Content Delivery Ideas

Focusing on skills and science practices is super important in a science class whether its an AP® or a regular class. But students still need content and essential knowledge. What are some methods of content delivery?

There is no one best way to deliver content. As a professional educator, you have to decide what is best for your own group of students, school, and community.

Sticky Notes

I developed sticky-noting over 10 years ago as a way to balance the needs of my high level students who could understand everything from reading the book and the kids who needed more from me to understand the material. You can read about this method on this post.

Sticky Notes point out the important information on the page and add additional information (such as humus in this picture) that the book is missing.

Reading Quizzes

Students can learn a lot of content at home by reading the book. In an AP class, there is not enough time in class to cover all content and train students in the Science Practices. This is a form of “flipping”. You can read more about reading quizzes and flipped method on this post.

Reading quizzes can be implemented to make sure the students did their reading. They can be on paper, or online. I use my textbook’s online portal for my quizzes, but Google Forms is another good platform. My quizzes are timed (11 questions in 7 minutes), randomized, open book/note. I usually assign one quiz per two sections of reading and they are low-level questions that ONLY check if they read. They are not AP-caliber questions.


Edpuzzle can be used to supplement reading assignments. A few short videos assigned (2-4 minutes) per section of reading can help students understand what they’ve read. Embedded questions makes sure students pay attention to the video. I grade the questions on accuracy as part of their homework grade.

This is a screenshot of the mini-videos assigned to my students in chapter 14. A typically night’s homework is to read a section (about 5-8 pages) in the book and watch 2-3 Edpuzzles.
Edpuzzle mini-video example: Ted-Ed video I assign when students read section 14.1 of my textbook.

Interactive Presentations

One way to ramp up learning with your Power Points or Google Slides is to use an interactive presentation site such as Pear Deck. Students answer formative assessment questions and engage in discussion during notes to keep them engaged and learning.

Cornell Notes

This is a popular way of doing notes. Much of the feedback from teachers I talk to at workshops around the country, however, is that students generally dislike it. But many also say that it can be done well and some teachers have developed modifications that work for their students. You can read about the method on the Cornell website.

Sketch Notes

A increasingly popular method of notes are sketch notes. A good website that gives a lot of advice for this process is the Shrock Guide. Teachers who use this method find that students need training to do it well, but it can be a method very useful for certain learners.

Interactive Notebooks

Another “hot topic” in the teaching world are interactive notebooks. This website has a good tutorial on how to do them.

Photo courtesy of Nicki Gold

Doodle Notes

A fun way to mix it up is to use doodle notes where there is a template for students to write information or draw pictures on. I use doodle notes for a few topics such as plate tectonics and the nitrogen cycle. There are many good sellers of these templates on TPT including SheCartoons.

This doodle note is a free download from SheCartoons (APES teacher Jenna Mittman) on TPT

File Folder Notes

Another idea for unit content or even exam review are file folder notes. Each students must write important information, graphs, charts on a file folder. The folder is sturdy and can be a long-lasting study tool.

Photo courtesy of Kim Hoskins

Charts and Graphic Organizers

Charts and other graphic organizers are good tools for list of topics that kids need to know such as biomes, energy sources, diseases, air pollutants, toxins, etc. This is better than assigning projects and having kids research and share only one of them. This way kids learn all of the information well.


Newspaper, journal, or internet articles are a good way to develop critical reading and text analysis skills while learning content. Be sure to train students how to identify the author’s claim and the evidence that backs up the claim. I do not spend time having students find and present current events. Time is precious and I prefer to have them read articles I picked out that meet strategic content and literacy goals.

Many of our students need scaffolding, however, with readings. If you can, provide a graphic organizer such as a Frayer model, provide annotation training, do discussion diamonds, or have students read to each other to help with difficult articles.

This is a reading from California’s Environmental Education Initiative (EEI) that I use to supplement information about wetlands.

Project-Based Learning

Project-Based Learning (PBL) can be used for content and skills in more authentic learning based on research about how students learn. Free curriculum is now available at Sprocket from the George Lucas Educational Foundation. Also, many teachers have developed their own PBL units that they freely share.

Remember, you cannot do it all and whatever you decide, you are the most important learning tool for students. Teach with enthusiasm and passion, but be kind to yourself and only do what you can do at that moment. Resources build over time.

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How I Structure My Flipped Class

My “flipping” method has evolved over the past 3 years. This is my current approach for a flipped class. For reference, I teach on a traditional schedule of 55 minutes per day. For research, best practices, advice, and computer access, read this post.

