Teaching AP Environmental Science With Ashton Allgood [Episode 126]


Click below to hear about teaching AP Environmental Science:


I’ve had so much fun and really enjoyed listening to my guest science teachers during my AP science teacher interview series. Each guest has given incredible insight about the AP exam and helpful tips for other teachers in their respective science disciplines. But out of all the AP science courses, I received the most questions about teaching AP Environmental Science. My guest on today’s episode, Ashton Allgood, is the perfect person to answer all of your questions while also sharing how she manages to teach the content in a short amount of time while still preparing her students for their final exams.

According to Ashton, AP Environmental Science, or APES as it’s commonly referred to, is truly the science course that meshes all the other science branches together. She loves how it’s relatable to her students and their ability to apply real-world scenarios and experiences to their everyday activities and discussions. With her class only a semester long, Ashton has come up with creative and engaging ways to make sure her students retain the information necessary to take the AP exam at the end of the year. She also shares how her experience as an AP reader helped prepare her students for the exam.

I loved my conversation with Ashton because she has such a profound and realistic perspective when it comes to her student’s preparation and work ethic in her class. She sets clear expectations for them and is upfront about the hard work that’s ahead of them for the semester. However, she believes in meeting her students halfway, along with honesty and communication. I learned so much about AP Environmental Science but also engaging ways to run a classroom, and I know you will, too!

Topics Discussed:

  • One reason Ashton loves AP Environmental Science (but how the course content being so broad can be a challenge)
  • Why she incorporates a lot of real-world examples and experiences in her labs and activities, and how they relate to Environmental Science
  • Ashton’s philosophy of giving students a choice, asking their opinion, and the importance of communication in a classroom
  • Her advice to new teachers who are about to teach AP Environmental Science for the first time and what resources you should become familiar with
  • One way Ashton is simplifying her life that keeps her organized and ready for the next day

Resources Mentioned:

Meet Ashton:

Ashton has been teaching secondary science since 2011 and has taught chemistry (13 years), Earth and Environmental Science (5 years), and AP Environmental Science (6 years). She has her Masters in Secondary Science Education and her National Board Certification in Young Adult Science with a concentration in Chemistry. She’s also been an AP reader for 4 years and wrote questions one year.

While she’s always had a love for the environment, she truly loves sharing it with her students, and teaching AP Environmental Science is by far her favorite! She loves to build students’ passion for sustainability and incorporate hands-on and real-world materials into her classroom.

Connect with Ashton:

Related Episodes and Blog Posts:

Connect with Rebecca:

More about Secondary Science Simplified: 

Secondary Science Simplified is a podcast specifically for high school science teachers that will help you to engage your students AND simplify your life as a secondary science educator. Each week Rebecca, from It’s Not Rocket Science, and her guests will share practical and easy-to-implement strategies for decreasing your workload so that you can stop working overtime and start focusing your energy doing what you love – actually teaching!

Teaching doesn’t have to be rocket science, and you’ll learn exactly what you need to do to simplify your secondary science teaching life so that you can enjoy your life outside of school even more. Head to itsnotrocketscienceclassroom.com/challenge to grab your FREE Classroom Reset Challenge.

Rebecca 0:00
Welcome back to week three of four in our AP science teacher interview series. Y’all, this has just been so fun for me to talk to all of these current educators who are in the classroom right now, teaching AP science courses, like so many of you, scrambling to get your last few units in, do some review before these tests. And so I’ve just loved this so much, and I’m so thrilled this week to introduce you to our third AP teacher and this is our resident AP environmental science teacher Ashton. All good. Ashton has been teaching secondary science since 2011, and has taught chemistry for 13 years, Earth and Environmental Science for five years, and AP environmental science or more beloved Lee referred to as apes, for six years. She has her master’s in secondary science education, and her national board certification in young adult science with a concentration in chemistry. She’s also been an AP reader for four years and wrote questions one of those years. While she’s always had a love for the environment, she truly loves sharing it with our students. And teaching AP environmental science is by far her favorite. She loves to build students passion for sustainability, and incorporate hands on in real world materials into her classroom. You’ll I learned so much about the apes course through my conversation with Ashton. She shares why the course is arguably the best AP science course and her opinion, how she recruits students for her course, how she manages to teach it all in the 65 class periods she gets with students since she’s on a semester block schedule. And also she is just so gracious to answer so many specific questions and specific scenarios that a lot of you as teachers out there sent in to me to ask her. And lastly, she really shares the most important thing you can be doing as an AP science teacher with your students to prepare them for the exam. And this is coming from the perspective of an AP reader. And like I mentioned an AP exam question writer which had the opportunity to do one year. Lastly, there’s even some interesting insight shared for biology and chemistry teachers for how we can better set our students up for success if they are to later go on to take apes, y’all. I mean, this is a truly a jam packed episode, and I cannot wait for you to hear our conversation. So without further ado, here’s my interview with apes teacher, Ashton. All good. This is secondary science simplified a podcast for secondary science teachers who want to engage their students and simplify their lives. I’m Rebecca joiner from it’s not rocket science. As a high school science teacher turned curriculum writer, I am passionate about helping other science teachers love their job, serve their students, and do it all and only 40 hours a week. Are you ready to rock the time you spend in your classroom and actually have a life outside of it? You are in the right place teacher friend. Let’s get to today’s episode.

I asked him, how are you?

Ashton Allgood 3:06
Doing? Good. How are you?

Rebecca 3:08
I’m so good. And I’m so glad you’re here. Because when I decided to do this series for AP science teachers, and I asked for questions from my audience, the majority of the questions were AP environmental. And I cannot believe how many AP environmental people there were out there, or at least in my corner of the internet. And so I’m just so excited. You are here to talk to us about this subject. Awesome.

