Getting to Know Your Students

A “Getting to know you” survey or questionnaire the first week of school is not a new idea. Used strategically, however, it is an essential tool to quickly learn about your students even before you’ve memorized all their names. I use Google Forms for instant results that I can quickly scan for specific items.

Computer Access

This is the most important item I want to learn right away in a flipped classroom.  Do my students all have internet access through a smart phone or computer?  Many students are embarrassed to come talk with me if they don’t have internet at home, but they will answer questions on a google form about their access. Making sure all kids have access and providing access if they don’t is crucial.

I scan the spreadsheet results to quickly find the kids without internet access. The highlighted student does not have a computer at home, but does have a SMART phone. This is fine as I make sure all my homework can be done on a phone.

Once I find students without computers or internet,  I can go to these students privately and find an individualized solution with them depending on their resources. These solutions can include:

  • Providing a flash drive with video lectures for kids with a computer, but no internet at home.
  • Teaching them how to download lecture videos on their phones using the school’s WiFi if they don’t have internet at home.
  • Providing a borrowed device such as donated old tablet or phone with video lectures downloaded on them.

First Time AP and How Many APs

This is an important snapshot for me to take of my classes as a whole and for individual periods and students. Every year its different and these questions give me an idea of how many kids will need more scaffolding in learning how to do well in an AP class.

2018 results. I typically have about 50-50, but this year, about 2/3 have taken AP before.
Another good snapshot of my classes to inform me of how many kids are juggling a lot of APs and those that are “trying out” only one AP.

Its also helpful to look at the results by period. I typically have one period where a lot of kids are “1st timers” and then another period where they’ve all taken 10th grade AP Euro and are now taking 3 or 4 APs.  I can approach instruction for each period differently.

Preferred Name

Some kids are shy and won’t tell you their nickname or preferred name when you call roll on the first day. Research shows that names are important for student achievement and I want to get it right.

Extra Curricular and Sports

I want to know which kids are in which activity for several reasons:

  1. Helps me make a personal connection with kids–I want to ask them about their team or band or theater group etc.
  2. Let me know of a coach or leader I can contact with any questions or concerns.
  3. Gives me a heads-up on who will have to leave early for matches, competition, games, choir tour, band tour etc.

Sample results

Some more great personal questions that you can ask are found on Norm Herr’s website.

And Anything Else…

This is another important items. I’ve had kids tell me about health problems that keep them out of class often, or their career aspirations, or that they are shy or……

For example, if I have a student who writes down special need or a health problem, I can privately ask them what I can do to help. Just that question means so much to the student.

Or, for shy students, I can talk with them about one of the items they mentioned–like building a computer. This helps bring them out of their shell a little.

Anything to understand our students better help them learn, but also demonstrates caring and compassion and creates a better community.

APES Math Strategy That Really Works

The million dollar question in AP® is “How can I help struggling students while not boring or giving busy work to high achieving students?” This is especially true for math concepts in science courses where students are enrolled with differing math skills and strengths. How can teachers help ALL students with APES math?

I’ve been trying different ways to approach APES math for 12 years. Last year, I tried something new–a math diagnostic and then individualized, differentiated math review and practice.  The verdict? According to my instructional planning report from the CB……it worked!

(To learn about the types of math needed in AP Environmental Science click here. )

Math Diagnostic

The first thing I did was develop an APES math diagnostic that students took at the beginning of the year covering the types of math they should have already learned. Some students didn’t remember how to solve some or all of the topics, while others didn’t remember how to solve without a calculator. You can find the diagnostic I developed here.

Math Review Diagnostic for AP Environmental Science

The diagnostic took 60-90 minutes for students to complete. When finished, they self-graded with the solution key and circled the topics on their answer sheet that they believed they needed to review. This allowed them to take ownership of their learning. I told them that I would look over them and circle any other areas they needed to work on, but for the most part, they were pretty honest. They knew they needed to know how to do the APES math for their own exam grades and wanted the practice.

There are special APES math topics that we learn during the year (population math, energy math and productivity, for example) and these are not part of this diagnostic. I teach those math topics differently–as they come up in certain chapters.

After students have self-corrected and indicated their weaknesses, I entered the topics they needed practice on a spreadsheet and used the spreadsheet to assign review papers to them individually.

Update: Shelby Childress Riha uses a Google Form with her students where they can click the areas they need to review. I LOVE this and plan to use next year to save me time filling in a spreadsheet by hand.  Thanks Shelby!