Notes at Home on Video

I recorded all my sticky-note videos for my textbook (Environment, the Science Behind the Stories by Withgott and Laposata). The videos are about 30-45 minutes of per chapter (broken up into smaller videos). Students watch at home and sticky-note their own book (there are other options for students that you can read on my sticky-note post). The time is typically 1 to 2 nights of homework depending on length of chapter. Students will pause the video and write so it takes them 60-90 minutes at home. Students watch these videos on Edpuzzle with questions that I embedded. Students get their first “notes” grade for their accuracy on Edpuzzle questions as a homework grade. Students do this assignment first to introduce the chapter.

This is my own son doing his sticky-notes at home.

Reading and Edpuzzles at Home

Homework other nights during the chapter consists of reading 1-2 sections of the chapter (The Withgott book typically has 4 sections per chapter). Along with this, they are assigned several mini-videos (2-5 minutes each) from YouTube, Bozeman, National Geographic orTed-Ed that are found on Edpuzzle. These mini-videos help reinforce what is read. Students are graded for accuracy on answering questions embedded in Edpuzzle as a homework grade.

These are the mini-videos assigned with readings for chapter 22 in my textbook.

Reading Quizzes in Class

After 1-2 nights of readings and Edpuzzle homework assignments, students take an online reading quiz. Usually 2-3 quizzes per chapter. The quizzes are on my textbook’s companion website “Mastering Environmental Science” by Pearson. I give 11 questions for 10 points (they get a freebie point) in 7 minutes. Randomized and not every student gets the same 11 questions. Accuracy counts and it is a quiz grade. Some students do not read and only watch Edpuzzles, but they don’t do well on the quizzes and they soon learn as their grade in the class slowly drops.

Physical Note Check in Class

I check notes for 2 chapters at a time the day before an exam. Students can bring in their books with sticky-notes, or the same information written on lined paper or show me their virtual sticky notes on an e-book. I go around the room and flip through the pages or stamp papers and mark on my seating chart. I do not collect. This is their second “notes” grade in my flipped class and is a homework grade (or sometimes a lab/activity grade if I want more compliance).

Note Check

What Do We Do During Class Time?

I often remind students of the items that used to be homework that I now allow during class. This helps them understand why notes are at home and gets it out of their brains that they have more homework in a flipped class. They actually have LESS homework and notes at home are easy. The hard stuff is now done during class. Its kind of funny, but I actually still run out of time in class for everything I want to do.

  • Labs and Activities-My labs are not as rushed with a flipped class and students have time to think and process data.
  • Time to discuss difficult analysis questions based on science practices with groups and finish lab reports in class. Prevents copying and much stronger reports turned in by students.
  • Time to do group lab reports on Flipgrid for a few labs (like EcoColumns).
  • Math is done in class so students can get help and I can make sure they’re doing their own work instead of copying. I can afford lots of days in class for math which really helps kids on the AP Exam.
  • Online tutorials on the Mastering program. This used to be homework, but students would screenshot the answers in group texts. Now in class, they do authentic work and learn the material for the exam.
  • An important film that reinforces content.
  • Difficult content such as El Nino, Air Pollution or making graphic organizers.
  • Graphing practice or other new skill such as LD-50.
El Nino Notes

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Sample Grading and Points

This is a sample of how I grade in AP® Environmental Science. As a teacher, you must find what works for you and your own students, school and community! It takes a lot of trial and error and adjusting from year to year.

Homework/Classwork- 10%

  • Edpuzzles
    • 10 points per sticky note video-usually two or three 15-minute videos per chapter. I embed questions in my Edpuzzles so students are graded on watching and accuracy in answering the questions.
    • 4 points per mini-video which are other non-note videos to reinforce reading assignments. Examples are Ted-Ed and YouTube videos. I typically assign one or two sections of the chapter to read (each chapter has 4 sections) per night with corresponding mini-videos. I am on a regular schedule where students meet every day for 55 minutes.
    • I download scores from Edpuzzle in a spreadsheet, but they are percentages of questions correct. I have the spreadsheet add up the scores and then divide to make the points reflect what I wrote above)
  • Note Check – 20 points. I check 2 chapters of physical sticky notes the day before an exam.
  • Math Day – 20 points
  • Other items such as readings, online tutorials or whole class movies/videos-10-20 points.
Note Check

Exams and Quizzes – 35%

  • Reading quizzes-2 or 3 per chapter. 10 points each. Mine are online with 11 questions in 7 minutes through the Mastering Environmental Science site for the Withgott book. Randomized. Open-book, open-note. My district recently subscribed to the GoGuardian program which allows me to monitor computers during the quiz. Before GoGuardian, I stood in the back of the room to see all the screens during the quiz to prevent cheating.
  • Exams are every 2 chapters
    • 50 minutes for the exam
    • 100 points for multiple choice (usually about 40 questions)
    • 50 points for FRQ (1 per exam). This is my curve which I believe is fair. It is not as generous as the AP® Exam, but the students only had to study 2 chapters for the exam instead of 24 for the AP® exam.
      • 10=50
      • 9=48
      • 8=46
      • 7=43
      • 6=40
      • 5=36
      • 4=31
      • 3=25
      • 2=20
      • 1=15

Labs and Activities – 30%

Final Exam each semester – 25%

I give a fall final exam and a spring final exam before the AP® Exam.

