Tips for using AP® Classroom

AP®  Classroom is a new, powerful tool that the College Board has provided for teachers and students this year. I used many aspects of the program with my students this year and these are my tips.

Note: These tips are for both in class and at home with the COVID closures. Read this document from the College Board about AP® updates and using AP®  Classroom with students at home.

Assigning Personal Progress Checks (PPC) and Your own Practice Exams on AP® Classroom

  • PPCs are a great formative assessment tool. Use it in this way and not as a summative device since every AP®  student in the world may potentially be answering the same questions and kids talk to each other. You may give completion credit, however, to students for doing the PPC.
  • If you are not following the order of the Course and Exam Description (CED), create your own progress checks/practice exams by choosing “formative” questions from the question bank and the unit/topics you want to assess. Click “Formative” under question type. Some of these will be the same questions in the personal progress checks, but not all. 
  • Assign a PPC free response question (FRQ) only if you do not have time to personally grade it. The same goes for an FRQ in a practice exam that you create. You have to go in and individually grade them before they can see the results. If you create a practice exam with multiple choice and FRQs, the students will not be able to see any results (not even the MC) until you grade the FRQ. Put a practice FRQ in a separate assignment.
  • Students have to finish all the questions on any assignment in AP®  Classroom before seeing any results. If you want them to be able to go back in immediately to check results, when you assign the exam click “let students see results”. If you want to wait until everyone has taken the PPC or other assignment, you can go back in to the assignment and click the button.

Giving Exams on AP® Classroom using the Question Bank

  • Choose “Perfect” or “Strong” questions in the question bank as these most closely match the new CED. 
  • Check your FRQs before assigning. In some FRQs, students have to solve a problem on paper (math, graphing, etc), take a picture and upload to the FRQ. This will require you helping students through this and may take a long time to problem solve with students. Your school computers may have a camera students can use, but many will not know how to use, save a picture and upload. If students use their phones, it creates test security issues for you. Practice first with these types of FRQs on a PPC with students before assigning in a real exam.
  • To print a paper test instead of giving an online test, click “paper test” when you assign it. It will then send you to the next screen where you can download a PDF the printed test. It does use a lot of paper and has an odd format where some questions begin on one page and end on another. If you have time, use the “snipping” function on your computer to cut and paste into another document where you can place the questions into a table. It is also feasible to develop two versions of the test this way. This video tutorial by Bella Vasquez explains how to do it.

BIG NOTE: Do NOT share a PDF of any questions digitally with students-this is a copyright violation. Students can and do download and share publicly on the internet.

  • Allow extra time when doing online tests. AP®  Classroom is sometimes very slow to log into and sometimes kicks a kid out of a test and they have to log back in. I find this problem is mostly due to slow Wifi at the school. This can delay a test by about 10 minutes. When I give an online AP®  Classroom test, I reduce the amount of questions to allow for a 10 minute delay. So, for example, in a 55 minute class period, I assign 25-30 multiple choice (MC) and FRQ when normally I would give 35-40 MC and one FRQ on a paper exam.
  •  When giving an exam in your physical classroom, It is helpful to have a “backup” FRQ on paper if your Wifi is crowded and AP® Classroom is loading slowly. Students might run out of time. Wifi is not usually not slow all day so only 1 or 2 of my periods (out of 5) may need a backup paper FRQ. Students can begin answering the paper FRQ while they wait for the multiple choice to load.
  • Do not put “secure” questions from practice exams in an assignment if you do not want or cannot use the College Board’s “lockdown browser”. This is a requirement if you use these questions. Even one question in your exam from a practice exam requires the “lockdown browser”. Those questions have a special shield symbol so you can avoid them when making an exam.
  • A timed assignment does not cut the kids off when the time is up. But it will tell you if the student went over time and you can penalize them or not. If a student is having trouble with questions loading more slowly than other students, I will not penalize them if I see that they took 35 minutes instead of the max of 30 minutes on an exam. You can also privately tell students that you will allow them extra time if they have an IEP or 504 plan. You don’t have to do anything to allow the extra time-just tell the student they can go over the allotted time by ___ minutes. 
  • During the COVID remote learning time, do give extra time in the “opening” and “closing” dates and times. Some students will have trouble logging in on time due to Wifi problems, slow connections etc. For example, If you program 30 minutes for your exam, open and close the exam between 9AM and 10:30AM. For better security, tell the kids the exam will open at 9AM and they have 30 minutes. That way some kids will not choose to do the exam later (like at 10AM) after getting answers from a friend. 
  • In my school, sometimes the regular Wifi is crowded so switching to “guest” wifi helps load AP Classroom faster. During the COVID remote learning time, if students are having trouble with connections, recommend switching Wifis (if they have more than one), or using data. 
  • Do try to create an alternate exam (with some different questions) or at least an alternate FRQ for kids testing late.
  • Make sure you did NOT click to “let students see their results” until all students have taken the exam. Then you can go back into the exam and click this button. 