Students had choices on how to approach each  APES math review paper.  They could

  1. Attempt to solve and then use a solution key to check their work.
  2. Use videos for help. I made videos of all the review sheets. They could watch me solve one or all of the problems on my Youtube Playlist. 
  3. A hybrid of the two–solve any they could without video help and then fast-forward the videos to only the problems they struggled with.
APES Math Review papers with keys.

I prepared 10 pages of review topics along with solution keys and videos. You can easily do this with your own math review papers….but a warning…it does take many hours to prep. After students were finished with the specific papers they needed to do (for some students it was all 10 math papers and for others it was only 1-2 papers), they switched to FRQ math practice. 

I rotated around the room making sure students were on task on math days. I estimate that I did about 10-12 math days in class last year (55 minute periods on a traditional schedule).  I flipped (lecture at home) which allowed this amount of time in class.

One of the amazing, awesome things about this method using videos is that I just monitored students. I did not run around to try help individual students in the period and this prevented exhaustion. The kids just opened the video for the review paper they needed and fast-forwarded to the problem they needed help with.

When Students were Finished with Review

After review papers, students practiced APES math with released FRQ #2s from each year on the AP Exam.  I assigned 2017 back through 2009–two at a time and had keys and videos for them.  I used the snipping tool on Microsoft word to cut out the non-math portions of the FRQs. I also did not assign problems previous to 2009 as the math is structured a bit differently in recent years. The math is also easier in recent years so I wanted them to start off with easier problems.

2017 key for students to use after solving APES math problems.

Some students finished all the released FRQs and were then assigned to do peer tutoring with other students who needed help with APES math.


It worked!  I am thankful, because it was HOURS of work to prepare and implement. I compared my students’ (group) mean with the global mean each year. This was the highest difference on FRQ#2 in years. My students average was 1.4 points higher than the global mean which is an increase of 56% over the global mean (Percent change!!)  Last year, I had only a 13% gain over the global mean so I am very pleased with the results.

These are results from the 2018 exam. FRQ #2 was the Wind Energy FRQ. I have marked out all other scores for confidentiality

Implementation was challenging, however. It took a lot of organization to keep track of what each student needed to do and turn in. Next year, I plan to organize better and create folders for each kid with the papers they need for the year and give them 1-2 pages at a time.

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.

Peer Grading FRQs using Google Forms and Spreadsheets by Katy Sturges

Implementing FRQ Peer Grading in the Classroom

Guest writer: Katy Sturges, APES teacher from Texas

In the summer of 2008, after completing my first year of teaching only Biology, I went to a mandatory APSI training as a requirement to teach AP® Environmental Science the following school year. As many of us do, we all bring home nuggets of information on not only the content, but on various methods of how more experienced teachers do things. I took away many nuggets that year, but the one that has evolved the most that I still implement today—almost 11 years later– is how to effectively peer grade FRQs. Before I explain my methodology, I think it is important to note the skeleton of this idea was first introduced to me by Courtney Masser Mayer— if you haven’t had the pleasure of being trained by her go sign up!! She is fabulous!

Before Test Day

For each unit my kids get a packet of corresponding released FRQs—they could get 2 FRQs or 10 FRQs- it just depends on the unit! These are due on test day through for a completion grade (they know this). I make sure they don’t plagiarize and I check to make sure they are describing when it says to describe, etc. and take off points accordingly. I have them do this so they are exposed to as many FRQs are possible. SPOILER ALERT- the answers are posted on the College Board website and the kids know this — in fact I tell them about it! This is why their daily grade FRQs are completion BUT they know one of those FRQs (or a conglomerate of them) will be on their test for bonus points. I emphasize to them to go through their packet on their own to the best of their ability, since it’s completion, and THEN look up the answers to see if they were correct and clear up misconceptions before their test. Your high level kids will attempt the FRQs on their own and then look up answers to check their work, your moderately high kids will attempt them on their own and won’t bother looking up answers, your moderately low kids will go straight to College Board and rework their answers and your low kids just won’t do it.

Anonymity is key—and fun!

My kids also answer FRQs on test day –they get a 33 MC test and one 10 point bonus FRQ to answer in about 45 minutes. I don’t curve tests, so this way they can earn some extra points from their FRQ.  All FRQs are written on colored paper that is specific to the class period (this comes in handy later during peer grading) so 1st period might write theirs on blue paper, 2nd period on green, etc. It isn’t necessary to ALWAYS make first period the same color for the entire school year because, let’s be honest, that’s one more thing to keep track of.

