in the report Learning and Understanding: Improving Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in U.S. High Schools (National Research Council, 2002). The new course is organized around 4 big ideas, 7 scientific practices, and 17 enduring understandings (see Box 6-1). “It’s not about covering 1,500 pages of your favorite textbook,” said Spencer Benson, director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and associate professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics at the University of Maryland, College Park, who was co-chair of the AP biology curriculum redesign committee. “It’s about developing a framework to understand all of biology.”
The big ideas of the redesigned course emphasize concepts, evidence, and data analysis rather than requiring students to memorize endless facts. Benson also called attention to the practice of connecting and relating knowledge across various scales, concepts, and representations in and across domains. That means looking at evolution from many different biological perspectives and reiterating the idea that evolution is a central component of biology throughout the curriculum.
As a high-stakes exam taken by many students every year, restructuring the AP Biology exam is also “critical,” Benson said. The exam is being redesigned to emphasize the concepts, content, and practices that serve as organizing principles for the new curriculum. “People are writing by evidence-based design,” said Benson, “which means that every question is linked directly into the curriculum framework and into scientific practices and enduring understandings.” Results on the exam will be analyzed to determine whether the new exam is working better than the previous one.
Undergraduate Biology Education
In 2007 the American Association for the Advancement of Science, with support from the National Science Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the National Institutes of Health, launched a major initiative to develop a shared vision for undergraduate biology education and the changes needed to achieve that vision. As Celeste Carter, a program director in the Division of Undergraduate Education at the National Science Foundation, observed at the convocation, the driving force of the initiative was, “how do you make the biology that we teach as exciting as the biology that we do in our laboratories?” Over the course of the two years, the group held a series of regional meetings and then a national conference with faculty, administrators, representatives of professional societies, and students and postdoctoral fellows. This meeting resulted in the report Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action (Brewer and Smith, 2011), which, as stated in the preface of that