Videos on How to Use AP®  Classroom

Use these videos provided from the College Board to help you learn how to use AP® Classroom.

For more exam information:

Read to find out various ways to Review for the AP® Exam

Learn what my post-exam surveys indicate about: What Do Students Think is Best for AP® Exam Review?

The 2020 exam has changed, but we can use past data to help us know how close students are to passing the AP® Exam: AP® Released Exams, Score Predictions, & the Final Exam “Curve”

The AP® Exam requires students to use higher level thinking skills called Science Practices. These skills need just as much focus as content. Read how the last released exam in 2016 had more of these questions: APES Exam and Bloom’s Taxonomy/Depth of Knowledge

* AP® is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse this site.

Tropospheric Ozone Virtual Picture Lab

I created this lab during the summer when tropospheric ozone is really high in the Los Angeles area. I used ozone test strips from Carolina Biological and took pictures at various times of the day, near freeways and away from freeways. You can purchase strips from the link below or from Carolina.

I normally cover air pollution in the winter when we typically do not have much ozone AND we are a few miles from a freeway. This means no readings or hardly any readings on the test strips. So, I made this picture lab a few years ago for students as an inquiry way to figure out ozone patterns. It also saves a lot of money as test strips are expensive.

The best option for teachers is to make your own lab taking pictures in your area, because research shows student learn best with local data. But, hey, teachers have limited time so feel free to use my lab created in the Los Angeles area. My city is a suburb of Los Angeles and I often drive down to LA for museums, restaurants etc.

Here are the links to the lab:

Pictures that can be uploaded to Google Classroom for student use or printed in color.

Student worksheet for the lab.

Some hints if you use this lab and are not in the Los Angeles area:
The Getty Center is a famous art museum located next to the very busy 405 freeway in Los Angeles. It is near Hollywood.
SCV is the Santa Clarita Valley.
#15: Our city , Santa Clarita, is located between the 5 and 14 freeways. Interstate 5 travels from Mexico to Canada and is heavily used–about 10 lanes going though our town. The 14 is less traveled and only about 6 lanes wide.

* AP® is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse this site.

Quick, Low-Tech Ways to Film Instructional Video

I like to film quick, low-tech, no-editing instructional videos for students.

Quick, because I’m a teacher and who has enough time?
Low-Tech means that I use items around the house and classroom or items that are cheap to buy.
No-Editing, because my students don’t care, and they find it funny when I make a mistake and keep going on. And… of course.. for time. And research backs me up in that no-editing is fine for student learning.

Here’s an explanatory video of how I use my iPad and iPhone to film video.

Ideas for holding up your device

A empty set of plant lights with a flexible arm clamp works for demonstrating labs with an overhead view.
The arm can be twisted to get the shot I need.

I filmed this Fecal Coliform Bacteria demonstration using the above method.

Use the flexible arm to film yourself at a whiteboard or at your desk or other location.

I used the flexible arm clamp on a lab table to film this Gross Primary Production/Net Primary Productivity demonstration. (Note, I did edit this video, but that’s because I had the time, its not necessary to edit most of what you film).

For funding ideas to purchase any of these items, read this post.

Good luck!

* AP® is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse this site.

Coriolis Effect and Atmospheric Circulation Lab

I love it when I hear kids say “whoa”, or “wow” or “ohhhh, now I get it” during a lab. I recently did the “Coriolis Effect and Atmospheric Circulation” Carolina Investigations Lab for AP® Environmental Science and these were the reactions from students. It was a successful lab with good student directions and questions. The lab took about 45 minutes.