On the top of the MC portion of the test, right justified by their name, I have them write their “codename”. This can be ANYTHING their heart desires and can change every test if they want. On the first test, you have to remind them not to spend 10 minutes coming up with “the perfect codename” because they enjoy this part of test day the most. The only parameters I give for making their codename is it needs to be appropriate (if it’s inappropriate they don’t get any FRQ points) and if it’s going to be generic add some numbers at the end. You’d be surprised how many kids will use the codename “Panda” so remind them to be “Panda168” or something. Since the kid’s school lunch accounts are tied to their IDs at my school, I mention to avoid using ID numbers—besides, those are super boring!

Fun Fact: Apparently there used to be a cartoon called “Codename: Kids Next Door” and, you guessed it, every year I would get several kids that used “Kids Next Door” as their codename. Luckily, they were in different classes so they were separated by period/color… but I was very confused for a couple of years!

They will write their codename in three places– on their MC test by their name (as mentioned), on their colored FRQ sheet (ideally in the top right corner) and on a sign-up sheet I pass around:

This paper is the most important for the teacher- this is the easiest way to match the student’s grade/codename to the actual person. It is also colored coded with the class period. Make sure to label the top with the unit name/topic to keep your sanity later when looking back through these. The kids pass this paper around while they are testing without any issues. When you get the sign-up sheet back, add the names of anyone absent—this will make it quick and easy to jot down their codename as they come in to take their test on a later day. This is also why I have them write their codenames on their MC test book—I can always refer back to their original test if I can’t determine who a codename belongs to.

So why go to all this trouble? When the kids peer grade they will never grade their own class period. Color coding helps me keep things straight on grading day– “Blue was 1st period, so I shouldn’t have any blue papers being graded right now”. The codenames are to keep the kids as fair (and as nice) as possible. This way they don’t go “Oh, Bobby Sue is super smart, so this has to be correct- score:10” and on the flipside, they don’t know the names of their peers that don’t have the best writing skills or write painfully incorrect things i.e. “The depletion of ozone causes an increase in greenhouse gases” * cringe *

Peer Grading- The Buy In

I always make it a point to tell my kids WHY we are doing something. The very first time we peer grade I tell them:

  • I lose 14 instructional days for peer grading over the course of the year. I wouldn’t waste 2.5 school weeks if I didn’t find this process crucial to their success on the AP® exam.
  • They can see good writing and they can also see really, really bad writing. Also, which I think is the most important, they can see how someone seems to have a general understanding of the topic but doesn’t write their answer well enough or explain/describe enough to earn a point.
  • They can mentally compare their answers to the rubric and see what various answers College Board accepts as a correct answer. While they peer grade, I have the opportunity to clear up misconceptions and explain why something is incorrect or too vague.
  • They can get a “calibration grade”. I will explain how to do this later in the post, but I tell them if I look at how they graded an FRQ and codename “Texas Blind Salamander” has scores of 3,2,3,3,4 from their peers but they gave the paper a score of a 9, they are not calibrated with their peers and didn’t take the task seriously–their calibration grade will be a reflection of that.

Peer Grading Day- Now What?

Prior to peer grading day I print off a class set of the College Board Rubrics for the FRQ(s) I used for that particular unit. All released FRQs and their rubrics can be found at AP® Central:

When the day is over, I stick these in a manila folder so I can pull them back out next year which saves me paper (yay) and keeps me away from the copy machine the following year (double yay!).

I also build a Google Form for the kids to fill out as they peer grade. It includes their name, the codename of the paper they are grading, the paper color they are grading, the point values per subtopic and the total points earned. You can add other things for classification purposes but those basic things work for me.


Sometimes, if there is a big misconception in the rubric I will add it to the “description” part because, as we are all aware, kids don’t always listen during instructions when you say “hey guys- look at Part B in the rubric…”

At the beginning of the year, I don’t expect them to grade as many FRQs as compared to the number they need to grade at the end of the year. In a 45-minute period, kids can grade 4-5 papers at the beginning of the year, while at the end they can grade 6-8 papers. If they don’t grade the number I provide, I take off calibration points.

Variations on Peer Grading- What I’ve Done in the Past

  • Grouping kids. I used to put kids in groups to peer grade. In a utopian classroom, they would spend 15-20 minutes individually (quietly) grading a handful of FRQs and then come together to collectively discuss why a paper earned/did not earn various points. This works okay the first few times, but what ends up happening is they go through the papers as quickly as possible so they can sit and talk/play on their phones once they finish. Another issue I always had to address when grouping them is they can’t just Rock-Paper-Scissors their way to a score. The idea is if someone gave Part A 2 points and another person gave 0 points, they need to discuss WHY to determine the points earned for Part A- not just meet in the middle. The reason I don’t do this anymore is because 1. not as many papers get scored 2. The feedback I received from kids when I switched from group grading to individual grading is they liked being able to spend more time with each paper and the lower-level kids weren’t just riding the group’s coat-tails, so-to-speak.

