Instructor: Lawrence F. Bencivengo, Jr. School

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Instructor: Lawrence F. Bencivengo, Jr.

School: Mercer Island High School
AP Biology Course Syllabus

Course Overview

AP Biology is a rigorous, second year Biology course. For most students, it is the culmination of a strong four-year science curriculum that includes physics, chemistry, biology, and environmental science with Advanced Placement study in one or more of those areas.

AP Biology is designed to be the equivalent of a 100 level Introductory Biology for Majors course offered at the university level. As such, we study quite a breadth of topics, including cell structure and function, molecular biology, genetics, evolution, anatomy and physiology, taxonomy, phylogeny, botany, ecology and biochemistry. The evolution of life is an underlying theme, and the year ends with an in-depth exploration of bioethical issues.
AP Biology meets 4 times per week for a total of 234 minutes of class time. One class meeting each week is a double-period “block” of 105 minutes. We follow a semester system, with each semester divided into two quarters. Seniors meet for 35 weeks in total, with roughly 33 weeks of class and 1 week each semester devoted to Final Exams.
Laboratory Component

Major laboratory investigations are conducted approximately every other week, with numerous additional hands-on activities, explorations and demonstrations completed on alternate block periods. Thus approximately 25-30% of class time is devoted to hands-on learning experiences, with at least 16 major laboratory activities completed during the year.

Student Text: Campbell, Neil, et al. Biology, 5th edition (1999). Benjamin-Cummings Pub Co.
Teaching Strategies

I believe that students learn science best by doing science; that is, by developing hypotheses, designing and conducting investigations, collecting and analyzing data, and supporting their inferences using the evidence they have accumulated. Though the breadth and scope of the AP Biology curriculum precludes a strictly “constructivist” approach to learning, I create as many opportunities as possible for students to perform investigations and make direct observations of living systems.
I also believe that different students learn differently, and that each individual has their own preferred mode of learning. Since the auditory and visual modes of learning are emphasized in most colleges, I conduct frequent lectures. However, I present students the opportunity to learn through a variety of modalities, including listening, watching, moving, exploring in a hands-on way, reading and discussing.
In most weeks when we are conducting a laboratory investigation, Monday is spent introducing and discussing the lab. The lab itself is conducted during the block, though some investigations extend over several class periods, or even over several weeks. Other class periods are devoted to discussing and analyzing lab results, lecture on relevant material, and supplementary activities and class discussions. During weeks that we are not conducting a major lab, the block period is devoted to additional lecture, hands-on activities other than labs and class discussion.
AP Biology is divided into 9 Units of Study, each organized around one or more central themes of the biological sciences: science as process, the relation of form to function, emergent behavior in complex systems, regulation, continuity and change, evolution of biological diversity, interdependence in nature, matter and energy transfers in living systems, and the relationship of science and technology to society. The final unit of the year, following the AP Exam and course Final, always includes a Bioethics project. Students select issues related to the biological sciences that have ethical implications. Following a mini-primer in ethics, they research and debate the various topics they have chosen in front of the class.
We begin each unit with a discussion wherein students identify one or more Critical Questions which will focus our learning during the unit. For example, when studying the topics of photosynthesis and cellular respiration, students have developed Critical Questions such as, “Since plants perform both photosynthesis and aerobic respiration (thus consuming oxygen), why is that plants are said to ‘produce’ oxygen?” I guide students through this discussion to encourage them to develop deep questions related to the major themes of the unit. At various points during the unit we revisit these Critical Questions to discuss what we have learned.
Course Outline

Semester 1
Unit 1: Introduction to Biology (2 weeks)


Science as Process, Evolution

Topics & Activities:

  • The Scientific Method: Forming and Testing Hypotheses, Designing Controlled Experiments, Empiricism, Communicating Scientific Ideas

AP Biology Lab 11: Animal Behavior (modified): students learn to form hypotheses, then test them using controlled experimentation; they write a Lab Report using the same format seen in scientific journals.

