The utter folly of Big Ideas in AP Chemistry

Written by Adrian
On November 28, 2015

Before reading the remainder of this post, please make careful note of the following. I KNOW, and fully understand that, the CB does not intend for the content within the Big Ideas in AP Chemistry to necessarily be taught in the sequence that they currently provide in the curriculum document – I get that, I really do.

That said…

…if ‘Big Ideas’ actually meant anything at all, other than being a meaningless pile of edubabble, then since they are supposed to bring together large, related topics, it OUGHT to make sense to teach the electrochemistry that appears in Big Idea 3 WITHOUT reference to equilibrium at ALL – it doesn’t! It is ‘possible’ to teach electrochemistry prior to equilibrium but it makes for an awkward, difficult, and somewhat ‘smoke & mirrors’ based approach that I find annoying. I CAN do it, and this year once again I WILL do it. I have made peace with my approach but for me, this illustrates one thing and one thing only. Big Ideas’ are a really dumb way to organize the new AP chemistry curriculum.

Big Ideas in AP Chemistry

Like almost certainly the overwhelming majority of teachers that read this post, prior to the new course I always taught electrochemistry (my old TOPIC 16) after equilibrium (my old TOPIC 13). As I think we all agree that is the way that makes most sense, and I knew that going in, however I wanted to try a different approach. I thought that I would give the ‘Big Idea’ philosophy a go since, as it suggests, electrochemistry could/should be grouped with other things in Big Idea 3 and not necessarily be tied to equilibrium. I am glad that I did try the new sequencing since now I feel as though I can now be critical from a position of strength. I now know for a fact, that the concept of a ‘Big Idea’ in education is garbage. Why did chemistry education get hijacked in this way?

Finally it’s beautifully ironic that dictionary.com defines ‘Big Idea’ as, “any plan or proposal that is grandiose, impractical, and usually unsolicited”. I rest my case.

5 Comments

  1. Paul Cohen

    FWIW, I never changed the order in which I teach those topics. Electrochem comes AFTER equilibrium and thermo. The organization of the course on the basis of “Big Ideas’ is useless edubabble and should be ignored.

    Reply
    • Adrian

      Agreed, and as I say above, I know that the CB does not necessarily intend for the BI to dictate teaching order, HOWEVER, if BI’s meant anything (which I know you and I agree that they do NOT), then according to the CB, electrochemistry is not/need not be tied to equilibrium – we know that’s not true! It’s such a shame things have been spoiled by the edubabble BS.

      Reply
  2. Scott

    Now that you’ve tried teaching the course this way for three years without it growing on you, do you think you will teach it next year in a manner more similar to your old sequence?

    Reply
    • Adrian

      Hi Scott – Well, in the perfect world ‘yes’, but there is an unrelated issue that we all struggle with to some lesser or greater degree. The ‘natural rhythm’ of the current schedule, at my current school, is actually quite difficult to manage, and ironically, teaching electrochem before equilibrium makes sense when considering IT alone. With ‘chemical logic’ dictating the opposite, I have a dilemma. However, in the the perfect world I would go back to the system that I had already perfected before everything got ruined!

      Reply
      • Scott

        Interesting and unfortunate. My current sequence is similar in many ways to your old order of topics. Your old order topics is always very similar to what I was already doing in my Pre-AP class. I basically used the old order and made the necessary updates to reflect the changes to the curriculum. I feel it provides a very good flow and is also similar to a typical university course sequence.

        I’ve seen your teaching schedule before – it’s nuts. I know it does not benefit teachers, but I wonder how it really benefits students? I feel like it would be confusing for them as well.

        Reply

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