Tuesday, January 11, 2011

AP: From Hard Drive to CPU

The New York Times this week had an interesting article on upcoming changes to the AP exam. The changes are what I would call "Aspirations friendly." A rhetorical question I sometimes pose to teachers is whether the goal of education is to have students know science or to think scientifically, to know history or to think historically, to know literature or have a literary mindset. I believe the latter in each pair contribute more to a students Self Worth, Active Engagement, and Sense of Purpose--the 3 Guiding Principles of Aspirations work.

While it is true that to learn to think scientifically you have to chew on science, the days of memorizing facts and formulae are winding down. It used to be that the only portable memory device available was the one you carried inside your skull, but now just about everyone has a portable memory device with potential access to enormous amounts of information in their pocket. As a result, understanding information and being able to apply it--and not simply being able to access it from memory--is the mark of an educated person.

According to the the Times article, the goal of the new AP Biology curriculum framework is "to clear students’ minds to focus on bigger concepts and stimulate more analytic thinking. In biology, a host of more creative, hands-on experiments are intended to help students think more like scientists." Given the revised history exam, rather than memorizing specific dates "teachers will have more leeway to focus on different events in teaching students how to craft historical arguments." What I hear in all that is an encouraging shift to have students act less like hard drives and more like CPUs.

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