Teachers’ manual with my notes and hints for next year.

Students have a difficult time with atmospheric concepts and this lab helps students understand convection cells, coriolis effect, and how winds are created. There are a few hints that I learned along the way which I described below.


The kit is a little pricey, but the materials will last for year. It comes with supplies for 8 groups of students. I have 9 groups and it was easy to source the extra supplies from Amazon (click the item for the link to buy). I needed one additional turntable (lazy susan) which was inexpensive, one more overhead marker, another pie pan, and one more blow up globe. For next year, however, I am going to have 1-2 extra globes to spare as one got a hole in it first period and a couple extra pie pans they often get leaks as well. The kit comes with white globes–which are better, but harder to find spares. My extra globe wasn’t white, but it worked fine.

Supplies needed for each group of students.

You also need some basic lab supplies: two 100ml beakers per group, food coloring, ice and warm water. I used an electric kettle to heat up water for labs. One small pack of ice from the grocery store was enough for 5 classes–45 groups of kids.


The lab comes with a 4 page reading that is rather difficult text for students. Instead, I did atmospheric science drawing notes with my students one day before the lab. They used these notes to help them with the pre-lab questions.

I only made copies of the Pre-lab questions and lab questions for students. I did not use the reading/non-fiction text and made a class set of the procedure (called “guided activity”) to save paper.


Students begin by using the turntable to try to draw straight lines while another student turns the turntable. I had to show kids an example of what their circle paper should look like at the end, because I had kids making swirls as they didn’t read the directions carefully. I told them to keep moving the pen and try to draw a straight line.

Student sample.

Convection Fluid

Convection is difficult to show in the lab. This apparatus worked fairly well. Students were able to see the food coloring sink near the ice cold beaker and rise near the hot beaker. I had to tell kids to fill the beaker with as much ice as they could and I made the water very hot in the electric kettle. Kids also had to wait a few minutes for the food coloring to move which is difficult for them to do. I let them gently move the food coloring if they were behind other groups. The lab recommends putting the food coloring in the ice beaker for a while which is a good tip.

Ice beaker and hot beaker in a pan of room temp water from the tap. Convection shows up pretty well with food coloring.


In the last part of the lab, students use the turntable again with the globe. They map how the Coriolis Effect deflects air and creates winds using the marker on the globe. They did not fully understand what was happening until I had to tell them to think of the direction of the wind and it diverts to the right in the northern hemisphere. So looking down on the globe, the air traveling south from the north pole would divert right–which is to the west. But if you looked at the globe straight on, it appears to turn left. Once they viewed the air and globe in this way, they finally got it.

Using the blow up globe and turntable

For more AP Environmental Science Labs, go to this page.

* AP® is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse this site.

Container Seeds in Ecocolumns

This year, I had packets of donated seeds that my students used in ecocolumns. Two of the packets were varieties made for containers and grew better than any plants had before in ecocolumns.

Container cucumber plant with a plethora of flowers and huge leaves.

These were the two varieties of container plants we tried this year (along with a bunch of other seeds). You can find them on Amazon by clicking on the links.

Typically, my student’s grow about 1-2 beans from one plant in their ecocolumns, if they’re lucky. Some of my students now have 10+ beans in their ecocolumns using this variety. They love eating them!

Bean plant with 2 green beans on it.

Not only were there more flowers and fruit, but I am so pleased with the results of the plant growth this year that I will try to purchase and use more container plant seeds next year.

Lots of green plant growth in this ecocolumn. Student is measuring soil using a Rapitest Soil Probe.

* AP® is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse this site.

A Review of Pasco’s Wireless Sensors

I used some of Pasco’s wireless sensors in my classroom over the past two years in my high school science classes. Here’s my review of their wireless sensors with water quality testing and other applications. Pasco makes sensors and other technology for science and engineering and is a popular choice for technology in the lab.

Pasco Water Quality Sensors

Water quality testing is an important part of the curriculum of many science classes. My students test water quality not only in ecocolumns, but also when students bring water samples to class. I describe my water quality lab in this post.

SparkVue app on chromebooks gives the students immediate readings. It can also graph for change over time.

