Pacing your APES Class with Flipped Instruction
The TL;DR - Planning out the pacing of your entire year and sharing it with students from day 1 can be a super helpful way to stay on track and make it through everything before the exam! Use this template to plan out your year and sign up for this free, one-hour Zoom call (8/16 from 8:00 - 9:00 pm EST) where Kristin Shapiro and I will be helping APES teachers with this process! If you can’t make it, the recording will be posted to YouTube the next day.
Update: The video recording is now available above.
It feels like just a few weeks ago that I was enjoying the sights and sounds and craft beer of Cincinnati at the APES reading, but here we are all of the sudden in August! I would say that another school year is just around the corner, but I know that many of you are back in school already. At any rate, we’re all somewhere in the process of beginning a new school year or starting to plan for one, so I wanted to share some planning and pacing related resources that I’ve found really helpful in wrangling this 99 topic beast that is AP Environmental Science.
In some senses, the 252-page AP Environmental Science Course and Exam Description (CED for short) is a bit of a double-edged sword. One the one hand, many of us that taught for a number of years before its release in the summer of 2019 recall the difficulty of deciding exactly how to pace each unit and how deeply to delve into the various topics that our textbooks covered. On the other hand, with such clarity and guidance on what to cover and how long to spend on it, the CED has created two new challenges.
With such length and clarity, teachers now feel even more pressure to increase the pace of their teaching in order to make it through all 99 topics in class while still leaving a sliver of time for review at the end of it all.
Albeit a smaller issue than the first, the sheer length of the CED creates a second issue I like to think of as the “illusion of exhaustivity.” This is the idea that if you cover all of the terms and basic concepts in the CED, you will cover everything that could feasibly appear on the exam. We all saw that this is unfortunately not the case with the now infamous urban heat island question on question 3 from 2022 FRQ Set #1. While we could spend a whole newsletter on why you’ll never be able to guarantee that you cover every question on the exam (and why you don’t need to), I want to focus on the more tractable issue of how to make it through all 99 topics outlined in the CED and still have time to review before the exam on May 2nd.
99 Topics of APES on the Wall
Honestly, the advice in the old car-ride/time-killing song isn't all that different from my advice for pacing out the sequence and timing of your units in this course. You really just have to keep pulling topics off the wall (CED), passing them around to your students with some opportunities to engage with and check their understanding of them and then repeat.
The trick is not getting so bogged down in any one topic or lab that you fall behind the pace that you need to maintain for the year. So how do you identify that pace you need to maintain in order to make it through the year?
Well, if you grab your school’s 22-23 calendar, a copy of this pacing template, and a calculator, you can have your entire year paced out (with time for review) within an hour or two.
Before we actually get into the process, though, I want to talk about the “why” for a second. Why is it so important and helpful to pace out your entire year and commit to it before getting started? For me, this all boils down to transparency and accountability.
I want to be transparent with my students about why we need to move at the pace we need to in this course (often much more quickly than they’re used to) and for us to hold each other accountable in the process.
By giving my students the homework and unit exam schedule on the first day or week of our class, I’m giving them the ability to plan ahead and see exactly when they’ll need to be ready for important dates in our class. If they play sports, travel with their families, or miss significant school time, they already know exactly which topics they’ll miss and can plan ahead to schedule make-up times for unit tests. This is also the way that college courses, which the AP program is supposed to emulate, typically work.
I also want the transparency to hold me accountable to this pacing. This can be a bit intimidating if you’re a newer teacher or if you have helicopter parents or pushy students, but I think it can also be freeing. Since I’ve let students from day 1 when each unit test has to happen, I’ve already limited myself to only the number of labs and activities that can fit in the time allotted for any given unit.
It can help you move away from “have I covered this topic well enough?” and towards “what is the most effective way to cover this topic with the limited time I have available for it?”
This pacing transparency can also deflect criticism. If a student complains that we’re moving too fast, not doing week-long labs, or not watching enough documentaries, I can refer them to the schedule they got on day 1 and say “you can see the topics we need to cover in each unit and how many units we need to get through, so we don’t really have a choice if we’re going to get through everything and still give you time to review for that exam in May.”
When you and your students are all on the same page from day or week 1, it’s easier to build the mentality that you’re a team, working together to master the 99 APES topics before May.
Alright, back to the math that can help you work out this pacing:
Make sure you have your school calendar, this template, and a calculator.
Step 1: Figure out how many hours you see your students in a week. I have a block schedule of two 55-minute days and two 85 minute days per week, so 280 minutes per week.
Step 2. Use the chart below to calculate roughly how many weeks you should spend on each unit according to the suggested pacing from the CED. I’ve converted from the CED’s suggested class periods to minutes so that you can convert minutes into weeks or class periods based on your school’s schedule. This chart is also on page three of the pacing template if you want to work out your calculations there.
Note: this number of weeks does not include a review day and a unit test day. Just covering the content.
Unit 1: 13 Class Periods x 45 mins = 585 mins/ [your school’s mins/week] = # of weeks you should spend
Unit 2: 11 class periods x 45 mins = 495 mins/
Unit 3: 13 class periods x 45 mins = 585 mins/
Unit 4: 13 class periods x 45 mins = 585 mins/
Unit 5: 19 class periods x 45 mins = 855 mins/
Unit 6: 17 class periods x 45 mins = 765 mins/
Unit 7: 11 class periods x 45 mins = 495 mins/
Unit 8: 19 class periods x 45 mins = 855 mins/
Unit 9: 19 class periods x 45 mins = 855 mins/
Step 3: Start at the end of the year with your two weeks of review time and work backward, scheduling your units to take roughly the suggested number of weeks/class periods. I try not to get too hung up on making my unit length matchup perfectly with the suggestions. I just don’t want to be a whole week off or more in either direction.
Step 4: Check with your admin to see if there are any important, school-wide events that aren’t on your master calendar that you need to plan around.
Step 5: This is important. Accept that this is the pacing you’ll need to stick to and that when you inevitably lose a few days, you just have to keep going. This is why I love flipping my class. Even when we lose a few days, students can still keep up with the flipped videos and are just missing out on extension opportunities in class, not being exposed to and practicing the content altogether.
Note: If you lose a day that displaces a really important lab or topic, consider stealing some time from your unit review day at the end of the unit, or shifting a lab into the 2 week review period at the end of the year rather than shifting back the entire schedule.
This can feel like a really time consuming process, but it is so worth it! When you plan ahead and commit to your 9 unit test/exam dates before the year starts, you save yourself from so much future decision fatigue. You move from weighing every possible lab and activity to just filling the allotted time with as much meaningful, engaging instruction as you can.
If you want to walk through this process with Kristin Shapiro and I, sign up for this Zoom call on Tuesday, August 16th at 8:00 pm EST where we’ll model the process with our own school calendars and answer all of your questions!