AP Environmental Science

Environmental Science is one of the most important subjects to study. Our society is influenced by it every day. A persons’ overall health is affected by the quality of the environment they live in, from the cleanliness of the air they are breathing, to the purity of the water available to drink, to the habitat they live in.  Presently environmental issues are embodied in all aspects of our culture, from the political arena to everyday social settings. I will provide you with current issues, theories and data and how they relate to you and society as a whole. My goal is to make sure you have an understanding of the concepts covered this AP Environmental Science course and make connections between the concepts you are learning and relevance to your life and the lives of others.

Course Overview

This course is designed to cover a variety of topics within the sciences. The goal is to provide you with the scientific principles, concepts and methodologies required to understand the interrelationships of the natural world, to identify and analyze environmental problems both natural and human-made, to evaluate risk factors of these problems, and to examine alternative solutions for resolving or preventing them.  Emphasis in this class is placed on science as a process, energy conversions underlying all ecological processes, the Earth as an interconnected system, how humans alter the environment, environmental problems and their social context and developing sustainable practices.  This course adheres to the objectives instituted by the College Board for AP Environmental Science.

This is a laboratory course in which you are expected to follow scientific methodologies, collect data and make accurate hypotheses.

The objectives of this course are that each student shall:

  • Demonstrate skills using various types of instrumentation and scientific methodologies;
  • Learn how to read and critique scientific research articles in the field of environmental science;
  • Practice using data collected to solve scientific problems; and
  • Apply their knowledge and critical thinking to current social concerns.

Required Text

Brennan, Scott R. and Jay H. Withgott. Environment: The Science Behind the Stories. 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Pearson Education.

Students will be required to stay current with assigned reading. We will be covering chapters 1-23 during the course of the year. This works out to about one chapter every 5-8 school days.  On average, the required reading will be between 30-40 pages per week.

Required Supplies

A three-ring binder is mandatory for students to keep their class and reading notes and for organizing class handouts and returned work. Students may also be asked to gather materials from outside school that will aid in our lab and field investigations.

Course Format and Procedures

Lab and Field Investigations

The AP Environmental Science lab and field investigations will be diverse and are listed in the course outline attached below.  These activities are meant to compliment the lecture/discussion portion of the course by providing opportunities to learn about our environment through firsthand observations. Students will test concepts and principles introduced in class, explore specific issues and concepts in greater depth, and gain an awareness of the importance of confounding variables that exist in the “real” world. These labs will invite students to think critically, observe environmental systems, develop and conduct well-designed experiments, utilize appropriate techniques and instrumentation, analyze and interpret data, think analytically, form conclusions and evaluate their quality and validity, propose further questions for study, and communicate accurately and effectively about their observations and interpretations. On average, we will be spending one class period per week conducting lab or field work.


Because this course parallels an introductory college course I will lecture a few times per week.  In lecture I will present topics in relation to the current data available.  I will utilize pictures, graphs, and other various visual aids.  Lectures will consist of note-taking and discussion. Discussion will be a major aspect of the lecture and participation is highly encouraged.

Classroom Expectations

The following policies will be in place throughout the course of the year.

Late work

  • Late work will not be accepted. However, I understand that life happens and sometimes you need a little more time to do your best. I will be more than happy to work with you on this if it is warranted.


  • The key to your success in Environmental Science is attending class each day. If you experience absences you will fall behind and need to spend time after school to catch up. You will be permitted time equal to the length of your absence to make up any assignments that were missed.
  • It is my expectation that you are in your desk ready to work by the time the bell rings to begin class. If you are tardy to class the following steps will be taken
    • Warning
    • Warning
    • Parent Contact
    • Administrative referral

Leaving the classroom

  • In order to learn, you need to be present in class. Each student will be allowed two (2) passes per quarter to leave the room if needed. A pass must be presented to the teacher at a time that is not disruptive to the learning environment.


  • If a student would like extra help on an assignment or is having difficulty with the current topic, s/he may come in for tutoring before school, after school, or during study halls. Tutoring is available at various times. Please check the board in my room to see when I will be available for you.