Ashton Allgood 3:29
Well, that’s exciting because he has the best class ever. So in my opinion, at least, every AP

Rebecca 3:35
teacher loves your class, which I love. Like I just think that’s so fun. So why do you think it’s the best class ever? What are some of the major themes like what are the some of the things you guys cover in APs?

Ashton Allgood 3:45
So basically, apes is this we call it apes because it’s AP environmental science, and it sounds cooler. But it’s it’s the study of basically humans and our environment and how they relate. So we look a lot at consequences of what we’ve decided to do as humans. We look at human culture, and we incorporate a lot of branches of science. So that’s kind of what makes it fun is we do some political science, we do some history, and it kind of meshes, all the sciences together.

Rebecca 4:14
I love that. Okay, so I know as a former AP Bio teacher, a lot of people think AP is the easiest AP science. So what would you say to combat that? Do you feel like you cover the similar depth and breadth of content that some of these other APS do? Or do you feel like you get have a little bit more wiggle room in your subject?

Ashton Allgood 4:30
So I think like AP Bio is so specific, and you have to know like exact things about very specific topics. I think the hard thing about AP is it is so broad, we cover so many different things and you have to know a little bit about a lot of things and how those things relate together. So I think they’re they’re hard in different ways, I guess. For

Rebecca 4:51
sure. Okay. So what do you love then about the CD and, and what do you not maybe love about how the course is written?

Ashton Allgood 4:58
So my favorite thing is that had a CD sets very clear expectations. When I started teaching the class, it was a whole, like you were sort of guessing like on exactly what you were supposed to teach. So that’s the great thing is like you know exactly what topics you’re supposed to teach. And I love also that it tells you how long you should be spending on each thing. So you kind of get a good idea of I should really focus more of my time on these topics and can kind of skim over some of the others. But I think it’s still really difficult to know how far into depth you need to go into some of those topics, for example, like ozone depletion, like how much do the kids actually need to know, do they need to know the full equation or just have a general idea? I think now that they’ve started to come up with some of the sample labs for apes, it’s been really helpful, because it helps me at least prioritize like, Okay, this is exactly what we’re trying to get them to get out of this topic. So I think that’s really helpful. I don’t teach everything in the same order as the CD. So that’s been a little bit of a challenge, like making AP classroom and all that work for me, I’ve switched a lot of things over just because it is easier to streamline everything that way. But that’s one of the downsides, I guess is that it, it sort of forces you to go in the order that a college board wants you to. Okay,

Rebecca 6:13
so what do you think is a better order for all the eight people listening?

Ashton Allgood 6:17
So I mean, I don’t think there’s one right answer is the thing I front load a lot of like global warming, global change all that sort of stuff, and then tie it in as we go. And that’s for two reasons. So one, because it’s, it’s a theme we see throughout the class. And so it makes it easier to touch on it again at the end. And the CD has it as the very last topic. And then I also don’t like to start with biogeochemical cycles, because my students always struggle with those. So I like to give us a little like, you know, warm up to get into the class before we really go into the deep stuff.

Rebecca 6:50
That’s totally why when I taught AP Bio, I actually started with evolution. Because I didn’t want to start with the, you know, biochemistry stuff, like you said, right. And I loved weaving it in. But I also taught this before all of the AP classroom resources that are also digital, so I could see how that’d be annoying to be trying to use what they have a different.

Ashton Allgood 7:08
So they have on AP classroom, they have all these great resources that you can do like progress checks and stuff like that. And I ended up not doing them in the same order that right, like we still do them because they’re useful tools. But it is one of the downsides of having a CD. And but it’s a great resource. I’d much rather have it than not, for sure.

Rebecca 7:26
Okay. So you mentioned lab manual. Have you guys not always had a lab manual provided by College Board? Or what’s the deal with that? No.

Ashton Allgood 7:32
So AP environmental science is one of the few classes where we say we need to do hands on labs, but we don’t have like specific labs that we have to do. And we’ve never even had a list. So last year, I think they came out with I want to say it was like nine maybe labs that they said, Hey, here’s some labs you guys can do. And then this year, I think we’re up to like 20. But none of them are required, right? It’s just like you have to incorporate the labs in your class at some point, but not those specific labs.

Rebecca 8:01
That’s so crazy that you never had those though, in the past, like, just have something to go off of.

Ashton Allgood 8:06
Right. So it was like one of those challenges like what do I do? What’s the best lab and there’s some labs that the College Board has come out with that I’ve switched mine for, or there’s some that I’ll like, take their questions and just add them to the lab that I’ve been doing. So one of the very weird things.

Rebecca 8:23
Okay, so something to me again, like I’m such like, I have no experience with apes whatsoever. So very much a rookie here. But like, I feel like because the content is so practical, it’s so real world. So what they’re experiencing, I would have so many projects and discussions and like things I don’t want to do. But then how do you balance like these kind of authentic learning experiences like that? With a course that’s so real world? Like it’s just it’s so real world for them? are you balancing that with making sure you’re getting through all the content? Because I feel like that is a struggle for so many AP teachers? And maybe it would help to if you gave us some context for how often are you seeing your students? All year? How many minutes? That kind of thing? Yeah,