  • Using slips of paper for the kids to write on instead of a spreadsheet: don’t do this. This is so hard to keep track of and organize. If your kids don’t have access to computers/laptops/tablets in the classroom, see if you can schedule a day for the computer lab. It’s definitely worth it to avoid sorting through slips of papers!
  • Feedback. The biggest complaint I personally have about doing FRQs this way is the lack of feedback. I don’t think the kids care all that much, but I have yet to come up with a solid method of providing feedback. (Yes, I know, I could suck it up and just hand grade FRQs with detailed notes about “more description” or “too vague” but with my enrollment ranging from 70-160, I flat out don’t have the time to do that). Last year I tried something that worked okay but towards second semester I stopped doing it for some reason. I had the kids provide “Warm & Cool Feedback” slips for at least two of the FRQs they graded (another nugget I received at APSI training!). To ensure each kid received feedback, as an FRQ paper was peer graded with a feedback sheet, it was hole punched to signify a feedback sheet had been made for that paper and no paper could have more than 2 hole punches. Once collected and sorted, I’d hand these back when the kids were working independently. I had mixed reviews- I overheard one student say “Well, this person said to write more but this person said I write too much”—maybe I will give it another try.

How to Determine Scores

The hard part is over- let’s determine scores! Below is a tutorial video I made which is WAY easier than trying to type out what to do with your excel spreadsheet. The video explains how to pull the data from the Google Form, organize it and determine calibration scores.

Click for Katy’s FRQ Grading Tutorial Video

And there you have it! Is this the absolute most perfect way to peer grade FRQs? Most definitely not, but, it’s how that little nugget of wisdom 11 years ago has evolved into a system that works for me. Hopefully you can make some part of this nugget work in your classroom!

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

Using Mastering in an AP®class

I’ve been using the “Mastering Environmental Science” companion website for Environment: The Science Behind the Stores by Withgott and Laposata for many years. The Mastering platform (a Pearson website for college-level textbooks) has been very beneficial for my students.  Here’s how I use the Mastering site for my AP® Environmental Science classes, but this method also works for other Mastering courses such as AP® Biology, AP® Physics etc.

Reading quizzes are done IN CLASS, timed, randomized and open book/note. I used to allow kids to do at home as homework, but had rampant cheating  as one kid would take screenshots of all the questions/answers and send via group text to the class.  Now, I have enough access to Chromebooks to allow me to quiz during class time.

My homework is typically to read a section of a chapter along with some supplemental mini-videos on Edpuzzle that give visuals to the reading. The next morning is a reading quiz. Other homework is sticky-note lecture, because I flip. 

This is my current method of using Mastering (like all teachers, I’ve changed a lot through the years). In a nutshell:

  1. Use a Master Class to create and edit assignments such as reading quizzes and coaching tutorials
  2. Copy assignments to individual periods of AP
  3. Change settings on quizzes to prevent cheating and to force kids to read
  4. Utilize coaching questions as review assignments to help develop critical thinking skills

(Note: there are extensive video tutorials to help you with Mastering if you are just learning how to use. This post focuses on certain features and methods I use–not the entirely of how to use Mastering).

Setting Up My Classes or “Courses”

I create a “Master Class” each year and transfer the previous year’s quizzes and assignments to this class.  In this master class, I edit and change the things that I want to change and then copy the assignment into my other classes.

Assignments in my “Master Course”. These are assignments I’ve created over the years and transferred to my Master Course. I pick and choose which ones I will assign and “copy” to my periods of AP.

I make a separate class in Mastering for each of my 6 periods of APES.

I click “Create a New Course” when I create my different periods of AP. When I create a new “Master Course” for the year, I click on “Copy one of my courses” in order to transfer the Master class from the previous year which has all of the assignments that I’ve already made over the years.
Creating a separate course for each period.

Students enroll (via codes provided by Pearson with a subscription) into Mastering and then into their specific period’s “course”.

Making Reading Quizzes

I do not use the pre-made chapter reading quizzes made by Mastering. Instead, I make my own using mostly the Mastering questions along with a few of my own.  I sometimes quiz every section (4.1, for example) or every two sections (4.1/4.2, for example). I add a few questions from the case studies to the first section of each chapter since Mastering doesn’t have these questions and I want students to read the case studies.

(Side note: You have to teach kids how to find the “sections” in the textbook since they aren’t labeled “4.1” etc. Each green bold title is a new section. Kids get it and don’t have a problem finding the section to read.)