Student Conduct

  • Students are expected to behave as adults. Behavior that is disruptive to the learning environment will not be tolerated. The following consequences will be implemented.
    • First Instance – Verbal reminder*
    • Second Instance – Parent/Guardian contact*
    • Third Instance – Administrative referral and loss of extra credit points
      * Depending on the severity of the behavior, administrative referral may be prior to the third instance.
  • Absolutely no food or drink (except water) in class. This is a science classroom and not a cafeteria.
  • Electronic devices such as smartphones will be permitted for use in class WHEN THE TEACHER SAYS IT IS ACCEPTABLE. These devices come in useful for research on the web and accessing student grades.
  • ALL Electronic Devices will be confiscated if they become a distraction in class. Students may pick up their device after class. If a student’s electronic device becomes a chronic issue the device will be collected and turned into the administrator.  They can be picked up by the student in the front office on the first offense. After the first offense, parent/guardian involvement is required for the item to be returned.

***All school rules and consequences in the student handbook will be enforced***

Grading Procedures

Students will be evaluated through their performance on unit exams, section quizzes, participation in lab/field investigations, lab reports, writing assignments and projects. Approximate grade percentages are as follows:

  • Exams and Quizzes: 50%
  • Lab and Field Work: 20%
  • Homework and Projects: 30%


Homework assignments may include, but are not limited to:

  • Reading the current unit content and answering worksheet questions
  • Reviewing lecture notes from PowerPoints
  • Readings and case studies
  • Making and studying Quizlets for unit tests and quizzes
  • Lab write-ups
  • Essays
  • Creating posters, pamphlets, surveys, etc.


Each unit will end with a multiple-choice test and a free-response question (essay). The tests will be worth about 100 points each.

Students are expected to take the AP Exam in May. This test is the driving force for the curriculum taught throughout the year.

General Scope and Sequence

  • Unit 1: Environmental Science and Sustainability (Chapters 1, 23) – 3 weeks
  • Unit 2: Principles of Ecology (Chapters 4, 5, 6, 7, 11) – 5 weeks
  • Unit 3: Environmental Decision Making (Chapters 2, 3) – 2 weeks
  • Unit 4: Human Population Dynamics (Chapter 8) – 2 weeks
  • Unit 5: Earth’s Land Resources and Use (Chapters 9, 10, 12) – 4 weeks
  • Unit 6: The Urban Environment (Chapters 13, 14, 22) – 2 weeks
  • Unit 7: Atmospheric Science (Chapters 17, 18) – 3 weeks
  • Unit 8: Energy Resources and Impacts (Chapters 19, 20, 21) – 3 weeks
  • Unit 9: Water Resources and Pollution (Chapters 15, 16) – 3 weeks
  • AP Exam Review – 2 weeks

Course Outline

Unit 1: Environmental Science and Sustainability


  • Chapter 1: Science & Sustainability: An Intro to Environmental Science
  • Chapter 23: Sustainable Solutions


  • Tragedy of the Commons Simulation: Students will simulate human behavior as it applies to a common property resource.
  • An Ecological Footprint: Students and parents determine a value on their usage of land on earth. They get the opportunity to see if they make small changes in their lifestyle how this might change their influence on earth.

Unit 2: Principles of Ecology


  • Chapter 4: Chemistry to Energy to Life
  • Chapter 5: Evolution, Biodiversity, and Population Ecology
  • Chapter 6: Species Interactions and Community Ecology
  • Chapter 7: Environmental Systems and Ecosystem Ecology
  • Chapter 11: Biodiversity and Conservation Biology


  • Geology Rocks: Students will review the rock cycle through simulating the different parts
  • Parking Lot Diversity Simulation: Students will use automobiles to simulate natural species as an introduction to diversity indices.
  • Natural Selection Simulation: Using colored beads on a variety of backgrounds, students will use the Chi Square statistic to determine the probability of natural selection in a predator simulation.
  • Biome Project: Students study one of the different biomes and develop a presentation that includes location, precipitation, temperature, plants and animals and how man has influenced the biome.
  • Biogeochemical Cycle Project: Students will understand how the various biogeochemical cycles work and how other related cycles work. Using power point presentations, students will see how the core element moves through the cycle and how man is having an influence on the cycle.


  • Eco-Column Lab (8-week monitoring): Students will design and construct a bio-bottle ecosystem with a terrarium and aquarium component. Students will monitor conditions within the ecosystem including pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen and observe biological responses to changes in conditions.
  • Grass Plot Biodiversity Sampling: Students will catalog and count grass species at various plots around the school yard using a grid and random selection method. Students will compare the diversity of grass species at different locations using the Shannon Diversity Index.