Ashton Allgood 9:05
so I teach in the spring semester only. I’m in North Carolina. So we’re on block schedule. And I teach about 70 minutes a day. So by the time we start school until the exam, I have 65 class days, typically. Yeah, this semester, I have 68. So I’m like, What am I going to do with these three extra days? Hilarious. Yeah. But it’s very fast paced. And that’s obviously what you said is makes it challenging. I try and do a lot of obviously hands on like, almost every day we’re doing some sort of lab activity. A lot of the College Board labs, that’s one of the things I haven’t been able to do some of those labs with because they are, you know, multi day or even week labs. And so I’ll find an activity that demonstrates the same thing that we can, you know, go out in the hole, throw some paper clips on a little island and learn about Island island biogeography that way, rather than you know, spending a long time looking Get habitat data from an actual island. But I always do try and tie in those examples. And then one of the things that I’ve done is I’ve gone into all my labs. And we always have like, pre lab and post lab questions. But those are things that have the students go out and read about real world examples. They have them read for background content. So that background information and getting that a lot of times I might talk about something in a lecture, but then we really go in depth in it in the lab and the pre lab and that sort of thing. That’s

Rebecca 10:31
awesome. Okay, so I feel like with your subject more than the other three, when I reached out to my audience for questions, there were so many people just like giving me a deep dive like specific situation. But they were great questions. So I want to include a lot. So we’re gonna keep going through like my list of questions. But embedded, I’ve got some specific ones where people are just giving their context and they just want your opinion. I’ll tell you these, these eight teachers were outspoken. Okay, so one of them, which I feel like is related to what you said she, they are saying, Okay, what would you do if you’re teaching apes for the first time, and you’re only seeing your students four times a week, and this is crazy, two of the days are 40 minutes, one day is only 30 minutes, and then one day is 90 minutes. So it’s in short, not a lot of time. And then this teacher is a first time mom of one year old, and in a district where apes, it’s considered the easy course. And thus, people aren’t like their students just don’t take it historically, very seriously. So I kind of how would you what any words of wisdom for that teacher? Yeah,

Ashton Allgood 11:27
so I don’t think there’s a right answer there. That sounds like a tough one. I did teach on an AV block. So like every other day for a while. And during that time period, I found that flip lessons worked really well. Yeah, now that I’m back to seeing my students every single day, they prefer to do like notes in class and that sort of thing. But that might be a case where like a flipped classroom would work really well. I think in any AP class, though, having your students know that they are responsible for like finishing lab questions and like, the debrief questions and stuff at home is really important. So that’s another thing you could do is focus on labs in class, get them the hands on experience, but make sure they’re doing the pre lab and the post lab type stuff at home. Maybe give them a little bit of time to ask questions in class, but I think that’s a big part of it is like figuring out what works well for your students. Yeah,

Rebecca 12:17
and just you’re gonna have to set the bar and just hold it like to change the culture of that. I feel like it’s gonna be hard, but you can’t do it unless you really try right? To make it more serious. Okay, so speaking of homework, and you mentioned doing like, for that teacher doing like pre and post lab stuff at home, I feel like homework is always just like an animal for AP teachers. And you know, do you assign it is it required is it just like, strongly encouraged? What’s kind of your philosophy around homework. So

Ashton Allgood 12:42
when I first started teaching apes, I assigned questions out of the book, every single chapter. And I stopped doing that, because we were just, I was just giving them way too much work. And I realized it. And so I’ve started, I lecture, obviously, and I’ve started telling them that I will lecture on about 70% of what’s in your book. And if you’re okay, with a 780, on your quizzes and your tests, then you’ll be fine. As long as your test well. But if you want higher than 270, which most of our AP kids are not satisfied with just passing, then that’s when you need to go and you need to make sure you’re actually reading the textbook. And to incentivize that a little bit. I let my students use their notes, whatever they’ve taken on any of their quizzes in class, so not our like big unit tests, but their class quizzes. And we do like random surprise, pop quizzes, I’ll tell them you have to have like, we’re gonna finish chapter four on this day. And after chapter four is done, then a quiz is fair game. And so they know if they’ve read the book, they’ve you know, taken any notes, they want to they’re welcome to use those on the test, or sorry, on the quiz. And that I think has helped the kids start to actually like, go back and read the book. Other than that, like I give a lot of projects and labs, but not a lot of like, true homework assignments. Tonight, of course, was an example of where we were learning population math. So they did have a assignment due that was more like a homework, but I actually let them pick. I was like, Do you guys want to have this due tomorrow? And I’ll check it tomorrow for a daily grade, or do you want to do three days from now? And I’ll check, it might actually check it for correctness. And they were like, oh, yeah, daily grade. Let’s go. So

Rebecca 14:13
I love that I love giving him choice. Okay, so one of the other specific questions Someone asked if someone’s at a school where they’re not allowed to assign homework, which I totally get that and I do kind of love that philosophy. But in practicality with an AP course that just feels kind of harsh. So this teacher is basically saying, how would you structure your class to make sure you’re covering everything but have enough time for practice tests? So this teacher, it’s 70 minute classes, but it’s blocked? So I’m assuming a B all year, so every other day all your like you’ve said you’ve done? This teacher said I’ve sped through everything and left kids behind, or I cover the last unit literally days before the test? Yeah,

Ashton Allgood 14:48
I mean, honestly, like I covered the last unit days before the test half the time. It sounds really difficult to not have any outside of schoolwork at all, especially for an AP class. Last, I think this is a case of where you’d have to talk to your administration be like, hey, like, can they finish their labs, you know, at home, and we’re doing all the lab in class, but what they don’t finish, I think would have to fall on the kid. I think that’s what you’d have to do to really be successful.

Rebecca 15:13
Totally, and maybe even outside of class review sessions that are optional. So it’s like, yeah, absolutely. But keep in mind that it’s just, I feel like if your admins pigeonholing you on that, there’s not really so much you can do. Okay, so you mentioned like the option of a flipped classroom than the past? Do you have any tips about getting kids to actually watch the videos? Are you using your own videos? Or have you used the ones does College Board provide them for AP environmental like they do for other subjects?