When I make a quiz using the question bank on Mastering, I choose mostly “reading quiz” questions along with a few “test bank” questions  I feel are really easy and probably won’t use on my exam. They are basic, low-level, questions that only check for if a kid read. They are not high-level questions that prepare students for the AP exam.  Higher-level questions come later in exams.

When I create my assignments, I click “Randomize Item Sequence” so each kid has a different order of questions. I also choose about 15-20 questions for the quiz and click “Pool Assignment” an then “Give each student 11 of 15 items”. So each kid gets 11 of the questions in a randomized order. This also prevents cheating.

Places to click to help prevent cheating.

To prevent more cheating, I stand in the back of the room and watch all screens.  I cannot tell if a kid takes a screenshot, but I can see if they pull one up or if they’re messaging each other via Google during the quiz. Or..looking up answers online. I will soon have GoGuardian which will allow me to monitor this better. Considering my averages for quizzes are typically in the 60% range, I don’t think a lot of cheating is occurring.

Copying Assignments to my Periods of AP

When I copy assignments (such as reading quizzes) over to each period’s course, I program the day and time the quiz becomes available–typically 3 minutes after the bell rings. This prevents kids from doing the quiz earlier in the day in another class where I cannot monitor them. I can also program the quiz to lock after the period or day so that absent students cannot do the quiz from home.

Click here to copy assignments from the “Master Class” to each of the  AP periods.
Use this screen to program the dates and times the quizzes open.

Changing Settings

I have the following settings for my reading quizzes (based on a lot of trial and error). You need to adjust these settings for EACH PERIOD after copying them over. Changing the settings on the Master Class does not change them when you copy to other periods. You can make default settings for each period so you don’t have to change these settings with every quiz.

I allow students to see if an answer was right or wrong since they’re supposed to be learning from their mistakes. I also have a time limit of 7 minutes.
I hide titles so kids cant search for the question on the internet.  I also limit access so kids cannot give answers to absent kids. Students are not allowed to print.
I don’t allow hints and the first answer is for full credit. I used to be more lenient and allowed hints and half credit for the second guess, but kids started slacking so I am stricter now and kids rise to the level of expectations.

Coaching Assignments

Mastering has WONDERFUL pre-made coaching tutorials, graphing and video questions. These are higher-level thinking questions and improve critical-thinking.

I combine all these questions into a “Coaching” assignment per chapter. The questions  are often drag and drop vocab or steps in a process (like eutrophication), or animations with tutorials. My students do these in class so I am sure they are not copying.

Also, doing them in-class is important for equitable access. Some of my students only have cell phones or tablets and these questions are not often compatible with mobile devices.

This is a coaching assignment for chapter 2. This assignment would take 15-20 minutes of class time.

For coaching assignments, I allow kids to re-sort or guess again with just a few points taken off, because they are review for the upcoming exam.  They are also untimed.

Below are some examples of the types of questions found on Mastering. I did not capture the whole image since they are not open-source.

Kids drag and drop terms into the rock cycle diagram.
This is a vocabulary sorting activity.


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Pacing Calendar and Curriculum Plan for Withgott

I use Withgott and LaPosada’s Environment, the Science Behind the Stories, 5th edition for AP® Environmental Science.  I’ve used Withgott for 12 years and love it. My students find it accessible and readable.

I analyzed all released multiple choice exams and FRQs to find out what percentage of each chapter is asked on the AP Exam. This guides my pacing for the year. The following is my Withgott pacing plan.

Pacing Plan

This is my Withgott pacing plan for the amount of time I spend on each chapter.  I teach a traditional calendar from the middle of August through the first week of June–every day for 55 min. The rest of the document with labs, activities, and optional material can be found on this Google Sheet.  

Its important to backwards plan. Mark every special day, holiday on your school calendar, then the date of the AP Exam and work backwards.

Stick to it! This is item #1 on the 15 most important things a new AP teacher should know.