Unit 3: Environmental Decision Making


  • Chapter 2: Environmental Ethics and Economics: Values and Choices
  • Chapter 3: Environmental Policy: Decision Making and Problem Solving


  • Hetch-Hetchy Water Resource Debate: Students will be assigned a variety of roles and debate a classic example of competing interests in water resource allocation.
  • National Parks Pamphlet: Students will research a national park of their choice; construct a poster board and a pamphlet for a group presentation.


  • Environmental Issues and Public Policy: Students will research a hypothetical situation involving hazards to the environments and the residents of a community. They will model an interested party and report findings, working together to resolve problems.

Unit 4: Human Population Dynamics


  • Chapter 8: Human Population


  • Tag/Recapture Simulation: Using beads, students will simulate the tag and recapture method of determining the approximate size of a population without counting each individual.
  • Human Demographic Data Analysis: Each student will collect demographic data from home and pool into a class set of data. Data will be used to construct age pyramids to be analyzed against age pyramids of the state and country.

Unit 5: Land Resources and Use


  • Chapter 9: Soil and Agriculture
  • Chapter 10: Agriculture, Biotechnology and the Future of Food
  • Chapter 12: Forests, Forest Management, and Protected Areas


  • Island Biodiversity Simulation: Using counters and beads, students will simulate and test the Theory of Island Biogeography.
  • Invasive Species Project: Students learn how different species (plant, animal, fungus, and others) have entered the state, the damage they are causing and what is being done to reduce the negative influence of these invasive species.
  • Cookie Mining Simulation: Students will use cookies to simulate mining operations and economics and determine viability of mining operations.


  • Forestry and Conservation Study: Students will construct a clinometer and measure trees to determine the number of board feet in trees and per acre.
  • Ecological Succession: Students will observe plants that live in a field to compare and infer whether ecological succession is taking place.
  • Soils Lab: Each student will determine the texture, porosity and permeability of a variety of soil samples taken from their neighborhoods. Students will be instructed in quantitative and qualitative methodology to determine soil type.
  • Salinization Lab: Students’ set-up seeds in increasing salt concentrations and determine how many have germinated through observations. Students will understand that fruits and vegetables cannot grow in moderately high salt concentrations.

Unit 6: The Urban Environment


  • Chapter 13: The Urban Environment: Creating Livable and Sustainable Cities
  • Chapter 14: Environmental Health and Toxicology
  • Chapter 22: Managing our Waste


  • Personal Solid Waste Inventory: Students will collect a week’s worth of solid waste and sort the waste as a class. Students will calculate the mass of each waste by type and determine the percentages of recyclable material within their personal waste streams.
  • Pesticide Bioassay: Students will design and carry out a controlled experiment to determine the threshold and LC50 of a variety of herbicides on perennial plants.

Field Experience

  • Sewage Treatment Plant Tour: Students will visit the local sewage treatment plant and diagram the operation for a better understanding of local water quality within the local waters.

Unit 7: Atmospheric Science


  • Chapter 17: Atmospheric Science and Air Pollution
  • Chapter 18: Global Climate Change


  • Global Warming and Greenhouse Effects Lab: Students will investigate the potential effects of global climate change using an in class model.
  • Global Warming and Biodiversity: Students will infer what will happen to various kinds of organisms as conditions in their habitat change. They will predict which kinds of organisms will survive and which will become extinct.

Field Experience

  • Ozone and Particulates: Air Sampling: Students will construct sampling strips for Ozone and collectors for particulates to qualitatively and quantitatively analyze air quality. Students will compare results from school site to on-line, local air district data.

Unit 8: Energy Resources and Impacts


  • Chapter 19: Fossil Fuels, Their Impacts, and Energy Conservation
  • Chapter 20: Conventional Energy Alternatives
  • Chapter 21: New Renewable Energy Alternatives


  • Personal Energy Use Audit: Students will perform a variety of calculations to determine the amount of energy consumed within their households and predict how changes in personal behavior may change consumption.


  • Fuels Lab Experiment: Students will use calorimetry to compare the energy released per unit for a fossil fuel and a renewable fuel source and draw conclusions regarding the viability of alternative energy resources.
  • Cleaning Up Oil Spills: Students will observe the effect of a detergent on oil that has been spilled on water, and infer its effect on bird feathers. They will model a set of techniques that they think will be most effective in cleaning up an oil spill.

