Making Students Gasp: An Inside Peek at Woodlawn's AP Bio
“Alright, everyone, listen up. Take your colors out because it’s about to get crazy!” Ms. Carlisle advises as she flips through her notebook to the lesson plan of the day. Students scramble to get their materials out as a familiar voice from the back of the classroom pleads, “Can we do another lab today, but this time, test the growth rate of our dialysis bag with kombucha?”
Juniors and seniors enrolled in the AP Biology course rarely know exactly what to expect in their AP Bio class. A Wednesday afternoon, outdoor-discussion might conclude with a walk to the garden using real-life resources and visuals to demonstrate cycles, such as photosynthesis or cellular respiration. Or, you might find students venturing into the woods to collect vibrant shades of leaves so that they can test the chromatography of each pigmentation. In class, it's not unusual to see students experimenting with different concentrations of liquids, like hydrogen peroxide, to manipulate the results of their reaction — just to fulfill their curiosity.
If you've ever walked through Woods Hall during an AP Bio class, you might see or hear some unusual things, such as students jogging around the lab, acting out the Calvin cycle, or linking themselves together in a game of tug-of-war to represent an exchange of valence electrons between elements. But like most things in Ms. Carlisle's class, there is a method to her "madness". “I trust in our class activities and experiments,” says Benjamin Vaughan ‘21. “Whenever we are assessed and come across a challenging question, I flashback to a memorable phrase or pun that we created during one of the games we played.”
Ms. Carlisle began her career in teaching eight years ago at Austin Can! Academy in Austin, Texas. Two years later, during a fall break, she was leaving an improv show when an Austin Can! student stopped her. Ms. Carlisle recalls, “He looked into my eyes and told me that he was able to pass his exam to graduate high school because of me. He smiled, and tears just started streaming down his face with gratitude. I hugged him and went to my car and just sobbed. He is now a nurse in Austin. This is why I do what I do.”
The philosophy behind Ms. Carlisle’s style of teaching supports Woodlawn’s mission of project-based learning by enhancing critical thinking and encouraging collaboration. “I never set up your labs; I only provide materials. You are a scientist, and this is your experiment and lab, I just regulate.”
As class wraps-up, students reflect on what they have learned, with comments echoing out of the classroom, such as, “Leaves are producing oxygen every second, but we cannot even see it!” Satisfied, Ms. Carlisle chuckles, erasing the white board. “This course is meant for students to see the world differently, and it is my hope that this new perspective will help them protect and change it for the better. Science pushes us to think beyond ourselves; it makes you gasp - and if it doesn't, you're just not paying attention.”