Chapter in Environment: The Science Behind the Stories by Withgott and Laposata Time % of MC questions on released exams % of FRQ questions 2003-2016
1. Science and Sustainability: An Introduction to Environmental Science 1 week
2. Earth’s Physical Systems: Matter, Energy and Geology 1 week Chapters 1 and 2 is 5% of AP Exam (mostly  Ch 2) 2% (all Ch 2)
3. Evolution, Biodiversity, and Population Ecology 1 week
4. Species Interactions and Community Ecology 1 week
5. Environmental Systems and Ecosystem Ecology 1/2 – 2 weeks Chapters 3,4,5 is 12% of AP Exam (mostly  Ch 4 and 5) 10%
6. Ethics, Economics and Sustainable Development 1/2- 1 week
7. Environmental Policy: Making Decisions and Solving Problems 1/2 week Chapters 6 and 7 are 6 % of AP Exam (mostly Ch 7-laws) 5%
8. Human Population 1 1/2 weeks Chapter 8 is 6% of AP Exam 2%
9. Soil and Agriculture 1 1/2 weeks
10. Agriculture, Biotechnology, and the Future of Food 1 1/2 weeks Chapters 9 and 10 are 6% of AP Exam 11%
11. Biodiversity and Conservation Biology 1 week
12. Forests, Forest Management, and Protected Areas 1 week
13. The Urban Environment: Creating Sustainable Cities 1/2 week Chapters 11, 12 and 13 are 7% of AP Exam 14%
14. Environmental Health and Toxicology 2 weeks Chapter 14 is 6% of AP Exam 7%
15. Freshwater Systems and Resources 2 weeks
16. Marine and Coastal Systems and Resources 1 week Chapters 15 and 16 are 11% of AP Exam (mostly Ch 15) 14% (mostly Chp 15)
17. Atmospheric Science, Air Quality and Pollution Control 2 weeks
18. Global Climate Change 1 – 1 1/2 weeks Chapters 17 and 18 are 18% of AP exam (mostly Ch 17) 12%
Pass out 6 week study plan for AP Exam
19. Fossil Fuels, Their Impacts, and energy Conservation 1 week
20. Conventional Energy Alternatives 1 week
21. New Renewable Energy Alternatives 1 week Chapters 19, 20 and 21 are 10% of AP Exam 14%
22. Managing our Waste 1/2 week
23. Minerals and Mining 1/2 week Chapters 22 and 23 are 5% of AP Exam 9%
Review for AP Exam 2 weeks
After the AP Exam

Image result for withgott

(AP®  is a trademark owned by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.)

Flipped Classroom-Reflections and Changes for Year 2

I recently finished the second year of a flipped classroom for AP® Environmental Science and my students did very well on the AP® Exam. I have a lot of first-time AP® kids that aren’t the typical honors student. Flipping helps not only these kids, but all students learn content at their own pace.

For year two, I changed a few things.  (You can read about how I flipped the first year here and you can scroll to the bottom for a sample week’s assignments). After the first year, student feedback indicated that an overwhelming number of kids liked and learned well from this method, but 10% hated it. They explained that they thought there was more homework (there wasn’t), learned better from an in-class lecture, were used to copying homework, and/or were too lazy to do notes at home.

My goal this year was help all kids understand and embrace a flipped classroom since it can be very helpful to students and the vast majority of my students love it. And, more importantly, kids learn more and achieve higher scores on exams.

Caveat: A flipped classroom is not for every teacher, class or school. It can only work if students have access to resources at home. I work with the 1-2 students each year without computer or internet access to provide them with an individualized, easy solution (borrowed device, videos on a flash drive, etc). I also don’t think its good for NGSS where most learning is inquiry with labs or via literature, not lecture. 


  • Communication. This year, I constantly referred to Bloom’s taxonomy, Depth of Knowledge and AP® Science practices (which are posted in the front of the room) when explaining an assignment. The AP® Exam is 2/3 higher level thinking and I tell them that. I reiterated periodically to students that they don’t have more homework with a flipped classroom, just different homework. For example, some days, I told kids at the beginning of class that they have today’s class time to do this lab write-up since notes are at home.  Notes are the “easy stuff”, skills and AP® Science Practices are the “hard stuff” and will be done in class. More about communicating to parents and students can be found here. Communicating worked, sort of. I still had 9% of my students who didn’t embrace flipped (shown on the graph below with a 1 or 2 ranking), but they didn’t say that they felt that I gave more homework.The great news is that more kids chose a 5 below which indicated that they understood why this method works for their learning.
    On the graph below:
    1: No I didn’t learn well this way.
    5: Yes, it was great to learn this way.
The vast majority of students reported that they learned better with a flipped classroom.

Here is a sampling of why they chose the number they did.

This is a sampling of student responses about flipping.

Overall, I am still very pleased with a flipped classroom. The kids learn well from it and enjoy class time more.

  • Lecture/Notes before reading assignments. On the suggestion of my students, I switched the order of homework after the first few months. I used to have students read at home and do in-class reading quizzes for homework and then do lecture notes (I do sticky notes) for homework using Edpuzzle for accountability. Then, I switched to doing lecture note videos first for homework, followed by reading assignments and in-class quizzes.  This was their feedback.
My students preferred sticky note lecture before reading assignments.

I think that kids understood material in the book better when I went through the chapter via sticky note lecture before they had to read it. I plan to continue with this method in my flipped classroom.