Unit 9: Water Resources and Pollution


  • Chapter 15: Freshwater Systems and Resources
  • Chapter 16: Marine and Coastal Systems and Resources


  • Brine Shrimp Bioassay: Students will determine thresholds and the LD50 of ammonia for brine shrimp.
  • Water Quality Testing Inquiry Lab Activity: Students will be given a variety of unknown water samples and will need to determine the origin of each sample based on water testing for a variety of chemical pollutants.

Field Experience

  • Lake Water Sampling: Students will take water samples and examine levels of pH, turbidity, nitrate and phosphates at various within a local city park lake to determine how nearby land uses may contribute to lake water quality.

Note: Other labs and activities may be added or substituted for those listed.

Weekly Schedule of Topics

  • Week 1 (Sept. 5-9, 2016) – Introduction to the Course
  • Week 2 (Sept. 12-16, 2016) – Environmental Science and Sustainability
  • Week 3 (Sept. 19-23, 2016) – Environmental Science and Sustainability
  • Week 4 (Sept. 26-30, 2016) – Environmental Science and Sustainability (Exam 1)
  • Week 5 (Oct. 3-7, 2016) – Principles of Ecology
  • Week 6 (Oct. 10-14, 2016) – Principles of Ecology
  • Week 7 (Oct. 17-21, 2016) – Principles of Ecology
  • Week 8 (Oct. 24-28, 2016) – Principles of Ecology
  • Week 9 (Oct. 31-Nov. 4, 2016) – Principles of Ecology (Exam 2)
  • Week 10 (Nov. 7-11, 2016) – Environmental Decision Making
  • Week 11 (Nov. 14-18, 2016) – Environmental Decision Making
  • Week 12 (Nov. 21-25, 2016) – Thanksgiving Recess
  • Week 13 (Nov. 28-Dec. 2, 2016) – Human Population Dynamics
  • Week 14 (Dec. 5-9, 2016) –Human Population Dynamics (Exam 3)
  • Week 15 (Dec. 12-16, 2016) – Earth’s Land Resources and Use
  • Week 16 (Dec. 19-23, 2016) – Earth’s Land Resources and Use
  • Week 17 (Dec. 26-30, 2016) – Holiday Recess
  • Week 18 (Jan. 2-6, 2017) – Earth’s Land Resources and Use
  • Week 19 (Jan. 9-13, 2017) – Earth’s Land Resources and Use (Exam 4)
  • Week 20 (Jan. 16-20, 2017) – The Urban Environment
  • Week 21 (Jan. 23-27, 2017) – The Urban Environment
  • Week 22 (Jan. 30-Feb. 3, 2017) – Atmospheric Science
  • Week 23 (Feb. 6-10, 2017) – Atmospheric Science
  • Week 24 (Feb. 13-17, 2017) – Atmospheric Science (Exam 5)
  • Week 25 (Feb. 20-24, 2017) – Winter Break
  • Week 26 (Feb. 27-March 3, 2017) – Energy Resources and Impacts
  • Week 27 (March 6-10, 2017) – Energy Resources and Impacts
  • Week 28 (March 13-17, 2017) – Energy Resources and Impacts (Exam 6)
  • Week 29 (March 20-24, 2017) – Water Resources and Pollution
  • Week 30 (March 27-31, 2017) – Water Resources and Pollution
  • Week 31 (April 3-7, 2017) – Water Resources and Pollution (Exam 7)
  • Week 32 (April 10-14, 2017) – Review for AP Exam
  • Week 33 (April 17-21, 2017) – Spring Break
  • Week 34 (April 24-28, 2017) – Review for AP Exam
  • Week 35 (May 1-5, 2017) – AP Exam
  • Week 36 (May 8-12, 2017) – Group Projects
  • Week 37 (May 15-19, 2017) – Group Projects
  • Week 38 (May 22-26, 2017) – Group Projects
  • Week 39 (May 29-June 2, 2017) – Group Projects
  • Week 40 (June 5-9, 2017) – Local Finals
  • Week 41 (June 12-16, 2017) – Regents Exams
  • Week 42 (June 19-23, 2017) – Regents Exams