Best Practices

Curricular Activities—High School

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Science chairman
Ocean Lakes High School
Virginia Beach, Virginia

Can teachers meet the demands of a standards-driven curriculum and still be creative and student-centered? Absolutely.

I’m a firm believer in backward curriculum planning. To me, it makes no sense to pick an activity and then try to find a curriculum objective that will justify using it. Starting with the learning goal firmly in mind, I invent, find, or modify an engaging strategy to teach it.

One course I teach is Advanced Placement chemistry. The end-of-course exams used in the College Board’s AP program are the original high-stakes tests. I’m expected to teach a full year of college-level chemistry, both lecture and lab. The breadth of content is astonishing, requiring a fast-paced schedule. So the litmus test I apply to everything that goes on in my room is, “Will it help students succeed on the AP exam?”

Some teachers believe they must tell students every piece of content they want them to know. These teachers view activities as time-intensive extras. In my classroom, activities are not add-ons but substitutes for traditional “chalk talks.”

My AP chemistry classes include some lecture, lots of demonstration, and formal labs. We also make “foldables”: 3D graphic organizers that help students absorb key terms and concepts.

Other activities help address different learning styles, including hands-on simulations of chemical processes using simple objects like pennies and candles.

To incorporate these project- and problem-based learning strategies, I’ve learned to shave my lecture time to the absolute minimum.

And my students are successful. The percentage scoring 3 or above (out of 5) on the AP exam is about 15 percent higher than the national average.

Vol. 18, Issue 05, Pages 44-45

Published in Print: March 1, 2007, as Curricular Activities—High School
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