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.

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.

* 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.

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.

Air Pollution Chalk Drawings

Acid rain chalk drawing

One way to help students memorize the 3 atmospheric processes they need to know for the AP® Exam is to have them draw. Research indicates that sketching or drawing information helps students learn. From my own experience, drawing with chalk helps my students memorize better than drawing on paper. Its a fun activity in groups and the kids truly learn. The 3 processes are:

  1. Tropospheric Ozone Formation (ground-level ozone in smog)
  2. Stratospheric Ozone Depletion (the ozone hole)
  3. Acid Deposition (Acid Rain)

Supplies for Chalk Drawing

I use chalk, because it is the most economical (and eco-friendly) choice. The best chalk is from IKEA–seriously. A few boxes will last the entire year or more. Since I teach 170 students in APES, this is the best option for me.

Neon Expo Markers are another good option. You can write a mini-grant or a request on Donors Choose to fund them.

You can write on lab tables if you have the standard science black finish. If not, you can draw with chalk outside.

Instructions for Chalk Drawing

My students follow the instructions on this document. I do not have them look up information and make their own drawing, because I do not want them looking up and copying diagrams on the internet. I want them to draw out the processes with the details and specifics that have been asked on released AP® Exams. They will learn when they use their brains to make pictures.

We do the 3 drawings on separate days so that students keep the details separate in their brains. Each processes takes about 20 minutes to do and my students work in groups of 4.

I check the drawings when they are fineshed and then they erase with water and paper towels. It is an activity that truly helps students learn the complicated processes needed for the AP exam.

* 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.

February = AP® Exam Pacing Check

In February, I like to plan the rest of the year up to the AP® Exam. Pacing is crucial and while kids may complain about going too fast through content, they will complain even more if you don’t make it through everything by the AP Exam. Here’s some advice for pacing.

  • Count the chapters/topics left to cover and assign a number of weeks/days for each. Some topics need more time so check the AP® Environmental Science outline on the College Board website. Don’t forget about holidays, spring break, the prom and state testing.
  • Set days for exams and sticky to it! You will have to cut, cut, cut favorite activities, videos and labs. I have reworked plans multiple times until I’m happy with the items I have left in the time I have.
  • Do not skip anything. Sometimes a minor topic is an entire FRQ. See the 2015 #4 FRQ for an example. Many teachers skipped the chapter on cities that year due to snow days or running out of time and lamented the decision.
  • Post your pacing plan for students. Explain it to them and talk about strategy. Keeps the complaining down when you have strict deadlines and when you pick up the pace and cover chapters faster.
  • Assign content for homework. Explain to kids that NO AP® teacher has time to spoon feed everything AND also make sure students have developed AP Science Practices (which are a big part of the multiple choice section of the exam). Homework might be video notes or assigned textbook reading with reading guides or quizzes.
  • Encourage your students. I say “this semester we are going to pick up the pace, because you have the foundations down of ecology, soil, etc. We can go through the chapters faster now. I do this every year and my students always rise to the task.
  • Give sufficient time for review: I review science skills and do practice exams in class. I allow 2 weeks for this and then give the final exam a couple of days before the AP® exam. Kids review content on their own via a “6 week study guide”.

Essentials for class time

A lot of content is “the easy stuff” and can be read and understood by students without you.
Focus on skills and difficult content during class time such as:

Supplies needed for Airborne Particulate Experimental Design Lab.
  • Difficult content like El Nino, Water and wastewater treatment, Air pollution, stratospheric ozone depletion, GPP/NPP, biogeochemical cycles and LD-50 graphing. 
  • Math. Its better to do math during class time where you can make sure students do not copy and can get help as needed. Assign content at home in exchange. Explain this strategy to kids.
  • Labs that give a lot of “bang for the buck”. Make sure labs cover many concepts, skills and topics. Students need to collect a lot of quantitative data in charts and then analyze this data. The multiple choice section of the AP Exam will have data sets for students to answer difficult questions about. An example of a lab with a lot of data collection, analysis and math is the Kill-A-Watt Lab.
  • FRQ practice, assessments and peer grading. Self-grading and peer-grading dramatically helps students understand how to write better FRQs.
Self-grading and peer-grading with highlighters. Students highlight the exact words that give the point.