Ashton Allgood 15:40
So they do, a lot of them are either very specific to one topic or pretty broad. So I will sometimes use those as like a supplement to what we’re learning. For example, that biogeochemical cycles again, like I have kids, watch those back, after I’ve lectured. When I did a flipped classroom, I recorded my own videos, and I uploaded them all to EdPuzzle. And a kids would watch and then I could have them answer questions within EdPuzzle, which was okay. But I’ve learned, like, at least at my school, most of the kids will walk try and watch videos for other classes in a class that they’re currently in. So you know, they’re not listening, right? And so I asked them one semester, at the beginning of the semester, like, what do you want me to do? Like, do you want me to flip? Or do you want me to lecture and they were all like, hands down, we want you to lecture. So that’s sort of what I’ve done for the past few years. I think it really like the flipped classroom, you have to figure out if it works for you and your students. Because I know some teachers that it works great for, and their kids always do the notes, because they really want to get the content. And they want to have more time for the labs. And that’s great. But you just have to learn your kids.

Rebecca 16:46
I love that. And I love how much you’re talking about, like giving them choice and saying I’m down to do this, but like you guys need to pick which one you’re going to do. I feel like when they have that buy in, because they got to make a decision. It helps.

Ashton Allgood 16:57
So my kids know the class is hard. That’s not a secret. I tell them that on day one. But I also try and make sure that they know that we’re in this together, like I want you to be successful. I’m not a college professor who’s going to show up every day lecture lead. I’m trying to get you to learn the content and be successful. And I think that helps the kids a lot because that then they feel like I’ve had kids come to me miss all good. We are drowning, we cannot get this lab done. Can we have one more day? Absolutely. Like, oh, great one day late. It’s not. As long as we’re in communication, and we’re working together. And you’re trying well, we’ll be successful.

Rebecca 17:31
I love that. Okay, do you have a textbook you love? You mentioned how you I love that too already said, Hey, I’m gonna lecture on 70%. And that kind of gives you the motivation to maybe read the other 30%. But do you have one that you love for apes.

Ashton Allgood 17:43
So I have Miller in the environment, the 19th edition, which came out before the CD. I like the textbook because it it’s not like too, in depth way deep college level where they get completely lost in it. But it does a good job at covering most of the topics. So I like to say it’s user friendly. I think if I was picking a book nowadays, I would choose one that like more closely aligned with a CD, like if I was starting fresh, but I do like the book we

Rebecca 18:08
have. Okay, cool. One of the specific questions a teacher asked was about textbooks. And they basically only have a classroom set. So there’s not enough to like actually distribute one to each student. And so they were asking if you had any recommendations for like study resources to point students to when they are at home.

Ashton Allgood 18:24
There is like a college board requirement that they all have to have access to a textbook at home and in school. Oh, that’s good to know. Yeah, that might be like a pushing point with admin of like, Hey, this is like, it’s not me saying this is like college board. It can be print or electronic. So for like me, I had one semester where I had like, 60 kids, and we only had 30 books. But I was able to get a digital version of the textbook. So they had that online, and they have a one in class. And now my kids they pick each semester like do you want to check out an actual book? Or do you prefer the digital version, but I would definitely talk to admin, like that’s a requirement.

Rebecca 18:59
I love that. I didn’t realize that was a requirement. But I did know when I taught at bio, like it had to be at least within the last 10 years, the book in terms of age, and I remember getting there and my book was expired. And so I was able to use that to be like, I need new books. These are yes, they were like 20 years old, and we’ve been using them and like these have been against the rules for like 10 years. But yeah,

Ashton Allgood 19:19
so it’s 10 years, and they have to have access both at home and at school. I love

Rebecca 19:23
that. Okay, are you gonna hit him with the rulebook? All right? Anything you wish that because a lot of people listening may not teach apes, but they might teach biology or chemistry or a course your students are taking prior to AIDS. Is there anything you wished that those teachers were doing a better job to prepare their students for apes?

Ashton Allgood 19:42
So I actually teach chemistry? So I started when I started teaching apes I started with the list of like, here’s what I need to do better. Yeah, but I think in bio really like focusing on flow of matter and cycling of matter, obviously, like I’ve mentioned those cycles, how many times my kids really struggle with them, but I think that’s it major concepts that helps them when they get to apes, even if because I mean, obviously, in biology, you really focus on a carbon cycle. But like even having a really good understanding of that helps with some of the others in chemistry, a lot of like naming recognition, things like recognizing ions, nitrates, nitrates, that sort of thing, understanding how pH works, and then making sure that they understand how to do dimensional analysis, that’s the big one for chemistry is converting like one unit to another. And that plays a lot into age, making sure, like units are on your work and stuff like that is very helpful. That’s

Rebecca 20:37
so good to know. I had no idea that that translated to AIDS at all. Okay, so another specific question for you, a teacher asked, you know, one quarter of class, I’m supposed to be devoted to hands on activities, or labs, the students I teach, though, have no lab skills, because the lower level teachers stopped doing labs in favor of online simulations, which I’m assuming is like a post pandemic problem. So any tips for how to get lab skills up to speed without losing a lot of class time?

Ashton Allgood 21:03
So we have this problem at my school too. And I think the best thing to do is focus on experimental design. So I have my students do a lab were at the very beginning of the semester, we’re looking at global warming. And it’s totally inquiry based, like they design the entire experiment themselves. There’s no right or wrong answer. They present their findings to the class, and then we pick it apart. Like we sit down and as a as a class and say, like, here’s everything that you could have done wrong, or could have improved on. And I make a point to be like, This is not me, like shaming you and telling you you’re terrible at labs. This is making sure we understand the process of experimental design that we know in science, there’s no right or wrong answer. And that we just have to sort of make sense of the data that we get. And even though they don’t come in with those foundational lab skills, you can still teach them some of those to prepare them for the future as they leave your class.