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

Tree Rings and Climate Lab

Tree rings are a good way to study past and present climate. They are proxy indicators of climate change, but can be used to study other climate events as well. You will need several handouts for this lab. The student handout is on this google doc. Note: There are a lot of regional-specific questions in this lab. You will need edit for your own tree cookies and region.

You also need the document “Reading the Rings of a Tree” as a student reference sheet.

You can use large or small tree cookies, but larger ones typically have more interesting data and weather, insect or fire events.

Finding Tree Cookies

  1. You can purchase tree cookies on Amazon or Etsy. Its easier to buy them, but kids get more out of the lab if you can find local tree cookies.
  2. Wood-shop or career-tech construction classes. We have wood-shop on campus and the teacher had a spare log and cut a bunch of tree cookies for me. Shout out to Leonard Friedman, woodshop teacher extraordinaire!
  3. Find or buy a log and use a chainsaw to cut your own cookies.
  4. Wait until after Christmas and use a discarded live (now dead) tree.
  5. Ask a tree-trimming company for branches or trunks of trees they are removing.
  6. A firewood company may sell you unsplit logs.
  7. A local college or extension may have some tree cookies to loan.
These tree cookies are from a local pine and show evidence of insect infestation.

Other Supplies

Setting up the Lab

Prepare tree cookies by placing pins on some of the dark rings. This helps students identify and measure between rings. Reading rings is actually harder than it seems. Students (and teachers) have some difficulty with this. When they are counting the number of rings, tell them to ESTIMATE and do the best they can, because its difficult.

If you have hard wood, you may need to use a hammer and thumb tack to make hole before then putting in one of the other pins.
Customize your pins based on your location. This tree cookie shows severe drought in CA in the pink, black and blue pins and some El Nino years earlier.

If you choose to protect the trees with varnish, I recommend flat varnish, because gloss or semi-gloss reflect overhead classroom lights and make counting more difficult (learned this the hard way)

Copy the paper tree cores on card stock or laminate for durability. That way you can use for multiple periods and multiple years.

Measuring a paper tree core.

Preserving Tree Cookies

If you want to preserve your tree cookies to use for a long time and also prevent bugs and pests, the following are directions from APES teacher Mark Case:  “I make tree cookies regularly. Step 1: soak the cookie in antifreeze for about a week. Make sure it is very well penetrated. Eggs and larva die. Step 2: Freeze for 72 hours in a deep freeze. Step 3: use a solar dryer. Any type tote and a piece of glass or plexi glass over the top in the hot summer sun. Step 4 let it dry for at least a week before you coat it with poly. “

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

Resources for the AP® Environmental Science Exam

Read about the AP® Exam in these various posts. You can also find out the basics of the APES exam on this College Board website.

Labs For Each Unit in AP® Environmental Science

This is a list of labs with links that I do for each unit in the Course Exam and Description. There are many more great labs that APES teachers do. I chose these for the most “bang for the buck”–lots of concepts learned and/or science practices, feasible for many APES sections and large APES classes, feasible for my school’s outdoor area, and budget-friendly from year to year. I typically write small grants for equipment and then use over and over again.

For a list of lab supplies, read this post.

If I have a post written about the lab, you are able to click on the title of the lab to read about it.

Unit 1: The Living World: Ecosystems

  1. EcoColumns–this lasts for 3 months and covers topics in Units 1, 2, 4 & 8
  2. Productivity Lab –I use a video lab to save time, but there are many versions for students to physically do.
  3. Owl Pellet Lab
  4. Light in the Deep Sea Activity from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Unit 2: The Living World: Biodiversity

  1. Island Biogeography Lab–There are many wonderful shared variations of this lab. I have a longer, analytical, inquiry-based 5E version on TPT, if interested.

Unit 3: Populations

  1. Cemetery Lab –Many good labs shared by many teachers. A post with mine as a 5E is coming soon.

Unit 4: Earth Systems and Resources

  1. Soil Labs 
    1. Chemistry of Soil (N,P,K,pH). Many good versions of this lab out there and many good kits . I do this lab with ecocolumns.
    2. Physical Properties of Soil (porosity, soil type, color, permeability). (My students do at their summer workshop at the local water agency. But there are many good versions and good kits for this lab.
  2. Tree Rings and Climate Change (can be covered with El Nino in unit 4 or wait until Unit 9)–a post is coming soon!