I tested Pasco’s wireless optical dissolved oxygen sensor, wireless pH sensor, wireless temperature sensor and wireless conductivity sensor in the aquatic chambers of our class ecocolumns. One of my student groups used the Pasco wireless sensors for three months of weekly data.

Pasco’s wireless pH, temperature and optical dissolved oxygen sensors

Students used Pasco’s SparkVue app for Chromebooks with the sensors. The app was easy to install on Chromebooks and easy for students to begin using. I created an instruction guide with screenshots for them. They did not need much help from me with these instructions as Pasco sensors are easy to use.

The Sensors

The optical dissolved oxygen sensor ($289) is a nice piece of lab equipment and does not need calibrating. It is waterproof–has a clear screw-on cap to keep the power button protected from water. This is nice if using in the field for a pond or stream. It also has a hook so you can lower with a string into a body of water. This sensor also has temperature so you don’t need to purchase a separate temperature sensor (but temperature sensors are very inexpensive and can be used for other labs).
The pH sensor ($65) was fairly easy to calibrate. I had to search for the calibration page online, however, as the directions did come with the sensor. I have buffer solutions of 4, 7 and 10 on hand and I only needed tow of the buffers for calibration. Calibration was easy to do on the SparkVue app.
The temperature sensor ($39) is straightforward and sturdy. The conductivity sensor ($95) is nice, because it shows total dissolved solids (TDS) as well as conductivity. This conversion from conductivity to TDS in Sparkvue is helpful for students so they don’t have to do the conversion themselves.

Powering and Connecting Pasco Sensors

Most of the sensors run on small watch batteries. This is a plus in that you don’t need to charge them, but can be a drawback as you will need to purchase batteries. Batteries last about a year with regular use. I keep a supply of batteries on hand from Amazon. I did have a lot of trouble opening up the battery compartment on one of the temperature sensors which is a downside as the plastic can sometimes warp/stick.

Most of Pasco’s sensors do not have a wire to connect to the computer. This can be a drawback if your computers don’t have enough bluetooth connections or if the bluetooth connections are not stable and its better to be wired. The Chromebooks I use currently have a lot of ports for each laptop and bluetooth wireless connectivity is not an issue.

Pasco Light Sensor

The light sensor ($69) is handy for a variety of uses. I used the sensor to gather data during the last eclipse, but lately, I’ve been using to measure light intensity of plant lights and light from my window. It’s been invaluable for me to understand how my fluorescent bulbs are holding up in my grow light units, how much light my plants actually get by the window, and how my new LED lights compare with older light sets.

Measuring the light in my grow light unit. The flourescent bulbs are 2 years old
The readings for my flourescent lights from the light sensor.
Measuring the light coming through the window in the afternoon.

Pasco Carbon Dioxide Sensor

The wireless carbon dioxide sensor ($195) has some nice features. Its design works well not only in the bottle that comes with it, but also in other empty bottles (like gatorade or vitamin water) that can be used for labs.
The sensor is also good for measuring decomposition in a bio bottle or the Pasco EcoZone System ($105). Waterproof plastic sleeves can be purchased to use to measure dissolved carbon dioxide which could be used when studying ocean acidification.

The wireless carbon dioxide sensor in the decomposition chamber of Pasco’s EcoZone.

For a review of Vernier’s wireless sensors, read this post.
For a review of Hanna’s wireless pH testers, read this post.

* AP® is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse this site.

A Review of Vernier Sensors

I recently tried a few of Vernier’s GoDirect Wireless Sensors with my high school students and liked many of their features. Vernier technology is a popular choice for many secondary science labs.

Water Quality testing with Vernier Sensors

I tested Vernier’s wireless temperature, pH, optical dissolved oxygen, conductivity, nitrate and ammonia sensors. One group of students used the Vernier sensors for their ecocolumn data and I also tested the sensors in my fish tank.

What I liked: Students were able to easily download the Vernier Chrome extension on their Chromebook: Vernier’s Graphical Analysis 4. I made detailed directions with screenshots for the students to follow. Students had no trouble connecting the Vernier sensors. Data was very quick and easy for students. The readings were a lot faster than some of my other probes.

From the top: Temperature, pH, optical dissolved oxygen, nitrate and ammonium sensors.