* 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.

Binders to Collect Work

I want my students to save certain papers during the year and use later as they study for the AP®  Exam. These papers include labs, charts, handouts, some notes and other important papers. To force them to keep these papers, they are required to make an AP®  binder.

Just a note: the binder helps kids keep the papers after they’ve been graded and passed back–I don’t use binders to collect work to grade.

Requirements to Build the Binder

I require a 1 inch binder. My class doesn’t use as much paper as it did a decade ago as a lot is done virtually and we do sticky notes instead of regular notes. I tell students to reuse an old binder from last year (duct tape together as needed) as its better for the environment, saves money, and they only bring into class to grade 3 times per year. Legally, I cannot require a binder in California so alternately, students can use another organizer/folder and receive the same points. I also have old binders left behind from previous years that I empty and give to kids as needed.

My students can use whatever they’d like for daily work in my class—a folder, another binder with multiple classes, etc. The “official” APES binder only needs to come to class 3 times per year to grade.

Dividers with tabs can be purchased or made using sticky notes. Most students opt to make with sticky notes to save money.

Directions for creating the binder are given to students at the beginning of the year in a little booklet I created called the “Great APES Booklet”

Hand-made sticky notes used as tab dividers.

What goes into the Binder?

Students make a cover sheet for the APES binder with their name, period, my name as the teacher and decorations. I tell them the decorations can be printed or hand-drawn and can be of things related to the environment or of the great apes.

A student who chose a picture of an ape for their cover page.

An artistic students’ hand-drawn cover

A student who chose a political cartoon for their cover sheet

Students must also have a table of contents or AP®  binder list. I write the list on a side board and also have it on a google doc for kids to use.

Binder list or table of contents

Students use the list to number the assignments in the binder. We place items in chronological order as they’re covered during the year.

This GPP/NPP lab is item # 18 in the binder.

Grading the Binder

Students bring in their AP®  binders 3 times per year in about October, January and April.  I have 175 students in APES and if I have enough room in the lab, I will collect and grade and then give back in about a week. If space isn’t available, students peer grade and take the binders home. Here is a sample binder grading sheet. 


In March, I give students a “6 Week Study Plan”  for the AP®  Exam which emphasizes certain items in the binders. Some examples are the water quality lab, salinization lab, charts etc. These are papers which have content, science practices, or other things they need to review for the AP exam.

APES Binders force the kids to save papers that they will need later.


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.

Favorite Films for Environmental Science

Many new teachers want to know which APES films or environmental documentaries are the best. We all have different opinions, but here are some of the most commonly shown films by environmental science and AP® Environmental Science teachers.

I have links to Amazon here, but you should check if the film streams online for free first. I don’t support illegal postings of videos, but on occasion, a PBS video streams for free from their site or another site. Or, some teachers can show Netflix at school and many of these stream there.

Please note: No one will show all of these films. They are just suggestions. In fact, over the 12 years of teaching APES, my video and documentary days have greatly declined in favor of more activities that develop higher level thinking skills. Also, kids these days prefer shorter mini-videos (a few minutes) about a topic than a longer video. And, that’s okay.


Intro to APES/Review Topics/Geology

  • NPRs Carbon Videos--These short videos review carbon from chemistry and preview climate change.
  • The original Lorax–Some teachers use as an introduction to environmental science or APES. I like to use the film in my forestry chapter.
  • NOVA: Japan’s Killer Quake–This film discusses the science of earthquakes and tsunamis.
  • The 11th Hour--This series introduces a lot of APES topics, but is rather depressing. I don’t show to kids because I prefer upbeat, hopeful films.
  • Strange Days on Planet Earth–This series is a bit old now, but introduces several APES topics. There’s a segment on wolves in Yellowstone that’s nice.
  • Merchants of Doubt–This film discusses how the media spins many scientific topics.
  • A Fierce Green Fire–A good overview to many topics covered throughout the year. Documents many historical events over the past 50 years in environmental science.
  • Making North America: Origins–Covers many geology topics.