Rebecca 21:56
Absolutely. I love that idea of just starting the year with like a larger inquiry investigation, taking the time do it, well go through the process, like you said, I think that’s a great way to set the tone to have like, okay, maybe you have not had this experience, but you’re gonna have it now. And so let’s learn some stuff. Yeah,

Ashton Allgood 22:12
we’re like that lab, I help them, like come up with ideas. So we’re using probe wear and all sorts of stuff that they’ve never done before. But I also think it kind of gets them interested in the class, like, okay, it’s gonna be a lot of work, but we’re also gonna get to do cool stuff. Yeah,

Rebecca 22:24
we’re finally gonna get to do some hands on stuff. Okay, so I kind of mentioned this at the top. But another resounding theme is just, I think, apes, it sounds like is the AP, where people just kids end up in the class, or they’re taking, they want to take a bunch of APs. They’re like, I want to take four APs. And the easiest of the sides is apes, they end up there or one teacher even said that their school is all about placing kids in AP classes. And they’ve kind of verified through admin and counselors that counselors are just putting students in apes that don’t even want to be there or didn’t sign up for it. So what would you do for students who come to your class, and they’re just not prepared and or do not want to be there.

Ashton Allgood 23:01
So I’ve never really had a case of where admin and counselors were asked like throwing kids into my class, right. But I have had kids that, you know, signed up their junior year when they were worried about getting into college. And now it’s spring semester of their senior year, and they’re just like, senior itis over it. And I think the thing you need to remind the kids is, if they’re going to stick it out and be in the class, is that even if they’re not going to college to major in environmental science, because most of them realistically are not, they are still learning foundational skills, they’re learning study skills, and they’re learning those things that will help them later in life. College Board has evidence that shows like kids that take AP classes do significantly better in those college classes than kids who didn’t take them. So even if they don’t do well, on the AP exam, they don’t earn the credit, they’re still gaining those skills. And I think that’s helped some of my kids by in, in my class, I try and let the kids know, like, if you’re willing to work hard to be successful, you will be successful in this class, you might have to put in a lot of extra work. But not everybody is going to fail my class, just because they’ve never taken an AP class before. It just means you might have to put any extra work.

Rebecca 24:11
That’s great. Okay, so the same teacher kind of went on, and I’m not going to read the whole thing. It was kind of long, but basically said, you end up with this group of students, let’s say and to summarize, I guess the best best way to explain is like how do you balance kids getting pushed, like you said, getting those skills that they need, but also not failing your class because like, you’re either you want to push them because you want them to learn you want them to be successful in AP exam, but you also don’t want it to be so fast paced, that they’re just getting lost in the cracks. But then if you slow down too much, make sure they’re you know, good doing all the things and like doing well in your class, but then they may not be prepared for the exam. Like how do you navigate that balance?

Ashton Allgood 24:50
So one of the things I like to remind kids of is like, this class is great. AP classes are great because they don’t go on your permanent transcript. If you fail an AP class, this is not going to haunt you forever. If you go and fail a college class, like when you go to apply for your job, you know, 30 years from now, if they ask for your college transcripts, it’s still going to be there. So I think high school is the place to learn the rigor of college without actually having that bad thing about college. And like I said, if the students is willing to put in the work, then we have to sort of meet them part of what I think I had to shift my mindset a little bit with AP, and remind myself like, these are high school students taking college classes, not college students taking college classes. So for example, like I allow my students to do test corrections, and I give them half a point back for each question they miss, but they, I mean, they have a lot of work to do, I have them sit down and go through every single possible answer choice and tell me why it’s right or wrong. But if they want to put in the work, I’ll meet them part of the way I grade fr Q’s, the free response questions, I grade those based off of their scoring. So basically, what I do for free response questions, is I have the students score each other’s free response questions. And their grade is based off of their analysis and feedback of other people’s free response questions, not actually how they did in the first place. So it’s kind of a way to give them some points back and get them to see more of the possible correct answers, without penalizing them for not knowing stuff.

Rebecca 26:25
I love that I feel like you’re just saying, Hey, I’m gonna hold this, this is going to be as rigorous as a college class, it’s going to be as fast paced and in depth and have expectations. But the difference is, I’m going to provide all the supportive opportunities also, to help you find success in the class, if you’re willing to put in the effort, like I think, absolutely, like you’re saying, there’s opportunities for grace, like, I never got to do test corrections, or even that, like that idea of, you’re gonna get a grade for providing feedback and participation. Like I didn’t have that in college. But that’s what makes the difference of it being well, you are in high school. So you do get these opportunities. I think that’s a great way to balance it. Yeah, I feel like with my AP Biology class, it was very hard. But as long as you try, there was no reason every kid wasn’t passing my class with A, B, or C, you know,

Ashton Allgood 27:16
yeah, I have. I mean, I very rarely have kids that are failing my class, most of them are just simply because they’re not doing the work. But the kids who are like putting in the work time, okay, if you earned an A in my class, and you don’t get a qualifying score on the AP exam have worked for it. It does. I mean, think about like in college, a lab versus a lecture, you might not get the same grade in both classes. And that’s okay.