The optical dissolved oxygen sensor ($299) worked well and needed no calibration. The pH sensor ($89) needed calibration (as do most pH sensors and probes), but this was easy to do in Graphical Analysis. I have buffer solutions on hand, because I calibrate pH probes of varying brands almost weekly. The temperature sensor ($69) also worked well.

Vernier wireless sensors have to be charged periodically which can take some planning and a lot of plugs/ports for multiple sensors to charge. The sensors have a wired option so if the sensor is not charged, students can plug into the side of the Chromebooks. Our Chromebooks only have one plug-in port so students would have to use the sensors one at a time if not charged–but that’s typically fine for water quality testing.

Both the nitrate ($249) and ammonium ($249) sensors are harder to use. This is typical for this type of sensor of any brand. They need planning ahead of time. Both sensors need soaking in buffer solution for 30 minutes before using and often need calibration. However, I tested the sensors a week after calibrating and they held their calibration over the week of non-use. This is an improvement over sensors I used a decade ago.

Ammonium and Nitrate Sensors soaking in “high” calibration solution for 30 minutes.

Both the nitrate and ammonium sensors can inform how beneficial nitrifying bacteria are functioning. If a fish tank or aquatic chamber of an ecocolumn has low ammonia and higher nitrates, it means that there is a healthy population of bacteria for nitrification–the process of turning ammonium into nitrites and then nitrates. Ammonium is found in animal waste (like fish poop) and dead, decomposing organic matter. Ammonium is toxic to aquatic life in high amounts so a healthy population of bacteria is essential.

This fish tank has a healthy amount of bacteria as is shown by low ammonium and higher nitrates. The readings are shown in the Chromebook Extension: Graphical Analysis

Older Vernier Technology with New Sensors

I have some Vernier sensors from over a decade ago that use a TI-84 Calculator interface for readings. Many of the sensors still work, but pH sensors do not have as long of a life span. So, I recently purchased some new replacement pH sensors to plug into these calculators. I purchased the Tris-Compatable pH sensor ($99), because the bottom of this pH sensor is sturdier which is good for ecocolumns. Regular pH probes tend to be rather delicate on the bottom, but these can handle more bumps with gravel in the aquatic chambers of the ecocolumns. They can also be used to measure the pH of soil using a soil slurry. I was happy to see that I can still order Vernier sensors that work with the older technology .

Old TI-84 calculators with new pH probes.

For a review of Pasco wireless sensors, read this post.
For a review of Hanna wireless pH testers, read this post.

* AP® is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse this site.

A Review of Hanna pH Meters

I recently tested three of Hanna’s pH Meters in my high school science lab. Hanna is a specialist and leader in pH technology for industry as well as education and I looked forwarded forward to trying these pH meters out.

Waterproof Pocket pH Tester in Calibration Solution

pHep Pocket pH Tester

I really liked this pocket pH tester for use in EcoColumns. It is fairly inexpensive ($39.95) and has nice features. This pH meter comes with packets of buffer solutions for calibration and calibration was easy and electronic. This is an improvement on the cheap pH probes (different brand) I previously used that required a screwdriver to calibrate. They are also waterproof! A big plus with students who aren’t as careful as they should be. Would be a good probe for an Ocean Acidification Lab for Chemistry or Environmental Science. The tester can also be purchased on Amazon if your school has an Amazon account.

Packets of buffer solutions-already in liquid form for easy calibration.

Calibration also held fairly well with five groups of students using the testers each lab day. I needed to calibrate after about 3-4 weeks of ecocolumn data which I have found to be a good length of time for holding calibration .

This pH meter also comes with temperature which means there is no need to purchase a separate temperature probe. It also has an automatic on/off feature (great for students who forget to turn them off) and uses small coin batteries.

Checker® pH Tester with 0.1 pH Resolution

The Checker pH tester ($29.95) is another inexpensive pH meter, but without the temperature add-on. I found that it did not hold calibration as well as the pHep and was not as easy to calibrate (but okay once I figured it out). Its is an option if you want to save a few bucks. It also has electronic calibration which is very nice compared to the screwdriver method with cheaper probes. It has automatic on/off, uses coin batteries and comes with calibration solutions.

Checker pH tester in buffer solution.

