AP Biology Book Club

Science Books

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The AP Biology Book Club was created as an interesting way to introduce my students to the science writing genre.  The College Board recommends that students in an AP Biology course read nonfiction works and other outside reading to get them beyond the textbook.  There are so many great books to choose from, I found it hard to select just one or two.  So, I decided to let the students choose!  The logistics of the book club are evolving but I am happy with the results so far.  Here is how the AP Bio Book Club is working for us.

Students Select From a Reading List

I have created a list of 6 titles that I give to students prior to the course for summer reading.  I teach at a small high school and have a small class size for AP Bio so I start with only 6 titles.  If you have larger classes you may want to expand the list.  I like to have at least 2 students who have read the same title so that I have 2 ‘experts’ when we discuss it.  Before the students leave for the summer I have them select one or two titles to take home with them and hopefully read over the summer.  Titles are listed in the course syllabus.

The Format is Informal

I’ve been involved in a few book clubs personally and my favorite ones are the informal ones.  I understand that I am the teacher and this needs to be a valuable learning experience so I keep a few goals in mind:

  • Introduce students to the ‘Science’ genre (there’s even a whole section at the bookstore!)
  • Link the book that we are discussing to the AP Biology Big Ideas
  • Link the book that we are discussing to as many specific science concepts as possible
  • Relate the concepts in the book to our daily lives

Pedagogy

From a teaching perspective, the book club is implemented with two tasks.  First, a set of guiding questions are given for each of the books.  My course is delivered via a hybrid model so in our online course I’ve created a book club section.  Students can find a short description of each book to help them choose which one they want to read, and can also access the guiding questions for each book.  An online discussion board is set-up only for the students reading a particular book.  They can discuss the book and the guiding questions as they prepare for their book discussion in class.  They can also collaborate on their book club discussion if they doing a special presentation, skit, debate, etc.

Second, a class discussion of the book takes place at some time throughout the school year.  The timing of the discussions has been a challenge at times.  Some of the books are fairly specific as to which topic they should be placed with for discussion and they are easy to place within the curriculum schedule, but others span several topics areas.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing!  It is often an opportunity to make more connections across Big Ideas.

When the class discussion of a book is going to take place, the student ‘experts’ take center stage.  The discussion is scheduled in advance and I meet with the students involved to determine what they would like to do for their book discussion.  It is helpful if more than one student has read the title being discussed, but if there is only one we can still have a good discussion with that student as the leader. This is where the students get the opportunity to create visuals, gather other resources, videos, demonstrations, etc.  We use the guiding questions as the guide for the class discussion but I explain to the students that they are just the foundation, and the students who have read the book have the opportunity to create any other kind of presentation around them that they choose.

Assessment

The students put a lot of time and effort into reading and discussing the book club books.  They prepare to be the discussion leaders.  And even the students who didn’t read the book must be active listeners and participants in the book discussion.  They may not have read the book, but they ARE knowledgeable in the topic!!  Each student receives a score for being the discussion leader, and each student receives a score for being a book club discussion participant by completing a quiz on the concepts discussed in the book.

How Many Books?

The first question students ask, “How many books do we have to read?”  At this point, only one of the books is required reading for my course.  A second one is extra credit.  This could change.  We all get a little overwhelmed with all that is AP Biology and books in the Science genre are not considered beach reading or fluff.  Plus, while each student is required to read only one, they are thoroughly discussing six.  Have you ever gone to a book club meeting where you didn’t finish the book?  You still got the gist and maybe the discussion was still valuable, right??  And we will read plenty of case studies and a few science journal articles before the course is over as well.

I’m interested in how you incorporate outside reading into your AP Biology courses.  What are the titles you enjoy most?  What titles do you find most valuable?  What titles do students enjoy?  Help me out, I could use some inspiration 😉