keep pace with research on how people learn: instead of listening to lectures, “more real learning takes place if students spend more time going into greater depth on fewer topics, allowing them to experience problem solving, controversies and the subtleties of scholarly investigation.”
And to the delight of teachers who have gotten an early peek at the plans, the board also makes clear what will not be on the exam. Part or all of at least 20 of the 56 chapters in the A.P. biology book that Mrs. Carlson’s class uses will no longer need to be covered. (One PowerPoint slide explaining the changes notes sardonically that teachers can retire their swift marches through the “Organ of the Day.”)