Topic Triage in Unit 5

I need to start this post with the disclaimer that I am not advocating skipping entire topics in the CED or passing judgment on how anyone else has decided to prioritize the pacing of their units. 

I'm just trying to share the topics that I feel can be condensed and covered minimally in class in order to allow more class time for topics that are more complex or carry greater exam relevance based on both the weighting laid out in the CED as well as released MCQs and FRQs.

Unit 5: Unit 5 is an absolute beast with 17 topics. There are a few different schools of thought when it comes to structuring the sequence of topics:

  • Dividing the unit - very roughly - into problems (5.1 - 5.9/5.10) and solutions (5.10/5.11 - 5.17) related to land use
  • Pairing – again, roughly – problems with solutions. ex: 5.1, 5.2 & 5.17, 5.3 - 5.4 & 5.15, 5.6 & 5.14, 5.7 - 5.8 & 5.16, 5.10 - 5.13

Regardless of how you structure the sequence of unit 5, I think it’s important that you focus on the overall framework of advantages and disadvantages to the various ways humans use land as well as the solutions to the environmental impacts that result from land use.

In an upcoming video, I’m planning to share with students that a helpful template for integrating each topic in unit 5 into their existing body of “APES knowledge” is the following:

What are the basics of this human land use? How does it benefit us? What are its environmental impacts? How can we reduce the negative consequences of this land use?”

I think there is a lot of merit in teaching students to develop frameworks like these that can help them create a working knowledge of whatever discipline they’re learning, rather than viewing the course as a collection of esoteric and loosely related facts. With a course scope as broad as APES, it is quite possible and maybe even more likely for our least engaged students to experience class each day as the latter. As I begin unit 6 this year, I’m going to have students write down the unit 6 framework (coming in next month’s newsletter) on a flashcard and refer to it each day. Look for an update on how this worked out in the February 2024 newsletter!

With this context for unit 5 established, here is my advice on a topic-by-topic basis, as well as some suggested activities:

  • 5.1: The TOC is a fairly straightforward concept for most students, so I limit our in-class engagement with it to this version of the popular fishing simulation (borrowed from another teacher in my district who I believe found it in the FB group) using goldfish crackers. It’s a great way to make the topic stick and invest in the class culture of engagement and cooperation that I want to foster. There’s also a new AP Classroom lab (#9) version of this popular assignment that touches on aspects of 5.12 as well.
  • 5.2 & 5.17: I cover these topics together, but we don’t spend a great deal of class time on them. Students usually have a strong grasp on the soil and microclimate impacts of deforestation, but they need a bit more time with concepts like prescribed burns and fire suppression.
  • 5.3 - 5.4: I slow down a bit with these topics and do some mini-lectures in class using my 5.3 & 5.4 slides (available in my linktree), just to ensure that students are exposed to the impacts of agriculture a second time. Then we do AP Classroom Lab 8 - An Investigation in Soil Compaction in Agriculture.
  • 5.5 - 5.6: While I teach irrigation and pesticides separately, we review aspects of them together with the edible aquifer activity (borrowed from someone in the FB group). In addition to the cultural capital that eating these bizarre “edible” aquifers builds, the activity also gives students a visual model of aquifers and groundwater pollution and allows for review of concepts like soil permeability and pore space.
  • 5.7: I teach 5.7 and incorporate a little math review using this science outside case study. At the end of class, I offer students who are interested in trying them roasted crickets as another investment in the class culture I want to cultivate. 
  • 5.8 & 5.16 - Two topics I usually combine and go through quickly with a brief review of slides in class.
  • 5.9 - I review the handful of new vocab terms on my first 5.9 slide and then show the documentary “Leveling of Appalachia.” Students answer these “video FRQs” while they watch. Lots of folks like the Cookie Mining activity for teaching 5.9, various versions of which can be found in the Facebook group. Here’s a version that I have used in the past (borrowed from someone in the FB group.)
  • 5.10 - If there’s a city in your state or region that has become “sprawly” this is a great time to make a local connection and show a brief video clip detailing that urban sprawl example. Being from Michigan, I use Detroit as an example, especially of urban blight and declining tax revenue. We also read this article and answer the accompanying questions in class. You can also play Arcade Fire’s “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” Music Video at the end of class for a nice artistic representation of the concept.
  • 5.11 & 5.12 - I usually cover these topics together, with more focus on 5.11. I have students calculate their ecological footprint with this activity. There is also a new AP Classroom lab (#9) that is a version of the tragedy of the commons fishing simulation that also provides some coverage of 5.12. I haven’t tried it yet, but you can’t go wrong with AP Classroom labs given the experience and quality of the APES teachers that the College Board has enlisted to put them together.
  • 5.13 - The two big takeaways I want students to leave this topic with are that they need to be able to identify specific pollutants (and their sources) that may be found in stormwater runoff as well as describe how stormwater runoff can be reduced. I usually show a clip of “thirsty pavement” as well as a few pictures of some local rain gardens near the school. In past years, I’ve done a quick lab using Enviroatlas, but I don’t always have time to incorporate this activity. In years where I don’t I go a bit slower through unit 8 and try to incorporate a bit more focus on pollutants in topics 8.3 - 8.5.
  • 5.14 & 5.15 - With so many sustainable agricultural practices, I find this topic lends itself well to a “speed dating” or mini group presentation style assignment. I have each table group pick a sustainable agricultural practice and create a short (3-4 slide) presentation that they’ll use to teach the rest of the class about their practice. Students fill out this note sheet while their peers present.

Topic triage: If trying to move more quickly through unit 5, I would spend 

  • less class time on 5.1, 5.2, 5.17, 5.8, 5.16, 5.11, 5.12 
  • more class time on 5.5, 5.7, 5.9, 5.10, 5.13, 
  • And the most time on 5.3, 5.4, 5.6, 5.14, 5.15 (agriculture has so many connections to other topics in the course, has so much opportunity for spiraling in experiment and data analysis skills, and has consistently shown up in recent exam FRQs.)

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