When I tell people that I teach AP and regular environmental science in the same class at the same time, they envision my day as a hectic juggling act. They’re usually shocked to hear that it was my choice, but for me it was an obvious decision – one that embraces the integrated nature of environmental science.
I had taught environmental science for three years prior to this year. This is the first year Concordia has offered AP Environmental Science along with its other AP sciences (Biology, Chemistry, and Physics). Many of my AP students are individuals who would not otherwise have taken an AP science. Science – they say – just isn’t for them.
But environmental science is different. The math of physics, the equation balancing of chemistry, and the nearly foreign sounding vocabulary of biology are largely absent. What the course has instead are touches of economics, sociology, and politics – all swirling around our world’s ever expanding understanding of ecology.
It is the most relatable science – the science most people already have a connection to. Each student comes with prior knowledge based on vacations they’ve taken, news they’ve heard, or other subjects they’re interested in. Furthermore, it is the science they have the most influence over. The discussions we have in class are practice for the decisions they will make later in life. Whether by ballot or behavior, in-store purchases or online posts, they will be pushing their decisions into reality. These discussions and decisions benefit from hearing multiple perspectives.
The integrated class format embraces my students’ diverse contributions. My AP students can read a published study on an issue while my regular environmental science students can read about the same issue in a blog post or news article. We can then not only discuss the topic itself, but also the biases that come with each source. We can discuss the differing priorities of scientists, politicians, and those involved at the many levels of industry. The wide range of academic abilities between AP and regular environmental science students helps us stay in touch with the range of perspectives and priorities in our world.
The benefits of this type of integration aren’t limited to environmental science. Various studies demonstrate the advantages of integrating ability levels in discussion-based classes such as English and history where each student has something to contribute. It is only in classes focused on practicing sequential procedures like math and chemistry that this integration is detrimental.
Far from being a hectic juggling act, each day is a robust blend of perspectives. Environmental science provides a basis for observing and understanding the interconnectivity of our world. It makes sense that both classes should be connected as well.
Biology and Environmental Science Teacher