Textbooks for AP Environmental Science

This is my review of the recent editions of the three most popular texts for AP® Environmental Science.

Over 90% of AP® Environmental Science teachers teach from these 3 main textbooks. We use their last names to identify the books:

I will start with the “bottom line” first, because I believe that when you pick a textbook, you need to know what you are looking for based on your needs.

Bottom Line for AP Environmental Science Textbooks

You must choose which book best fits the needs of you as the teacher and your style, the academic abilities of students, the need for robust online platforms, the number of students you teach, whether you want to flip etc. 

  • Most robust online platform: Withgott
  • Best for math practice: Miller or Friedland
  • Best online platform for integrating with learning management systems: Miller
  • Most comprehensive content (least amount of gaps): Withgott or Miller
  • Most readable for students: Friedland, then Withgott, then Miller (although all these new editions are good)
  • Best storylines/case studies: Withgott
  • Most AP exam practice questions embedded in the book: Friedland and Miller
  • Closest to the order of the Course and Exam Description (CED): Friedland (but it is not aligned)
  • Best in grouping content: Withgott

Next, I describe each book in the order of when these authors first published books for APES.

Miller/Spoolman Book: Exploring Environmental Science Textbook for AP 1st edition 2019

Publisher: Cengage/National Geographic

This is a new text by the same author as a textbook that’s been around for decades and that some schools still use: Living in the Environment. This new textbook, Exploring Environmental Science for AP, is a big improvement and teachers who adopted it last year say they really like it.

The order follows the old AP® Environmental Science outline, because the publishers did not have enough time to transition when the new CED was released in early 2019.

Miller content has always been very good in terms of few gaps in content and this new book is readable for students.

This book also has AP®-style review questions at the end of each chapter and a full AP exam at the end of the book. However, the questions are still the older style of questions with choices a-e instead of a-d and the exam has 100 MCQ instead of 80 MCQ (the new exam). The practice exam has 4 FRQS instead of 3 FRQS (the new exam). Students, however, will still get good practice even with the older style questions. 

The text has math in each chapter which is a good tool for our course in which a lot of students struggle with basic algebraic word problems. This is something mimicked from the Friedland book. 

It also builds in a case study for each chapter.

This text uses a “VitalSource e-Text” which has interesting Features for the e-text including emojis, instant highlights, and a read-aloud ability.

The online platform is called: MindTap  Click for Preview Video

I am very impressed by MindTap (based on the video, not personal experience). It seems to be the most streamlined with distance or hybrid learning. You have a lot of control over what the students see and do.
Students have an account so you can keep track of their scores and assign certain pages in the book along with articles that appear on their logins. In addition, it works with some LMS systems.

Withgott/LaPosata Environment: The Science Behind the Stores Textbook 7th edition 2021

Publisher: Pearson/Savaas

Withgott has been my textbook for 15 years of teaching this course. I started with the 2nd, then the 4th and now the 5th.

Withgott has always been very readable for students and builds storylines with case studies for each chapter. This is something that the new Miller book has mimicked.

Withgott has good content coverage with very few gaps that have to be supplemented. It has graphing practice, but not much math practice (But that’s okay, because I have all the math practice my students need).

The order of the book doesn’t follow the order of the CED. It is probably the book that follows it the least, but it’s in an order that makes a lot of sense for students and teachers. Each chapter teaches students about the topic and how it works, then the problems, and then the solutions. Many teachers like this approach to the content. For example, chapter 17 discusses how the atmosphere and weather works, then air pollution and then solutions to air pollution. The CED, however, splits up these topics into separate units.

Mastering Platform: Masteringenvironmentalscience.com has been the superior platform among AP®textbooks for many years. Click for how I use Mastering.

  • It has reading quizzes already made per chapter. I like to make my own using their built-in reading question bank so I can quiz smaller chunks of the chapters.
  • They have pre-made quizzes and assignments, but all the questions are in a bank so you can pick and choose what you want (this is the option I use).
  • Tests and quizzes can be timed, randomized, and programmed to open and close for each period.
  • Mastering has the exam test-bank so you can give online exams. I used it with distance learning, because it allows you to choose 75 questions, for example, and randomly assign 25 to a student. Students and their friends will not have the same questions in the same order. This is a great cheating deterrent. The exam test-bank also comes in a program to create paper tests.
  • It has “coaching” assignments and questions which have items such as “drag and drop this process in order” or “vocabulary sorting” or a “virtual field trip”. These questions develop higher level skills for students and I use them as review for exams and the AP® exam.
  • It has “process of science” questions which drill students with experimental design. They are really hard and I grade leniently. I tell the students that the questions are hard and their brains will hurt, but they will learn a lot from doing them.
  • The newest Mastering update allows teachers to assign e-text reading assignments and tracks student progress.

The book’s e-text is a standard e-text with the ability to virtual sticky-note and search for items.

Friedland/Relyea Environmental Science Textbook for the AP® Course 3rd edition. 2019

Publisher: BFW

This book was written and designed specially for AP® (whereas most other AP® books are also college texts). The new Miller book has now followed suit with its own AP® specific text.

The book has a lot of scaffolding for both students and teachers who have never taught the course before. It breaks the content into modules which are smaller chunks of information.

The teacher edition is modeled after teacher editions for regular K-12 classes with a wrap-around feature and helps walk a new APES teacher through the curriculum. This is something the other books don’t have.

It is an accessible book for the struggling AP® student. It has math practice each chapter and is very readable. Each module has practice AP® questions for students and AP® exam tips.

The order of the book is the closest to the CED, but it is NOT aligned to the CED. The publisher did some brief cosmetic changes right before it was published. They changed the  practice questions from a-e to a-d and lowered the number of full exam questions to 80 MCQ and 3 FRQs. Also, the practice exam is NOT modeled after the new guidelines in the % of content for each units nor the science practices (See page 225 of the CED).

It is still a good book and if you choose it, be aware that you will still need to match it to the CED. It also has a few more gaps in content than the other books and needs a little more supplementation.

The online platform, SaplingPlus, is the least robust of the AP® texts, but has improved recently. It is used more for practice and formative assessment for students. The platform does not have the summative assessment features with randomization that the other platforms have. SaplingPlus has some of the coaching-type questions with drag and drop tutorials, but not to the extent of the Withgott book. SaplingPlus has some nice math tutorials built into it and has adaptive quizzing. This something I have not seen in other platforms. 

* 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.

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