  • HHMI Gorongosa: The Guide–This free 34 minute film accompanies many wonderful ecology lessons from HHMI. It features E.O. Wilson (a well-known ecology) and a teenage boy from Africa.
  • PBS Gorongosa–This 6 hour series also in Gorongosa National Park in Africa feature many ecological topics. A good video to have for emergency sub days.
  • Cane Toads (for invasive species)–This film is a “right of passage” for APES.  Its a quirky, cult classic about cane toads in Australia. Can be found streaming on Youtube sometimes.
  • Planet Earth series–Another good one to have for sub days.

Image result for cane toads meme

Human Population

  • NOVA World in the Balance–An old, but still relevant film. It is the favorite film for human population in APES.
  • Don’t Panic: Gapminder–I have not previewed this film, but have heard that other APES teachers show it. This is the same video as “Overpopulation by Hans Rosling”

Soil and Agriculture

  • The Biggest Little Farm–My new favorite agriculture movie. Wonderful, uplifting and lots of ecological topics. 
  • Dirt, the Movie –A good film discusses the benefits and structure of soil. I show only the first half of the film to save time.
  • King Corn–I like this film, because it shows how farming is done with plowing, fertilizers, pesticides, subsidies etc.
  • Food Inc.–This film discusses the problems with modern, industrial farming. It is anti-GMO and there are some rebuttals to the film online. Some social studies, English, and health classes also show this film.
  • Fresh–a “newer” film with an upbeat message about the problems and solutions of food production.
  • Secrets of Plant Genomes, Revealed–Free and made for teens by the NSF. A bit corny, but good info about the science of GMOs. Tell kids that its corny before watching and they will enjoy it even more.
  • More Than Honey–Documents the importance of bees and the devastating loss of bees due to CCD (colony collapse disorder).
  • Symphony of the Soil–a fascinating look at the complexity of soil.


  • Last Call at the Oasis–A film about water depletion.
  • Hurricane on the Bayou–A favorite film with great jazz music. Originally an IMAX movie that was going to be about wetlands and ended up being about Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.  Discusses the science of wetlands preservation and hurricanes.
  • Frontline: Poisoned Waters–A good film about water pollution. You could show all or just parts of the film.
  • Tapped–This film discusses the environmental cost of bottled water along with social justice issues. An inspiring film for kids.
  • Watershed: Exploring a New Water Ethic for the West–This film discusses the competing interested for Colorado River Water
  • Dam Nation--This film discusses dam building, and the case for removing some dams to allow more salmon spawning.



  • American Experience Silent Spring–This film discusses Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and DDT.  A bit long for a minor topic.
  • Frontline: Fooling with Nature–discusses endocrine disruptors. Out of print and difficult to find, however. If you can find a copy, its a good film to show. (Check your public library)
  • Erin Brokovich–Be aware that its rated R and has profanity, but it features illegal toxic waste disposal, cancer, and environmental justice. You may or may not be allowed to show at your school.
  • A Civil Action–This movie starring John Travolta is similar to Erin Brokovich and dramatizes the fight again illegal toxic waste dumping.
  • Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain–A documentary about the Bhopal, India and the terrible environmental disaster there.

Air Pollution

Climate Change

  • Before the Flood–A new climate change film that is popular in APES. It used to stream for free, but now there is a charge.
  • NOVA Decoding the Weather Machine–A great new climate change video that discusses all the science. As of 9/2018, PBS has it for free.
  • NOVA Power Surge–An upbeat climate change video with solutions. This is my favorite, because the tone is full of hope.
  • Carbon Nation–A climate change solution video that doesn’t care if you don’t believe in climate change. Upbeat and also full of hope.
  • NPRs Carbon Videos–A fun, 5 part mini-video series about carbon and climate change.
  • Inconvenient Truth–one of the original climate change films, but old now and some kids are turned off by a politician. There are better films out now. I have not previewed the sequel: Truth to Power. 
  • Chasing Ice–A mesmerizing film that follows a time-lapse photographer as he documents glacier recession and ice sheet melting over the past decade. There is a shorter TedTalk by the photographer (James Balog) available too.