  • Gave less reading quizzes by combining sections. My textbook has about 4 sections per chapter. I used to give one section to read and a few little Edpuzzle videos (2-3 minutes) for homework followed by an in-class, open-book, timed, randomized, online reading quiz the next day. I started combining sections for the quizzes. I still gave only one section per night, but a quiz every other day (I am on a traditional schedule where I see the kids for 55 min each day).  This forced kids to read more carefully.
  • Check and give credit for notes 2 ways. My sticky note lectures are on Edpuzzle. Students must get most of the questions correct for credit. The questions are embedded from what I say, not what I write. This ensures that they actually LISTEN to my lecture instead of watching it, taking notes and listening to their own music. In addition, I do a note-check the day before the exam (two chapters at a time) to make sure they did the physical notes. These count for more credit.

Sample Week for a Flipped Classroom in APES

  • Weekend homework: Chapter 9 Sticky Notes on Edpuzzle
  • Monday class: Lab Set up
  • Monday homework: Read 9.1 and watch 3 mini Edpuzzles (ones that give visuals for 9.1)
  • Tuesday class: Math review and practice
  • Tuesday homework: Read 9.2 and watch 2 mini Edpuzzles
  • Wednesday class: 9.1/9.2 reading quiz (open-book, 10 questions, 7 minutes, randomized). Discuss results of quiz and misconceptions. Gather lab data.
  • Wednesday homework: Read 9.3 and watch 3 mini Edpuzzles
  • Thursday class: Finish lab data and questions, plan for group lab report on Flipgrid.
  • Thursday homework: Read 9.4 and watch 4 mini Edpuzzles
  • Friday class:  9.3/9.4 reading quiz. Film flipgrid with groups
  • Weekend homework: Chapter 10 sticky notes on Edpuzzle

Students like the flipped more classroom and more importantly, they learn from it. Here’s some feedback this year from my students:

By the way, I also ask them ways I can improve…but I didn’t post those here. 🙂



Everything Ecocolumns

My students’ favorite lab is building and taking care of Ecocolumns.  This lab gives them practice in long-term data collection and a myriad of other essential topics in APES. Here are the posts you can click on to learn how to build, buy supplies and assess ecocolumns.

Prepping Ecocolumns

Buying Supplies for Ecocolumns

Ecocolumns with a Small Budget and a Big Budget

Making Ecocolumns

The following posts are the order in which students should build ecocolumns. The fish doesn’t come for 2 weeks!

  1. Cutting and Filling Ecocolumns
  2. Planting Seeds, Setting up Data Charts, Taking Soil Data
  3. Adding Bugs, Worms and Leaf Litter
  4. Building the Aquatic Chamber
  5. Adding fish

When things go wrong

Things go wrong in ecocolumns and its okay!

Data and Assessment

Group Data Analysis
Scientific Concepts Kids Should Learn in Ecocolumns


In AP® Environmental Science, we don’t have any mandatory labs, but there are a few that are seen often on the AP® test.  In addition, there are a lot of great labs that students will find enjoyable and that hit a lot of the topics required in APES.

APES Supplies Part I: Essential Labs

APES Supplies Part II: Other Recommended Labs

Supplies for EcoColumns

Ideas for finding funding for supplies

Students preparing petri dishes for the salinization lab



AP® Released Exams, Score Predictions, & the Final Exam “Curve”

One way to prepare students for the AP® exam is to have them take released exams either as practice or as a final exam before the AP® Exam.

My students do both.  For practice tests, I have them fill in diagnostic worksheets based off of my textbook.  Then, for the final exam, they review the Zipgrade printout and reference this spreadsheet to see how close they are to the score they want.  They can also see my curve–the % I put in for their final exam.  The spreadsheet is based off of the most recent released exams which are curved harder than older exams.

My students practice with the multiple choice only.  My students do not need more FRQ practice  at this time–they need to memorize information and use it in complex, higher-order thinking questions.  But, your students may need more FRQ practice.  If your students take both the MC and FRQs use the Scoring Worksheets provided by the College Board with the released exams for score predictions.

Since I give my final a few days before the AP® Exam, students can use those days to cram and get a higher score.   I have a good number of kids who bring themselves from a 2 to a 3  each year in the final days. And, many students who are at a 4 cram more to get that 5.  Encourage students that they can do it too!