Rebecca 27:37
Absolutely. And the nice thing is, yeah, they can make an A or B in your class, not pass the AP exam, no one ever knows. Because there’s nowhere that like, it’s you’re mandated to show the AP scores that they get to college, especially since you’re teaching seniors, they’re already in college when the scores come out. So it kind of takes the pressure off there. Another resounding question, this is kind of for everybody. But how are you balancing direct instruction and inquiry learning? Because we all I’m assuming seen how effective inquiry learning experiences are. We also all know that, like kids need direct instruction. So how do you navigate that in your classroom,

Ashton Allgood 28:11
I definitely we do direct instruction pretty much every day of some sort of lecture, unless it’s one of those long lab days. But I try and incorporate the labs where my kids are having to think outside the box. One of the labs we do is the ego columns lab. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. Lots of apes teachers do it. But Christina shares of teaching AP science has like a really great lab write up setup thing for it. And it’s basically like this column where the kids have a terrestrial chamber and an aquatic chamber and a filter chamber and they have to learn how, like the cycling of matter works. And they collect data. It’s not in the AP classroom. And I wouldn’t recommend it. If you’re a first year ace teacher, it’s pretty in depth and takes a lot of time. But labs like that, really make your students think and get the data and understand why things work the way they do. And I think that’s what we have to do in AP science classes is not only teach our kids to look at the data, but have them explain the why. And that’s what a lot of them are missing.

Rebecca 29:14
That’s so true. Okay, I don’t know how many sections of apes you’re teaching and how many students you have, but, and maybe sharing that would help with context. But how are you managing the grading, because I just feel like grading can be such a time suck. But like, also, they need good feedback. I love what you said about grading the FR Q’s and having them grade each other because there’s so much they can learn from that. But any tips for managing grading and how you do that?

Ashton Allgood 29:38
So I’m lucky this semester, well, I guess lucky. I love AP. So I would love to teach only AP, but right now I only have one section of it. And I only have 15 students right now, so it’s not too bad. I’ve had as many as 50 in one semester, and that was a bit. That’s a doozy much for grading. Yeah, but I think anytime you can even get peer feedback. If you can’t grade every single lab report I try and grade everything. But spot checking certain questions would be helpful. Like I said, with the FR Q’s, that’s, that’s what I do on every test. That’s what we do my kids peer graded. And I actually go back and give them a grade also. So they get more feedback, but quality feedback, making sure that students are answering the why that is where most students really struggle on free response questions is they’ll get part of the way there and then not give you the ending piece. Yeah,

Rebecca 30:28
so really pushing them with that. Okay, so how are you recruiting students take AP, or do you feel like you don’t really have to recruit, they just sign up? A couple of teachers said, you know, this is such a great AP class for life, how do I get my students to take it? And another side kind of the other spectrum? The AP test is so hard, how do you motivate them to actually sign up and take it?

Ashton Allgood 30:48
I definitely recruit, I go out, and I, I talked to all of our previous science teachers, and I asked them to send me a list of kids that are high fliers, basically. And then I send them a handwritten note that I dropped off to them in class. It’s not actually your handwriting it’s copied. But you know, how often do they actually get a letter that you write? So I send them a note, and I put it on like, bright colored paper? And by the end of the day, don’t have kids kind of Yeah, well, I didn’t get a letter. My teacher didn’t think I was good enough. No, that that does, not what it means. But I think that helps get the word of mouth out. And then at the same time, I send a email to like the grade level listserv that talks about the class and what it’s all about, and does a like we have a video in there of recruiting and talking about what we do. For us at my school, I don’t have a school where the kids have a really strong science background. I hear a lot like I don’t like science classes. So I try and make sure the kids know that this is hands on. It’s fun. It’s a lot of work. But we are doing hands on stuff all the time. And I think that piece is sort of what pulls them in and makes them excited about taking a class. I also have to warn them that it’s not rocket science, because most of them say they hate or science. It’s not the same thing in North Carolina. So yeah, that reminder helps a lot. And then for the kids who thinks it’s so hard, and they don’t want to take it because it’s so hard. I think that’s where we have to say like, this is a great thing that colleges want to see they want to see you taking AP classes are challenges like are really high flyers at our school often want to do dual enrollment instead of AP, because it’s like guaranteed college credit. And we actually this year at our school had to park and Moorhead winners, which are like the big scholarships in North Carolina. Both of them never took a dual enrollment class. They only took APs. So I think the colleges are actually starting to prefer the AP classes over the dual enrollment. They want you to take their class over taking all these community college classes. So that’s been a little poll as well. Yeah,

Rebecca 32:52
that definitely helps. Because I think that dual enrollment is a tricky one for the success of AP science courses. So are you recruiting sophomores to take it as juniors or juniors or take it as seniors? Mainly Bo? Okay,

Ashton Allgood 33:05
so it since I teach chemistry, I try and recruit a lot of my chemistry students to take it as a senior, but most of my students are juniors or seniors. It’s about a 5050 split.

Rebecca 33:14
Because yeah, I agree. When you’re saying you’re teaching, I would definitely prefer spring over fall semester for an AP course. But then thinking, those senior spring students that is hard to convince those seniors to like, let’s really rally your last semester here for an AP class. Yep,

Ashton Allgood 33:29
yes, absolutely. And then we go on a field trip. That’s another one we do every year. So after the AP exam in May, we live near the coast. And so I take him to a barrier island. And we talked about barrier island ecology, go visit a local college. So that’s a fun, they know if they if they survive the class, they get to go on a big field trip every year. That’s awesome. Is

Rebecca 33:48
it an overnight thing or just like a day trip?

Ashton Allgood 33:49
No, it’s just a day trip. It’s about an hour from our school. So not too far. And like I have kids from last year, like, can we go on the trip again? Like no, you already took it. That’s awesome.

Rebecca 34:00
Okay, my next question for you is what college credit? Can they get AP environmental, like, what would AP environmental science actually count for if they’re trying to replace a college credit for it?

