I'm excited about a new class I'm teaching next year. Yes, it's the honeymoon period--I haven't started teaching the class yet, so I'm still in the thinking, dreaming, imagining period--but hey, it's a good place to be--I'm going to enjoy it while I can.
The new class? It's a "college in the high school" biology class--a partnership between my high school and a state university to offer students dual credit. Students will be able to earn both high school and college credit while taking a class right here in their own school.
The class itself is fascinating. We are going to study the fundamentals of biology while looking through the lens of addiction, psychoactive drugs, and the human brain. We're going to do a series of cool labs, there's an online component, and even an interesting text. The biology of cells, organs, systems, and behavior--it's all there, we're just using a specific, high interest focus--the brain and addiction--to study it.
And why do I have time to think, dream, imagine about a new class? It's because I have a student teacher.
Normally I teach AP biology every other year--we just don't have enough students in our small school to support a class every year. This is one of my years off from teaching AP biology. What happened in the AP biology world during my time away? A brand new course and exam description, and a new lab manual to accompany all of that. The changes to AP biology are without a doubt an improvement--there is a greater focus on inquiry, and an attempt to reduce the vast scope of content.
Even though the changes were an improvement, they were significant changes and I was going to have to rethink my class, write a new syllabus and year long plan, and submit a course audit. Before embarking on this "revising my AP bio class" project, a worthwhile but time-consuming endeavor, I wanted to be absolutely sure that AP Biology was the class I wanted to teach.
Because I have a competent student teacher right now, I found myself with some time to think about what sort of advanced biology class would best suit the students at my school. I considered a lab technique class or a biotechnology class. I realized that one of the huge draws for AP biology for the students and their parents was the potential of receiving college credit. I remembered hearing about a "college in the high school" science class from a teacher at another school at a professional development event a few years ago, so I decided to look into it.
The advantages of this dual credit class? First, high interest content matter! Yes, AP biology may be more comprehensive, but in this Addiction and the Brain class we are going to study individual biological systems in much greater depth, a luxury not possible in AP bio. The addiction, brain, and drugs content itself seems to be a motivator for my students. The principal was supportive, and I presented this new class idea to the sophomores at my school. I emphasized this was an optional, rigorous college level science course, and that it would require a lot of students both inside and outside of class. I was kind of blown away by the level of interest students expressed.
Other advantages? Earning credit in AP biology is completely dependent on a high stakes test administered on one day. In this dual enrollment course, students will be able to earn credit with the work they demonstrate throughout the class, instead of just one single test. In addition, many colleges do not grant credit for AP work--sometimes they give waivers, sometimes they give credit only for certain scores in certain subject areas--it varies widely. With a college in the high school class, students will actually get credit on an official university transcript, something that is widely accepted.
Also, students get to take this class right here in our own high school! Programs like Running Start offer many advantages to students. However, that means that students have to commute outside of small communities like ours to a community college in a different town. That makes it hard for the students and our school--Running Start students often want to participate in high school activities like ASB and student clubs, but they are rarely at the high school. As a school community, we also lose the advantage of having these students participate with others in our classes--they are gone. The students who leave sometimes lack the social and academic support they might find in their home high school. Running Start is a great program, it just is not right for every student and has some costs and benefits to the high school itself.
I think this Biology, Addiction and the Brain course is a great option for my students here at our school. I'm glad I had time to think about it because of my student teacher. Without that time, I'm pretty sure I would have followed the path of least resistance and continued to teach AP biology. The life of a teacher is busy--teach class and then engage in all sorts of other school related activities on the side. The day-to-day workload itself can be an impediment to change. What happens is that teachers rarely have unscheduled time available to think, reflect, and grow. This time for teachers is important--it improves our schools.