  • Evolution and the History of Life on Earth: Natural Selection, Paleontology, Evidence for Evolution, Phylogeny, Punctuated Equilibrium

The Hairless Ape: Students examine molecular evidence, models and drawings of human and primate anatomy, including casts of fossil hominid skulls (available from Carolina and other vendors) in order to establish a phylogenetic tree for modern primates and humans.
Unit 2: Matter & Energy in Ecosystems (4 weeks)


Science as Process, Interdependence in Nature, Energy & Matter Transfers, Science and Society

Topics & Activities:

  • Ecology: Communities and Ecosystems, trophic levels, nutrient cycles, aquatic ecosystems

AP Biology Lab 12: Dissolved Oxygen and Aquatic Primary Productivity: students form hypotheses about Primary Productivity and Biological Oxygen Demand in different zones of a local pond, then test their hypotheses.

  • Population Dynamics: Exponential and Logistic Growth equations, carrying capacity, predator prey interactions

Yeast Population Lab: Students culture yeast (or some other microorganism), keeping track of population size using a hemacytometer. They compare to predictions using logistic growth equations.

  • Global Ecological Issues: Climate Change, Habitat Loss, Invasive Species, Pollution, Renewable and Non-Renewable Resources

Research & Presentation: students research a global environmental issue and present their findings to the class for discussion.
Unit 3: Cells & Molecules (5 weeks)


Science as Process, Emergent Behavior, Energy & Matter Transfers, Form and Function, Regulation, Evolution

Topics & Activities:

  • Biomolecules: organic and inorganic chemistry, biological macromolecules and basic biochemistry, osmosis and diffusion, water potential

Molecular Model Building and Simulation: students build models of biomolecules to understand their shape; students use simulation software (see for excellent free simulation software and lessons) to develop a conceptual framework for inter-molecular behavior and interactions.
AP Biology Lab 1: Osmosis and Diffusion

  • Cell Structure and Function: cellular organelles, cell cycle, regulation of cellular metabolism, enzymes, signal transduction and cell-to-cell signaling, Endosymbiont Hypothesis

AP Biology Lab 2: Enzyme Catalysis
AP Biology Lab 3: Mitosis (modified): students examine Allium root tip slides to identify the stages of mitosis and estimate the relative length of different stages of the cell cycle
The Paramecium Lab: students develop a hypothesis regarding mechanisms of signal transduction in the ciliate Paramecium. They then design and conduct a controlled experiment to test their hypothesis, writing a formal lab report.
Unit 4: Matter & Energy in Cells (3.5 weeks)


Science as Process, Energy & Matter Transfers, Form and Function, Interdependence in Nature

Topics & Activities:

  • Cellular Respiration: glycolysis, fermentation & aerobic respiration

AP Biology Lab 5: Cell Respiration

  • Photosynthesis: photosynthesis, C4 and CAM plants, basic plant anatomy

AP Biology Lab 4: Plant Pigments and Photosynthesis
Unit 5: Heredity (3 weeks)


Science as Process, Continuity and Change, Evolution

Topics & Activities:

  • Principles of Heredity: Mendelian inheritance, chromosomal inheritance, evolution of populations, Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium

Allelic Frequency Study: students use PTC paper to test themselves, friends and family members for their ability to taste phenylthiocarbamide (PTC); they then try to construct pedigrees of inheritance (using compiled, anonymous data) and estimates of allelic frequency using the Hardy-Weinberg equation.
AP Biology Lab 3: Meiosis (modified): Students examine Sordaria cultures to attempt to map the location of a gene for ascospore color relative to the centromere

Semester 2
Unit 6: Molecular Biology (4.5 weeks)


Science as Process, Form and Function, Regulation, Continuity and Change, Evolution

Topics & Activities:

  • Molecular Biology: genes, chromosome structure, replication, transcription and translation in both prokaryotes and eukaryotes, recombination

Simulations of Molecular Processes: students use a combination of physical models, simulation software and kinesthetic modeling to understand processes of replication, transcription, translation and transposition
AP Biology Lab 7: Genetics of Organisms (modified): students perform dihybrid crosses of Drosophila melanogaster, using the data collected to determine the frequency of recombination between the 2 genes studied. They check the validity of their data using a Chi2 Goodness of Fit Test. This activity extends into the next unit of study.

