TVHS science teacher worked with three others on effort
|TVHS teacher Leah Penniman.|
|Penniman and her counterparts work on the new curriculum in Oakland, Calif.|
A teacher from Tech Valley High School has helped create a project for science students across America.
Teacher Leah Penniman has worked since spring 2012 with leading science teachers from across the U.S., helping the College Board create a project that fits the new curriculum for advanced placement (AP) biology courses. The board oversees AP college-level courses and exams administered to high school students across the country.
The courses allow high school students to study college-level materials and earn college credits. The result of her work is a key component of the new project-based learning (PBL) units, similar to those used at TVHS.
"A few of us biology teachers were asked to design PBL units around the new 'big ideas and enduring understandings' of the AP biology curriculum. These units were originally destined for a teacher resource page on the website, but the College Board representative was so thrilled with the work that she is proposing integrating PBL training into the AP training required of all teachers new to facilitating AP courses," said Penniman.
Penniman focused her efforts on a project that asks students to determine the methods that result in highest transformation efficiency for an E. coli vaccine, a project that could ultimately make administering the vaccine in the developing world "economically viable."
She also assisted in developing a student project that challenges students to maximize the rate of photosynthesis in green plants so that biomass energy crops can be sustainably and efficiently raised.
Penniman said the idea behind the redesigned curriculum is having AP courses promote depth of content understanding and critical scientific thinking over the memorization of vast and shallow facts. Project based learning is an ideal container for this type of deeper thinking.
TVHS was asked to be a part of the curriculum redesign project after College Board officials approached the New Tech Network looking for groundbreaking biology teachers for assistance in integrating project-based learning into the AP curriculum, said TVHS Principal Dan Liebert. TVHS is a member of NTN.
"The College Board wanted to add a project-based learning approach to the AP biology course," said Liebert. "They approached NTN ... and NTN identified us as a prime resource."
Penniman and her counterparts presented their final revised project to the College Board administration in September and will present it to the National Association of Biology Teachers in October.
"The College Board is moving in a very positive and exciting direction, redesigning all of the science courses so that they are skills and critical thinking centered, rather than focused on voluminous content memorization," said Penniman.
While TVHS does not offer AP courses, the school is consistently breaking new ground when it comes to project-based learning and has been recognized as national demonstration site and a model school by NTN. Additionally, TVHS had shared its teaching styles and knowledge with hundreds of school and business officials through its professional development offerings.
"I had the opportunity to collaborate with the leading minds in project-based science. It was exciting to be part of the revolution in AP Biology – recreating the course so that it's in line with the way real scientists think and work. I feel good about the projects we created and I hope that our work contributes to positive change in high schools across the country," said Penniman.