Ashton Allgood 34:11
So it changes at every college? Yeah, in North Carolina, our state did a awesome thing. And we pass a law that says they have to accept the credit. So for your higher on any AP test, you get college credit automatically. Wow.

Rebecca 34:25
That’s amazing. Yeah,

Ashton Allgood 34:26
that’s a great win for North Carolina especially like to like pull our AP students in because the kids, if you take a community college class, it might not transfer my credit transfer as an elective class in college. But if you take an AP class, it will transfer as that credit, so it would count as your environmental science credit in North Carolina. But College Board does have a list on their website, any school so before North Carolina made that law I made the kids go look and see like okay, here’s where I want to go. Day one. Let’s see what it’s going to count as.

Rebecca 34:56
That’s awesome. Okay, I’m like obsessed with that. I’m your neighbor in South County. And I wish we did that. That’s so motivating for students. Okay? Now, we haven’t even gotten to this, this is so important. I can’t wait to talk to you about this. You’re an AP reader, which I feel like is one of the main reasons I was so excited to talk to you. Because I feel like you have such a unique perspective, you can offer teachers listening as what that brings to what you’re seeing when you’re grading these exams and stuff. So what are your tips for preparing students for the exam, especially from that perspective, as a reader?

Ashton Allgood 35:25
I think that learning to score free response questions, change my outlook on grading students free response question. So I have my students grade each other. So like I was talking about before, it really makes them understand why my students had free response questions due today from their last unit test. So they take their unit test, they do a free response in class, just to have them practice, the timing of it and all that. And then they get somebody else’s free response question back and they don’t know who’s when they have to go through and analyze and give me a score. And this girl turned in one today, she goes, I feel really bad. They almost answered all the questions, but they didn’t ever get there. So I couldn’t give them any of the points. And I was like, Yes, this is it. Like you get it. So you have to tell me the why. And I think some of my kids that wouldn’t have learned that otherwise, by scoring other people’s frequently finally started to catch on like, oh, I have to explain it.

Rebecca 36:24
I feel like it’s such a flex for you to as a teacher to be like, I grade these. Okay, so I know that they will knock

Ashton Allgood 36:32
Yeah, it’s, it’s definitely a great experience. And now that College Board has started doing reading online and in person, it’s a lot more accessible. So if you’ve ever thought about being a reader, and you’ve been teaching for three years, definitely apply. It’s a lot of reading for a few days, but it’s yeah, it’s worth it.

Rebecca 36:49
Yeah, that is awesome. I think I agree that I even remember sitting in eighth my AP chemistry teachers class and him pulling up on a projector, because, you know, throwback to the early 2000s. And him pulling up the responses and the rubrics and saying like, this got a four out of seven. Let’s see why. And I think using that evaluative, like part of your brain is so helpful to learn. When you’re writing your unit tests. Are you holding only college board questions? Are you writing some of your own? Like, how are you piecing that together? So they get that good practice?

Ashton Allgood 37:20
So I would say 98%, probably 97 98% of my tests are straight from the College Board.

Rebecca 37:27
This is the resounding theme I’m hearing. Yep.

Ashton Allgood 37:30
Yep. So why not? Like it’s there? Let’s use it right.

Rebecca 37:33
And writing tests sucks. It is my least favorite part about what I do. And it’s hard to be good at it. So like, why not use what’s provided? And the same wording and stuff? Exactly. Okay, well, so what else you’re doing to review with them, I’m assuming you’re doing all the FR Q’s, what else?

Ashton Allgood 37:49
So we do all the FR Q’s, before each unit test, I give them the opportunity to create like a review folder. And it’s basically like something that they can use on the test, which are time so they like you still have to know it, right. But they can use those on the test. And basically gives them another thing like that incentive of let me go back review what I’ve learned. And then I have those to look back on before the AP exam, because I always end with very few days to review before that AP test. So if we’ve done those, then that helps them to have something to look back on. I also do the progress checks in AP classroom, before their unit tests just to give him like a little, Hey, how are you doing? What do you know? What do you not know? That kind of thing? Okay,

Rebecca 38:32
so what does that review folder look like? Or like, what are the parameters on that?

Ashton Allgood 38:35
So they have to choose within the unit that we’ve talked about, they have to choose 15 different topics of key topics that we learned in that unit, and then give me examples or definitions for 10 of them, they have to include one picture and six vocabulary words, and it has to have color. Okay.

Rebecca 38:54
And that’s, can they include more than that? Or that’s just they can only absolutely, yeah,

Ashton Allgood 38:58
that’s the minimum. And then in order to do their test corrections, which are optional, they have to have turned in a review folder. So they can do it before the test and use it on the test. Or they can do it after the test and then do test corrections. Okay,

Rebecca 39:11
I’m obsessed with that. I feel like that gives so much motivation. Are you doing test corrections in class? Are they allowed to take their tests home? Or I feel like for security reasons, probably not. I don’t know. So how are you navigating? Oh, managing that

Ashton Allgood 39:23
none of the tax questions I use are trying to secure exams. So I used to have them come in. We have like a study hall every day. And I used to have them come in and they were only allowed to do them during that time. But most of my kids are so involved, that it’s just not practical. So I let them complete them at home. As long as they’re going through and they’re reviewing each of the questions. I’m happy.

Rebecca 39:43
Yeah. Okay. So one of the specific teachers asked in terms of review, this is someone who is on a block schedule like you but they have apes in the fall. And so they have to do some spring review sessions because like, how else are they going to get their kids to review for the exam? So I know you’re not In that situation, but any advice for like what you would tell that teacher what you would do if your class all of a sudden got moved to be a fall class.