Biodiversity and Conservation Biology

  • Saving Otter 501–One of my favorite videos all year. Kids love it. Features the conservation efforts to save the Southern Sea Otter by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.
  • Racing Extinction–This is a wonderful new film that inspires kids to save wildlife.
  • NOVA Wild Ways–This new film by NOVA features wildlife corridors as a way to protect species. Kids enjoy this film.
  • Star Trek Trouble with Tribbles–A fun episode about an invasive species in space!
  • National Parks, America’s Best Idea–Documentary series by Ken Burns. This is a wonderful series, but is a little slow for students and goes into a lot more detail than they need.

Forestry and Land Use

  • NOVA Wild Ways–see description above
  • The Original Lorax–usually streams somewhere on Youtube. You can also purchase a copy fairly inexpensively.
  • Nature: Survivors of the Fire Storm–Discusses fire ecology in Australia. Kids enjoy watching this film, because it shows many Australian animals at a rescue center.
  • The Story of Yosemite--This film re-enacts the historical meeting between Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir and how that led to more National Parks and land preservation.


  • Switch–This film is free for educators by request. Many teachers show several small segments about energy sources from this film, if they don’t have time for the whole thing.
  • NOVA Treasures of the Earth: Power–my favorite new energy video that discusses fossil fuels, electricity and alternatives.
  • NOVA Saved by the Sun–a nice video about solar energy.
  • Oil on Ice–a documentary about the Arctic National Wildlife Sanctuary. A bit long for a minor topic.

Solid Waste

  • Dive–I have not seen it, but a colleague said that his kids like this film about dumpster diving.
  • The Works: Garbage–Sadly out of print and difficult to find online. Features landfills and hazardous waste.
  • Toy Story 3–I show the end of the movie from the landfill and incineration scene to the end.  The kids cry, because they soon will leave for college (just like Andy does in the movie).
  • EPA videos–Several small free videos made by the EPA about hazardous waste cleanup.
  • Wasted-A film about the problem of food waste. One of the “newer” topics in APES and has been in the news recently.
  • Bag It! –A fim about plastic use, trying to go plastic-free and plastic pollution.


  • The Last Mountain–This film shows mountaintop removal. The most widely used video for this topic by APES teachers and is impacting.
  • Modern Marvels–This series has several episodes about mining and quarries that can be used in APES.
  • 30 Days: Season 3: Working in a Coal Mine–This film shows students what coal mining is like. Not a lot of science in it,  but interesting as a visual.


  • Suburbia and the End of Oil–This is an interesting video about how suburbs were created and some solutions for future oil scarcity. A bit outdated, however, as we have found new sources of petroleum since this film was made. I used to show, but no longer have the time.
  • Filthy Cities–documentary series discusses problems with urbanization and touches on many other APES topics such as waste management, sewage, and disease.

Environmental Economics and Law

  • Story of Stuff–A short film discussing the environmental issues around globalization, commercialism and planned obsolescence. This film has some pushback from conservative groups.
  • Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt–Free short video series that shows how globalization and manufacturing work. Non-judgmental–just presents how it all works.

Video Series

  • Bozeman Science–Good for review, not for initial learning of material, because it goes fast and has a lot of content. I assign as homework on Edpuzzle the night before an exam.
  • TedEd: Environment–Some good videos to supplement lecture or labs.

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.


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

(Updated in July 2019 to reflect the new AP® calculator policy)

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. Most students didn’t remember how to solve some or all of the topics.  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: in 2019, I used Shelby Childress Riha’s idea of using a Google Form where students where they can click the areas they need to review. This was great. I could print out a spreadsheet to assign review papers more easily.

I also made the process easier by creating a folder for each student that I kept in my classroom. Since I flip, I have time to do math in class. If you don’t flip, you could have students pull a paper out the folder to do for homework. 

Choices for students on how to solve

Students had choices on how to approach each  APES math review paper. (Use your own math review papers or you can purchase mine with keys)

Students 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 9 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 9 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.

Update in 2019: My FRQ #2 results also improved!

Each student gets a folder. My student service place papers in the folder as indicated by the check-off paper.
I keep the folders in my classroom. On math days, students take out one paper from the folder to do that day. They turn in the paper to my basket to be checked off for points.
Checkoff list for items assigned to this student. Even though they’re not checked off, all students will do old FRQs.

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