Unit 5: Land and Water Use

  1. The Tragedy of the Commons Lab
  2. Trees and Forests Lab–Students go outside to measure trees and discover ecosystem services. Many shared versions are out there from teachers. A long, analytical 5E is on TPT, if interested.
  3. Salinization Lab (This is my 1st controlled lab which is used as scaffolding for other experimental design labs)
  4. Cookie Mining–A post is coming soon!
  5. Climate Change and Cities Experimental Design Lab (or in Unit 9)–A post coming soon. Can be purchased on TPT, if interested.
Salinization lab

Unit 6: Energy Resources and Consumption

  1. Kill-A-Watt Lab

Unit 7: Atmospheric Pollution

  1. Particulates Experimental Design Lab

Unit 8: Aquatic and Terrestrial Pollution

  1. Water Quality Testing 5E Lab
  2. Biomagnification Lab-This version is from the Monterey Bay Aquarium
  3. Toxins Lab

Unit 9: Global Change

  1. Tree Rings and Climate Change Lab (or in Unit 4)–a post is coming soon!
  2. Climate Change and Cities Experimental Design Lab (or in Unit 5)–a post is coming soon!
  3. Ocean Acidification Experimental Design Lab (if time, I have not had time the last few years)
  4. Measuring Biodiversity. Many good choices out there including a Parking Lot Lab. I sometimes use quadrats for biodiversity.

After the AP Exam
1. Solar Cookers (usually done after the AP Exam as it takes several days). Many options shared from many teachers that are wonderful. I have a longer, analytical 5E on TPT, if interested.

AP® Environmental Science Math Review Practice Problems

These are practice problems to prepare for the math on the
AP® Environmental Science Exam.

For basic math information and formulas, read “What students need to know about the math for the AP Environmental Science Exam”
Read “Last minute tips and hints for the APES Exam” for advice taking the exam.

If you are stuck on some problems, watch math help videos. They are:

Continue reading “AP® Environmental Science Math Review Practice Problems”

Tips and hints for the AP® Environmental Science exam

These are tidbits of important information and some common student errors that many students make on the AP Environmental Science exam.

Make sure you are studying your notes, textbook and/or a review book. Some favorite review books are: A Cartoon Guide to the Environment and ASAP and
Five Steps to a Five. But many others are good as well (Barrons, and ones by textbook publishers).

Know how to answer FRQ prompt using these terms.
Continue reading “Tips and hints for the AP® Environmental Science exam”

FRQ tips for the AP®Environmental Science Exam

These are some basic guidelines for writing FRQs. For help with math, read “What students need to know about the math for the AP Environmental Science Exam”

Basic FRQ information for the APES exam

  1. Always write in complete sentences.
  2. Don’t write more than the question asks for.
    1. If the FRQ asks for two examples, only the first two examples that you write are graded.
    2. If you write more, the graders will read them to check for contradictions, but you will not earn points. Contradictions will take away points.
  3. Introductory sentences or re-stating the question is not necessary. No points removed, but it can take precious time.
  4. Label each section: a. b. ci…….
  5. For a document question (#1), you DO NOT need to quote the document. Read it to get ideas, but pull specific information or examples out of your brain.
  6. Write an economic term ($ or jobs) for an economic question
Continue reading “FRQ tips for the AP®Environmental Science Exam”

AP® Environmental Science math for students for the 2019 exam.

This is the basic information you need about APES math on the AP® Exam.

Read this post for some practice problems.

  • No Calculators. Big bummer, I know, but its the way it is.  You may have heard that this is changing for 2020….it is, but for this year, NO calculators.
  • Pre-Algebraic Word Problems. Many students struggle with setting up the problem. The actual math is not that hard, but setting it up is challenging for many. Practice this with problems your teacher assigns you or with review books.
  • Usually 8-10 Multiple Choice Questions. There are 100 multiple choice questions and 8-10 are usually math related.  The Rule of 70 is a favorite for 1 or 2 of the problems. You DO NOT need to show work for MC questions.
  • One FRQ is Half Math. You have four FRQs in 90 minutes. Question #2 will have math quesitons for half the FRQ. Over the years, the math has gotten easier on the FRQ, but this has not increased the national pass rate. To practice, go to the College Board’s website and print out some FRQ #2s from previous years. Then, go to this playlist on Youtube to help solve the problems.
Continue reading “AP® Environmental Science math for students for the 2019 exam.”