HALO® Wireless Field pH Meter

This HALO Wireless Field pH meter is much more precise than the first two. But, it comes with a higher price tab ($165) too. Its a high quality pH meter that would be helpful in chemistry classes that need a more precise pH meter for titration or other labs. The meter also measures temperature and adjusts pH for temperature.

Meter as it comes in the box. Contains buffer solutions in the package.
Meter in buffer solution to calibrate.

This pH meter does not have a digital display, but instead links to an app on a phone, computer or tablet. The free app is easy to use and connects seamlessly with Bluetooth.

Calibration on the app-VERY easy to do.

This pH meter is much more versatile with the ability for a 5 buffer calibration (but you don’t need that many for regular high school lab work). The app can graph, do calculations and share data– it is a powerful tool lab tool.

Sample pH data from Ecocolumns

* AP® is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse this site.

Human Population 5E Lab Using Cemetery Data Part II

This post discusses each part of the 5E Lab. For suggestions, materials and set of the Cemetery Lab, read Part I.


In a 5E, an Engage should be quick and illicit prior knowledge. For this 5E, students answer these questions to get their brains thinking. This part only takes about 5 minutes for students to write and about a minute to share.

  1. Who is the oldest person alive that you personally know?
  2. Did anyone in your family live past 100? If so, who?
  3. How long do you think people live for? In other words, what’s the average lifespan of people in the United States?
  4. Recall survivorship curves. Describe the three types of survivorship curves.
    Type I:
    Type II:
    Type III:
  5. Which curve represents humans? _______
  6. Do you think human survivorship curves have changed in the past 200 years? How?


The “Explore” portion of the lab is not my own. It is taken from many shared cemetery lab resources from many generous teachers.

Students work in pairs and record their headstone data on Tables 1 and 2.

Next, they read the instructions and fill in their pair data in Tables 3 and 4–just the first column. You can copy one set of tables per pair, or save paper by putting the tables in plastic sleeves (or laminate) and use vis-a-vis markers and wipe off.

Students then enter their pair data (from Tables 3 and 4) on a class spreadsheet using Google Docs. I program the google doc to add the rows for them. After every pair has filled in the spreadsheet, Students use the class data to fill in # deaths, # survivors and % survivorship for Table 3 (Pre 1900) males. If using my spreadsheet linked above, make a copy of the spreadsheet as your “Master” and then make a copy for each period and erase the sample data inside. Also delete columns U and V with their formulas. Thank you to APES teacher Michelle Amos for help with the formulas!

After students calculate % survivorship by hand for the first spreadsheet (Table 3 Pre 1900 Males), copy and paste columns U and V from your “Master” into the spreadsheet. Student calculations by hand should match the computer generated ones.

To save time, I program the google sheet to do the other calculations for Table 3 females, Table 4 males and Table 4 females. I do not program the math calculations for the first spreadsheet, Table 3 males, because I want students to do the math themselves first to understand survivorship.

Students make a line graph with 4 lines on the same graph: Pre-1900 males, Pre-1900 Females, 1900+Males and 1900+ Females. Even though the computer can graph for them, I make students hand-graph so they understand not only how to graph, but can better understand the data.

There is a dramatic difference in survivorship for people born before 1900 and after 1900

Explain: Student-Sense-Making

In this part of a 5E, students begin to understand their data and make a claim at the end. Students may have some mis-conceptions and wrong ideas which is okay at this point. Walk around and read student claims to see where their thinking is at this point. Students will have the chance to correct their answers later so its not necessary to make sure they have the correct answers now.

Explain: New Understandings and Vocabulary

Now is the time to help students gain further understandings of population and introduce medical advances and diseases. I show this video on YouTube. Afterwards, students read this article “Ten Health Advances that Changed the World” and fill out this modified Frayer graphic organizer.

Next, students go back to their questions from sense-making and revise their answers.

Elaborate: Survivorship Curve Predictions and Demographic Transition

Students show deeper understanding by making predictions as to what would happen to a modern survivorship curve with various scenarios such as disease and pollution. By checking their predictive lines, you can see if they truly understand how survivorship changes. Students also connect survivorship curves with the demographic transition model.


This evaluate is optional. Students write a chunk paragraph describing how AND why the population dynamics of Los Angeles changed in the past 200 years using evidence from this lab.

