Lighthouse Initiative for Texas Classrooms

The Lighthouse Initiative for Science Classrooms

Over the past few years, two documents were created to help middle school and high school teachers understand and apply how the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) are aligned with AP* objectives. First, a committee of experienced middle and high school language arts teachers wrote the Lighthouse Initiative for English/Language Arts Classrooms, choosing to use a lighthouse as a metaphor for AP language and AP literature, which often serve as the capstone courses for language arts in Texas high schools. Similarly, a committee of experienced middle and high school mathematics teachers produced the Lighthouse Initiative for Mathematics Classrooms, with the capstone courses being AP statistics and AP calculus. It is in using these precedents that the Lighthouse Initiative for Science Classrooms was created: a document for helping Texas middle and high school science teachers relate the TEKS to the AP course objectives for environmental science, biology, chemistry, and physics.

The lighthouse metaphor was chosen to convey the role of AP courses in guiding middle and high school instruction in order to prepare students for advanced high school and college coursework. Paraphrasing from the language arts and mathematics Lighthouse documents:

"A lighthouse is a tower located at some place important or dangerous to navigation; at its top sits a very bright light to guide or warn ships at night. A lighthouse should sit on bedrock, and its construction must be architecturally strong. The great beacon at the top of the lighthouse should make safe the navigation of ships to their appointed harbors."

The bedrock consists of the TEKS, as they provide the foundation for curriculum, instruction, and assessments in Texas science classrooms. The strength of a course curriculum lies in its framework of lessons, which should emphasize content and skills developed at the appropriate level with appropriate activities. The AP course objectives are the beacon, guiding students toward the harbors of success in the AP science courses.

It is important to recognize that AP is not a test but a program. Although it is true that a student who performs well on an AP exam may be awarded college credit at many colleges and universities, the AP program establishes a standard for developing advanced thinking and communication skills at all levels of secondary science. For example, students can learn and apply science skills like problem-solving, organizing and collecting data, graphing and other analysis techniques, and the use of appropriate technology at all levels of science.

There is no better way for a student to develop these skills than to do regular and appropriate lab activities in science. The two most important words in science are relationship and change, since all scientific investigations are directed toward the discovery of a relationship between two quantities and how that relationship changes. Jean Piaget found that children often have difficulty thinking beyond an assumption that they don't believe to be true. If students are able to discover or verify a relationship in science for themselves, they are much more likely to be able to think beyond that relationship and extend their thinking to higher levels of understanding. This is the reason why we as science teachers spend so much time designing, developing, and using lab activities for our students. Both the TEKS and AP objectives for science strongly encourage the development and practice of lab skills, and the AP exams in all four of the sciences actually test student understanding of the laboratory environment, including skills such as designing experiments, collecting, organizing and analyzing data, and discussing sources of error and ways of improving the experimental technique.

The Lighthouse Initiative for Science Classrooms is intended to familiarize teachers with the content and skills a student needs to ultimately be successful in one or more of the AP science courses. Here you will find course descriptions for the AP sciences, sample AP exam questions and solutions and their relationships to earlier science courses, suggestions for vertically aligned lab activities for grades 6–12 with a correlation to the TEKS, and much more.

We hope that you find this Web site useful in preparing to teach your students about the relationships and changes of science and wish you the best as you continue to be a lighthouse for your students.

Lighthouse Initiative for Science Committee (written by Hugh Henderson)