Teaching AP Biology – Student Friendly Curriculum Framework

Resources for teaching AP Biology

If you are anything like me, when you are teaching AP Biology, you want to give your students everything they need to be successful. This can be a super overwhelming feeling!

There is so much that goes into teaching AP Biology! Not just knowledge, but skills!

This post will help you squeeze the most out of two free resources provided by the College Board!

  • Teaching AP Biology with the Curriculum Framework
  • A method for utilizing the released Free Response Questions

Teaching AP Biology With Student Friendly Curriculum Framework

One of my student’s go-to resources for learning, and studying, are the Curriculum Framework provided by the College Board for AP Biology.

Okay, so this might sound obvious to some, and it might sound ridiculous to others.

Ridiculous because  have you looked at the AP Biology Curriculum Framework? I know you know – its huge. The Curriculum Framework for AP Biology is a 1,00,000 page document (maybe not that big but it sure feels that way).

It is altogether overwhelming to even the most hardened of AP Biology students (and teachers!) 

But – it is such an obvious resource because….it is exactly what your students are expected to know on the AP Biology Exam at the end of the year!

So the challenge for the AP Teacher is – how can we make this 1,000,000,000 (yes it seems to grow bigger!) page document accessible and usable for your students?

By taking it Essential Knowledge at a time.

Turn each Essential Knowledge into a single handout. On the left side of the handout put the Essential Knowledge standard, copied straight from the College Board document – and on the other side compose review questions that go along with the standard.

AP Biology Unit 1 Review: Chemistry of Life
AP Biology Unit 2 Review: Cells
AP Biology Unit 3 Review: Cellular Energetics

Scroll near the bottom for a FREE resource for AP Biology!

I give these to my students at the start of a unit, usually two or three at a time. Before they read the text book section that coincides with the topic, they will read the standard and highlight any vocabulary they think is important.

They do this as individuals, and then share their highlighted words with one or two other students. The theory is, the more times they see, read, and hear the standards the better they will remember them.

**College Board has updated the AP Biology curriculum for 2019-2020! Find NEWLY Aligned AP Biology Study Guides and Resource Lists from Science of Curiosity

AP Biology Review and Learning Guides - Review Questions for the whole AP Biology Curriculum
All of these hand outs are available though Teachers Pay Teachers.

At the end of the unit, students have class time to work on the right side of the handouts, completing the questions as a form of review. I encourage them to keep all of them together in one place in their notebook, so they can be used for final review at the end of the year.

Being so acquainted with the College Board’s Essential Knowledge guidelines keeps me accountable to being sure they learn what they need to learn to be successful on the Exam.

As an added bonus, my students say they felt more confidant going into the test because they knew all along what they were expected to know – No surprises!

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Teaching AP Biology With Released Free Response Questions – Free Response Friday

This seems like another no-brainier, but I find that a lot of AP Biology teachers do not start using the released Free Response questions until the end of the year.

Use them now! They are an amazing resource for study and review. The added bonus is that each one will help your students be more comfortable with the Free Response format on exam day.

Free Response questions make up fifty percent of the AP exam. So I make it my goal to help students squeeze as many points out of those essays as they can. And the only way to do that – is to practice, all year.

I don’t know about your students…but one of the biggest struggles I find my students face is being able to read the question.

That might sound silly. I don’t mean that they cannot read the words in the question – only that when they read those words…somehow between reading and writing…they miss the point of the question! Or completely skip over part of a question.

Is the question asking for one example being asked for? Or Two?

Are we defining? Describing? Explaining? Justifying?

My students can write on and on and on….but all for naught because they missed one detail – what the question is actually asking for!

The grading rubrics used by AP Free Response readers are super cut-and-dry. There is very little wiggle room – if you don’t answer exactly what is being asked – zero points for you!

So when we start class at the begging of the year, we do not begin actually answering the questions right away. Instead, we just practice reading the question – and paying attention to what it said – piecing out every part of the question.

We do this once a week, every single week. We call it Free Response Friday!

Free Response list of questions by topic - find the perfect question!
Free Response list of questions by topic – find the perfect question!

They pull out their highlighters or markers or crayons, and color each part of the question with a different color. If the question asked for two examples, they draw a big box around the word TWO. They underline the key words like “Justify” or “Define” or “Explain”.

And I time them. They need to get used to being under a time constraint. They get about five minutes the first two weeks, then three minutes, then we aim for two.

When they are done highlighting, they swap papers with a partner, who points out anything that might have been missed.

After a few weeks of just looking at the question, they are ready to begin answering questions!

As for grading the free responses, I have tried this a few ways. Some teachers find it useful for students to grade each others work, using the rubric provided by the College Board.

By grade I do not me assign a grade that will appear in the grade book – as none of us want to get into any FERPA trouble! So maybe ‘score’ would be a better word to use than ‘grade’.

I find that when students know their peers will be ‘grading’ their work, they tend to kick it up a notch!

And hearing “I cant read your handwriting!” carries a lot more weight coming from a fellow student, than from a teacher!

Plus, it is really important for students to be aware of how their essays will be graded for the Exam. Like I mentioned, the rubrics leave no room for ‘maybe she meant this” or “he almost got it” – there are no points for almost!

So students score each other’s work for about half the course. Then, we turn up the heat! I score them the second half of the course, and the grades count – quiz grade!

My goal is to give students questions that center on topics we are currently studying, or ones we have done in the recent past. This gives them a great chance to practice using all the content they have learned.

Click here to download a FREE list of all free response questions by topic, from 2000 to 2017!

Free Response list of questions by topic - find the perfect question!
Free Response list of questions by topic – find the perfect question!

College Board provides released Free Response questions for 2013 to present (which align to the current Curriculum Standards) as well as old questions from 1999 to 2011. These links include the grading rubrics and student written samples!

Keep in mind that some of the questions prior to 2013 are not part of the course curriculum anymore. These would be good questions to start with when students are only highlighting . Save the good questions for when they are actually answering them.

If you grade the responses by the provided rubric (which you should, so they get better at writing with the strict standards in mind), there will be a lot of painful grades. They will be especially painful when they are counted as quiz grades.

The Free Responses need to be a learning experience, not a source of discouragement.

AP Biology Study Resources for teaching AP Biology
Click to read about three amazing study tools for AP Biology.

With that in mind, I give students the chance to learn from their mistakes and make up points by re-writing the essay using the rubric. By doing this, they earn 50% of their points back.

This may seem like simply copying the right answer, and it kind of is. But if they got it wrong because they didn’t know (or remember) the answer – copying it is a great way to learn it.

Which is the whole point!

Need some additional resources to help your students? Here are three cant-live-without learning and study tools for AP Biology.

How do you use the Curriculum Framework, and Free Response questions  in the classroom? What are your favorite resources for teaching AP Biology? Let us know in the comments! We learn from each other!

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teaching AP Biology
teaching AP Biology

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