For more population resources, I have two items on TPT: Population Math Packet with formulas, 3 practice worksheets, practice quiz, quiz with FRQ and answer keys. Also, Draw an Age-Structure Diagram (Population Pyramid).

For more labs per unit in AP® Environmental Science, click on this link.

* AP® is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse this site.

Human Population 5E Lab Using Cemetery Data Part I

One of the most interesting labs in Regular or AP®Environmental Science is using cemetery data for human population studies. This 5E covers Several topics from the new AP Environmental Science Course and Exam Description including 3.3 “Survivorship Curves,” 3.8 “Human Population Dynamics” and 3.9 “Demographic Transition” and 8.15 “Pathogens and Infectious Disease”.

The Cemetery Lab is also good for AP Science Practices of data analysis, math calculations, and text analysis as well as NGSS Science and Engineering Practices.

The lab takes 2-3 class periods (45-50 min) with homework.

For copies of all the Cemetery 5E Lab files, scroll down to “Materials and Supplies”

Different Ways to do the Cemetery Lab

  1. Go to a real cemetery with students
  2. Take pictures at a cemetery and use the pictures in lab (shown above)
  3. Use “made-up” tombstones from a file and post around the room
  4. Use a database of tombstone data from a real cemetery
This short video was taken when my students did the cemetery lab.

Cemetery Lab Pictures or Databases

What you choose depends on your resources. If you cannot take kids to a real cemetery, I highly recommend going to a local old cemetery and taking pictures of headstones, printing them and have students use for data in the lab. I live in a fairly new town that doesn’t have an old cemetery so my pictures come from nearby Los Angeles which is as local as I can get for my students.

Packs of 25 Pictures. My students work in pairs.

You need 200-400 pictures of headstones with enough pictures of the following:

  • Males and Females born before 1900 and after 1900 (about half and half if you can)
  • Women who died young-in their 20s and 30s (most before 1900)
  • Babies and young children that died (most before 1900)

My pictures are printed from Shutterfly as it was cheaper than color ink on my printer and they will last longer. But, you can always print on regular paper or have students use a digital file of the pictures. I have a pack of 25 pictures for each pair of students (18 pairs per class). Each period of APES analyzes 450 pictures. You can adjust these numbers as needed for smaller classes or less pictures.

LOCAL is always best for student learning, but if that’s not feasible, you can use this is a file of about 200 pictures of tombstones taken by AP® Environmental Science Teacher Eduardo Fernandez and shared with permission. These are from a cemetery in the Los Angeles area.

Another option is to print this file of fake tombstones made by AP® Environmental Science teacher Michelle Miller Fagen and post around the room, lab, hallway or other location.

Another option is to use an online database of burials in a cemetery. Find a Grave is one site that does this.

I do not have advice for going to a real cemetery as I have never taken students to one.

Materials and Set up for the Cemetery Lab

Materials for Day 1 of the lab (about 50 minutes)

These four papers can be laminated or inserted into plastic sleeves as they are not necessary for the students to keep. They are used for calculations that then go onto a class spreadsheet.

For Day 2 of the lab (about 45-50 minutes), student need:

  • Access to the class spreadsheet
  • A graph handout

Students can finish the graph at home as needed. I also assigned “Explain: Student Sense-Making” on page 2 for homework.

Day 3 of the lab (50 minutes) is best done in class to avoid students copying from each other, but this can also be given as homework.

The remainder of the lab “Elaborate” and “Evaluate” are easily done as homework.


Decorating the lab is really fun if you do the lab in the month of October for Halloween. I have Halloween lights, fake cobwebs, and play spooky classical music.

My lab/classroom with Halloween decoration. The back wall has a lighted spiderweb.

My students use their cell phone flashlights to do the lab which makes it more fun. Some even make a lantern with their phones and a beaker of water.

Go to the next post for details about each part of this 5E Cemetery Lab.
Human Population 5E Lab Using Cemetery Data Part II

For more population resources, I have two items on TPT: Population Math Packet with formulas, 3 practice worksheets, practice quiz, quiz with FRQ and answer keys. Also, Draw an Age-Structure Diagram (Population Pyramid).

For more labs per unit in AP® Environmental Science, click on this link.

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