College Board requires that every high school that labels a course “AP Chemistry” demonstrate that they are following the new curriculum framework (see my previous post). College Board enforces this by making teachers submit a course “syllabus”. Once your “syllabus” is read and approved by an “expert” (usually a college professor) your school is added to the AP Course Ledger and you are allowed to hold your course out as AP. (I will note that the Ledger is a gold mine of data if someone could find a good way to mine it.)
More to the point, last fall I applied to become one of the people who reads and approves these “syllabi”. After training and scoring some syllabi, I have come to one conclusion. The “syllabus” is not really a syllabus. It is evidence of compliance with the new curriculum. As soon as everyone comes to grips with this, the syllabus submission process will become much easier. This is why I have gone to pains to use quotes around syllabus up until now.
As an exercise I wrote my own (hypothetical) AP Chemistry syllabus (second document in the list). And let me say it’s a bit of work. You have to know the rules, you have to make sure you follow the rules, and you have to key every lab you do to the AP Chemistry Science Practices.
I’m now going to go through my sample syllabus in more detail. It may help if you compare back and forth between my syllabus and the AP Syllabus Development guide.
Requirement 1: Textbook. Many have complained that it is difficult to suddenly obtain new textbooks (published in the last 10 years), which says much more about funding for public schools than anything else. However, it appears to be acceptable if the teacher is using a more recent text to guide the course than the students are using at home.
Requirement 2: Big Ideas. Next I outline the Big Ideas and Science Practices. This nails down the 2nd requirement that your course is centered on the Big Ideas. I added the Science Practices because I like them. Aside: this is meant to show that you have some idea that there are Big Ideas and that you are going to use them to structure your class. If it were me, I would put these on Big Posters and put them around my classroom.
Requirement 3a—3f. Samples of student activities: Now you have to show that not only do you plan to follow the AP Chemistry curriculum, but that you’ve even thought of a few activities that relate to the learning objectives. I have planned activities (mostly based on POGIL activities, my preferred mode of instruction), and I have keyed them to Learning Objectives. Notice that the activities all have students doing something. What they do can vary. They could watch a demonstration then discuss their observations, or discuss observations from a simulation, or work on practice problems of increasing difficulty within a group. Regardless of the specific activity you choose, explain what the students will do, not just what they will learn.
Requirement 4: Societal relevance. Here you have to demonstrate that you have given thought to how to relate AP Chemistry to the greater challenges of society. Most of the sample syllabi have the students doing projects. I have listed a sort of half-lab in which students briefly make some observations then analyze in terms of the effect of increasing atmospheric CO2 levels and with LeChatelier’s principle. I wrote this because LeChatelier’s principle has been used to argue that climate change won’t happen, which is total B.S., but I digress.
Requirement 5: The 25% of time rule. You have to say that hands-on lab activities will take at least 25% of your course. You have to actually say this. You can’t leave it up in the air or say that “on average” you will spend 4 out of every 10 in the lab. Just say you will be in the lab 25% of the time and you’re good. Notice that the phrase “hands-on” here is to prevent teachers from substituting real labs for virtual labs. Save yourself the trouble and don’t use the phrase “virtual lab”, it just gets people riled up.
Requirement 6: Lab activities. Here I have listed my lab activities. I have pointed out that all of my activities are guided inquiry (you’re only required to label 6 of them GI, but I like inquiry). I have also keyed the labs to associated science practices. Notice that I have a variety of sources. I’m concerned that some teachers will feel they have to follow exactly the College Board’s lab manual, which is not true. Use your best labs, no matter where they come from. I also included a plug for an upcoming manual from PASCO, which I helped write.
Requirement 7: Lab notebook/portfolio. Students have to have a permanent repository of their lab work, either a notebook or a portfolio. Here I use a notebook because typed lab reports are too easy to copy from the web (I figure if a student has to hand write something they might be less inclined to copy someone else. I may be naïve here). You also have to give the format of the lab report. I’ve used the Science Writing Heuristic because I like it and to point out that you just have to have a format, it doesn’t have to be the usual introduction, methods, results….
This is going to take you some time. If you want (even in the interim) to adopt one of the sample syllabi, you are allowed to submit that instead of your own customized syllabus. Finally, there is plenty more information here directly from the College Board. Good luck!
Disclaimers: I am a consultant, not an employee of the College Board, and I am compensated for my consultant services. This both means that I am free to voice my opinions and that my opinions are my own and that I don’t speak for the College Board.