Silver Chips Online

Blair implements AP Chemistry curriculum changes

College Board reforms exam and course content

By Abir Muhuri, Online Entertainment Editor
September 11, 2013
Blair's Advanced Placement (AP) Chemistry teachers have revised the curricula for the 2013-2014 school year in response to the College Board's recent reform of the course and exam.

Changes to the AP exam include fewer multiple choice questions and provided equations for both the multiple choice and free response sections. Course content has been revised to include more inquiry-based thinking. College Board's AP Chemistry Course Description defines "inquiry in the AP Science classroom" as expanding beyond "lab investigation" and "field experiments." In contrast to just a direct teaching approach, this year's AP Chemistry classes at Blair will involve more "scientific model development" and "peer-to-peer critique of explanations" College Board has laid out.

Blair's AP Chemistry Classes will be conducting College Board's New Guided-Inquiry Experiments, this year. Sam Howells
Blair's AP Chemistry Classes will be conducting College Board's New Guided-Inquiry Experiments, this year.
Inquiry-based learning objectives make preparation for the exam more observation-based rather than grounded in facts. "Labs are more inquiry-based now, [which] involves arguments based on observations," Blair's double-period AP Chemistry teacher Antonios Ekatomatis said. Ekatomatis also stressed that his learning and teaching style will reflect these changes. "There is definitely less memorization and more application, this year," he said.

Changes to lab topics and practices are reflective of a more student-initiated and context-based learning process. Scenarios in this year's lab manual explain the context and reason behind experiments; for example, a sample experiment from the College Board involving "Green Chemistry" highlights how chemists in the real world have to assess the benefits and potential risks of certain processes. This translates into the AP Chemistry lab setting. Experiments such as "Green Chemistry" challenge students to determine the best quality lab report involving the same chemical process.

Blairís chemistry teachers began preparing to teach the new AP Chemistry course during the summer. This involved submitting a new syllabus to the College Board for an audit process, to make sure that teachers fully understood the new course requirements and could get support during the planning period. Ekatomatis described the process of redesigning his syllabus. "Over the summer, I had to prepare a whole new syllabus for College Board for the audit process. I had to show how every topic I'm teaching fulfills the big ideas and science experiment practices in the curricular framework," he said.

While students will be able to participate in more collaborative lab experiences, teachers will have to shift their attention to how questions will be presented on this year's AP. "We need to focus on the way questions will be presented [and] practice those types of questions," Ekatomatis said. Visualizing molecular structures is an example of a skill they will emphasize more this year.

Blair's AP Chemistry students from last year scored well on the College Board exam. Senior Celeste Smith took Double-Period AP Chemistry, last year, with Mr. Prange. To her, the removal of this year's curricular emphasis on rote memorization isn't necessary. She thinks that important exam concepts such as nomenclature and solubility rules are enhanced through memorization. ''Nomenclature and Solubility Rules are not unnecessary," she said. Smith enjoyed everything about AP Chemistry during her junior year, and felt that she learned content beyond the curriculum. Her class environment, teacher and self-pacing for the class contributed to her performance on the exam.

Regardless of whether AP Chemistry reform will make a difference in this year's test scores, Ekatomatis knows that last year's students performed well. "Our data shows that students did very well last year in the exam."