# Correct on MC % on Final Exam Also need: avg per FRQ AP® Score
99 100 6/10 5
98 100 6/10 5
97 100 6/10 5
96 100 6/10 5
95 99 6/10 5
94 99 6/10 5
93 99 6/10 5
92 98 6/10 5
91 98 6/10 5
90 97 6/10 5
89 97 6/10 5
88 96 6/10 5
87 96 6/10 5
86 95 6/10 5
85 95 6/10 5
84 94 6/10 5
83 94 6/10 5
82 93 6/10 5
81 93 5/10 4
80 92 5/10 4
# Correct on MC % on Final Exam Also need: avg per FRQ AP® Score
79 92 5/10 4
78 91 5/10 4
77 91 5/10 4
76 90 5/10 4
75 90 5/10 4
74 89 5/10 4
73 89 5/10 4
72 88 5/10 4
71 88 5/10 4
70 87 4/10 3
69 86 4/10 3
68 85 4/10 3
67 84 4/10 3
66 83 4/10 3
65 82 4/10 3
64 81 4/10 3
63 80 4/10 3
62 80 4/10 3
61 79 3/10 2
60 78 3/10 2
# Correct on MC % on Final Exam Also need: avg per FRQ AP® Score
59 77 3/10 2
58 76 3/10 2
57 75 3/10 2
56 74 3/10 2
55 74 3/10 2
54 73 3/10 2
53 72 3/10 2
52 71 2/10 1
51 70 2/10 1
50 69 2/10 1
49 68 2/10 1
48 67 2/10 1
47 67 2/10 1
46 66 2/10 1
45 65 2/10 1
44 64 2/10 1
43 63 2/10 1
42 62 2/10 1
41 61 2/10 1
40 60 2/10 1


APES Lab Supplies Part 2: Other Recommended Labs

The labs on this post tend to be popular, because they cover a lot of topics within the lab, build skills, and/or are engaging. You don’t need to do all of them! I do about half of the ones listed below. Some labs have links for the write-ups.

Read APES Lab Supplies Part 1 for Must-Do Labs

APES Lab Supplies for Popular Labs

  • Tragedy of the Commons:  This lab has many great versions.
    • Colored marshmallows, goldfish crackers, or candy are favorites. Some teachers use beads to be reusable. If you have large classes, marshmallows are the cheapest.
    • Straws or chopsticks
    • Tape
    • Paper plates or paper towels

counting plants with quadrats

  • Island Biogeography
    • Many versions. Some use beans and funnels and meter sticks
    • Others use birdseed, paper clips, cotton balls, beads etc to throw at paper islands.
  • Ocean Acidification
    • Plastic cups: 4-5 per group
    • Shells (ask kids to donate or ask seafood restaurants for oyster, clams and mussel shells). One small shell or piece of a larger shell per group.
    • Vinegar or another acid
    • pH meters
    • Scales-pocket or regular
    • Plastic pipets

  • Cemetery Lab for human population studies
    • No supplies needed if you can walk to an old cemetery
    • If you simulate using paper tombstones in lab, you may want to decorate the lab with Halloween decorations. The dollar store is a good source.
  • Oil Spill Cleanup
    • Plastic containers or metal pans to hold water and simulate the ocean. One per group.
    • Cotton Balls
    • Straws
    • Plastic pipets
    • Cups or Beakers
    • Vegetable or mineral oil
    • Detergent
  • Air Pollution Lab.  There are a few good ones to choose from.
Using a stereoscope to count particulates

  • Productivity–there are many versions of this lab also.
  • Soil Profiles made out of food items
    • Plastic parfait cups: one per student
    • Vanilla and chocolate pudding: quantity depends on number of students.
    • Oreo cookies
    • Sprinkles
    • Gummy worms: 2 per student
    • Spoons
  • Cookie Mining
    • Generic chocolate chip cookies (1 per pair of students)
    • Name-brand chocolate chip cookies
    • Extra cookies to eat when finished
    • Paper clips
    • Toothpicks
    • Scales-pocket or regular (optional)
  • Solar Cookers (usually done after the AP® exam due to time requirements)
    • Aluminum foil–a big restaurant-sized roll from Costco or Amazon will make a lot of solar cookers (40-50 of them)
    • Packing tape or duct tape
    • Masking tape
    • Lots of boxes: I ask the food service on campus for empty boxes
    • Empty cans to test water temperature
    • Plastic wrap
    • Thermometers
    • IR Temperature guns (optional)

Other Basic Supplies

I use these items frequently for many labs

Sharpies (need 10 black for the year)
Spoons (need 1 box for labs)
De-chlorine drops for fish tanks
Filters for fish tank
Aquarium light bulbs
Fish food
Colored markers (Crayola or similar) for lab conclusion posters
Painter’s tape for marking beakers, lab apparatus
Hand Sanitizer-large container for classroom
Batteries for various sensors and probes
Chalk: IKEA makes the best chalk! Or Expo Neon markers for lab table drawings

Acid rain chalk drawing