  • Evolution and Phylogeny: molecular evidence of evolution, transposition, regulation of gene expression in prokaryotes and eukaryotes, cladistics

AP Biology Lab 6: Molecular Biology (modified): because our students perform gel electrophoresis of DNA and bacterial transformation in General Biology, we perform an SDS-PAGE analysis of fish proteins to test predictions of fish phylogeny. We use the “Fish Proteomics” kit from Bio-Rad for this lab and create a cladogram from the gel data. Fish samples come from fish bought locally.
Unit 7: Vertebrate Anatomy and Physiology (6 weeks)


Science as Process, Form and Function, Regulation, Continuity and Change, Evolution

Topics & Activities:

  • Homeostasis: homeostatic mechanisms, feedback loops, cardiovascular and pulmonary systems

Simulations of Homeostatic Systems: students use a combination of physical data and computer modeling software (we us a program called Stella for generating models) to build models of homeostatic systems, such as a simple cardio-pulmonary system.
AP Biology Lab 10: Physiology of the Circulatory System
Pig Heart Dissection: Students conduct a guided dissection of a pig heart, with special emphasis on the physiology of the heart and human cardiopulmonary health issues.
Sheep Brain Dissection: Students conduct a guided dissection of a sheep brain with special emphasis on identifying similarities and differences with the brains of humans.
Cat Dissection: Students conduct a guided dissection of a cat, with emphasis placed on comparing and contrasting with the anatomy of humans.

Unit 8: Plant Anatomy & Physiology (2 weeks)


Science as Process, Form and Function, Regulation, Interdependence in Nature

Topics & Activities:

  • Plant Phylogeny & Reproduction: major plant taxa, alternation of generations, sexual reproduction in angiosperms

Monocots & Dicots Lab: students observe a variety of plants obtained locally and prepared slides of stems, leaves & roots. They classify the plants into two groups according to similarities and differences in anatomy, then learn about the anatomical differences between monocots and dicots to go back and determine whether they have successfully differentiated the two groups. Students also discuss various adaptations of flowers and seeds to improve pollination and/or seed dispersal.

  • Plant Physiology: vascular structure of plants and other terrestrial adaptations

AP Biology Lab 9: Transpiration

AP Test & Final Exam Preparation (3 weeks)

We take approximately two weeks at this point to review and prepare for the class Final Exam and the AP Test. Review activities include hands-on explorations with models and observations of organisms, as well as extensive review sheets and practice AP tests. The class Final Exam occurs roughly 1 week after the AP Test.

Unit 9: Bioethical Issues (2.5 weeks)


Science and Society

Topics & Activities:

  • Bioethics Debates: in their final project of the year in AP Biology, students pair up to research a biology-related topic or issue with ethical implications. Following a brief primer in ethics, students develop a “resolution” to debate (e.g. “Resolved: Physician Assisted Suicide should be legal for patients with a terminal illness”). Students prepare a Poster and a Presentation explaining the important science concepts and laying out ethical arguments for and against their resolution. Each presentation is followed by a period for questions and discussion of the topic. Finally, students submit a graded Reflection on what they have learned over the course of the project.

Student Evaluation:
Students in AP Biology are evaluated primarily on the basis of their performance on Unit Tests, Semester Finals and laboratory reports. Each quarter students submit at least two major lab reports following a format similar to that used in peer-reviewed scientific journals, including an Abstract, Introduction with background information and hypothesis, a detailed Methods section, a Results section that includes statistical analysis of the data, and a Discussion section where students must tie the results of the lab to major concepts learned in class, evaluate the reliability of the results and suggest further investigations of a related nature. At least one of these labs, the Paramecium Lab of Unit 3, engages students in all aspects of the scientific method: they must perform background research, develop a testable question and hypothesis, design a controlled experiment to test their idea, collect and analyze data in the lab, then evaluate the results.
Unit Tests and Semester Finals are modeled after the AP exam, including timed Multiple Choice and Free Response sections. Tests are designed to evaluate students’ conceptual understanding and ability to interpret and apply data, as well as their factual knowledge. Free Response questions frequently require students to apply their understanding of major themes, such as evolution or energy exchanges, to novel situations related to the material learned in the unit.
Students also have the option to turn in written notes from required reading assignments, which are scored and factored into their grade. Finally, the last unit of the year requires students to address ethical issues related to the biological sciences, including such matters as animal testing, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, corporate responsibility to society, physician assisted suicide and many others. Students frequently cite this project as one of their favorite units of the year.

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