Ashton Allgood 40:06
So I did teach it in the fall once, once, and then I was like, okay, come on admin, we need to put this in a spring. But I offered review days. So there were like, three, either teacher workdays, or Saturdays leading up to the exam where I said, like, Okay, we’re going to, I’m going to be here, if you want to have like, if you want to come in and review, I also made the students like a day by day study guide plan of what I would do, if I were prepping for the exam without the class just to like, refresh my brain. And I still give that to my students. Now it’s like, a month out what you would look over each day. Love that. But really, the onus comes back on the kids there. Yeah, they have to want to do well on the exam. And otherwise, they’re not gonna show up. So they have to, they have to care. So

Rebecca 40:48
I think there’s no way you can force them to be motivated to participate. I think kids not like you can give them a grade or anything like that. I think, if I was that teacher, too, I would just say, hey, here are the resources I’m providing you. I will be here. You know, these four times, once a month, whatever, we will do this if you come if you don’t like it is what it is like I can’t, I cannot make you.

Ashton Allgood 41:09
Our school used to require us to do Saturday sessions, which I hated. Because I do not want to be here on a Saturday morning. Literally never. Yeah. But last year, we had, I think it was spring break, and then a Monday off right before the AP exam, which was like terrible. So I ended up on a teacher workday, saying, I’ll do a three hour review session if anybody wants to come and almost my entire class showed up. And we played review games and made it fun, but they were still reviewing for the test.

Rebecca 41:36
Yeah, I would not want to do Saturdays I’d want to do like maybe one Saturday morning, but like I’d rather do like long after school. I’d rather do like 30 in the morning. Like I just Saturdays. I can’t do that. For anybody. Okay, so what advice I know, you’ve given such good advice, but anything specifically for the teacher, this is going to come out mid April. So someone who maybe is just getting their contract finding out they’re going to teach AP next year, for the first time. Anything, you’re like, wow, I wish someone had told me this earlier. No one trained me on this or just any advice for them.

Ashton Allgood 42:05
definitely sign up for an AP Summer Institute. Those are great to learn a whole bunch about the class and you get to build part of that community in person. The AP community of environmental science teachers has a really active Facebook following. There’s a whole Facebook group, and I got so many ideas from that. I think the challenge if you join that group, though, if you feel like you have to do everything, or you’re not a great teacher,

Rebecca 42:29
that’s exactly how the AP Bio one is. It’s like the best and the worst.

Ashton Allgood 42:33
Yes. So it’s great for resources. But like, just remember, it’s all the resources in one place. But I would definitely join that as far as getting some ideas,

Rebecca 42:41
any like online resources that you found useful, like virtual labs or anything like that?

Ashton Allgood 42:46
Yeah. So there’s two really good AP environmental science people, Kristin Shapiro, she runs a website called School of sharp, sh RP. She has like a full course outline of what she does for the class. It’s all like, absolutely free. And she’s awesome. I’ve done a few trainings with her. And then Christie shares I mentioned earlier has a bunch of AP labs, where she’s like the ego column lab and stuff like that. Those are both really, really helpful.

Rebecca 43:10
Okay, awesome. I’m gonna get links from you for those. And we’ll have all this linked in the show notes for people who are teaching that and looking for that. Okay. I would also love to ask you because I ask everyone who’s been on ever the same question. If there’s one way you’ve been simplifying your life recently, and it could be at school, or it could be at home, just anything you’re doing that’s making your life a little bit more simple.

Ashton Allgood 43:29
So I’m been really bad at this recently. But something I really tried to do is I try to leave my work at work. And I try to leave my desk neat before I leave. Like right now my desk is covered in papers. But like the part where I sit before I leave every day, I make sure that it is organized. And I leave, you know, here’s what I want to work on. First, when I get here tomorrow, I try and just set myself up for the next day, just one day at a time.

Rebecca 43:54
I love that I did the same thing. If I had like didn’t finish grading something, I would literally put it with the key like on top of my computer so that when I come in tomorrow, this is like first priority. Those visual reminders are huge. Absolutely. Okay, is there any way that if my listeners want to reach out to you and stay connected with you, anywhere I can point them to? So

Ashton Allgood 44:15
I am on Twitter, I don’t use it super frequently, but I will share some random stuff on there. And that’s Ashton all good. And then I also have like a travel blog. It’s all about North Carolina. So if you’re ever travel blog, and then Instagram that goes with that. It’s all good. Awesome.

Rebecca 44:29
Okay, we’ll link all that in the show notes will auction thank you so much. It’s been really helpful. Awesome. Thank

Ashton Allgood 44:34
you so much.

Rebecca 44:35
Thank you so much for listening to today’s episode and my interview with Ashton. You could find all those links mentioned in the show notes that it’s not rocket science classroom.com/episode 126 And if you’re listening and you teach AP environmental science, I would love it if you would leave a rating and review for the podcast wherever it is that you listen, and be sure to tune in next week for our last episode in this series. You guys are getting to hear from everyone’s favorite AP chemistry teacher who is also my personal AP chemistry teacher, and that Zach Matson. He’s coming back on the podcast for the fourth time. Y’all love him so much. And all my surveys every year you guys asked for more of Zach Matson so I’m giving you more and he’s gonna share all things AP chemistry with us next week, so stay tuned. Alright, teacher friends, that wraps up today’s episode. If you’re looking for an easy way to start simplifying your life as a secondary science teacher, head to It’s not rocket science classroom.com/challenge to grab your classroom reset challenge. And guess what? It’s totally free. Thanks so much for tuning in, and I’ll see you here next week. Until then, I’ll be rooting for you teacher friend.

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