This is what AP biology classes are missing!

Today it hit me.

The AP biology exam, among others, should ideally test a person's knowledge and ability at a college level. So why not teach it like a college course?

I just realized what is missing. Primary source materials. Everywhere, all the time. This video shows you how, and the rest of this post will show you why.

I can only think of two reasons why we don't use more peer-reviewed articles and other primary source materials in AP biology. The first reason is that we are so heavily bombarded with textbooks, AP biology preparation materials, and other secondary tools that it doesn't occur to most educators to use the primary sources.

The second reason is that many people are intimidated by the dense, scholarly material, and fear it will be too challenging for students. I'd like to put this fear to rest.

This is not a foreign language. In fact, peer-reviewed articles are deliberately written in a precise and straightforward style. You won't find metaphors here, and irony only shows up by accident.

Perhaps people are frightened off by the new and specialized vocabulary. But research reports tend to identify and clearly explain any new terms. The rest of the jargon is part of the scientific lexicon, and is exactly what AP biology students should be learning anyway. In fact, I make a point of helping my students master the Greek and Latin roots that build up so much of our scientific vocabulary.

This "academic language" is exactly what education specialists in my state are prescribing for everyone, especially students with weak English literacy skills. In order to obtain my teaching credential, I took a course on teaching science to English Learners. Most of the techniques involved making a standard textbook more accessible. I'm certain one could apply these to primary source materials.

Practice makes perfect, and a regular perusal of primary source materials will build a lot of vital knowledge and skills. These sources will surely prove invaluable to anyone taking the AP biology exam or the CLEP.

In fact, I'm now writing a biology curriculum for a program that will use primary source materials almost exclusively. I'm not sure how it will turn out, but I'm excited to be a part of this experiment.

I have a challenge for you. This week, look up an article about a topic that interests you. Digest it and make it your own. Then teach it to someone else. You could even post your information on the forum, here.


2 thoughts on “This is what AP biology classes are missing!

    • Maybe. We should try. The same activities that help them read a textbook or a newspaper article could help them read the research. Scientific writing is usually more direct and straightforward than literature, so it might be easier for an English learner. It would sure build their confidence! Why not give it a try?

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