Chemistry at BHS
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I read all the postings about AP Chemistry for sophmores.
My son is good at math and is taking Adv. Bio as a freshman
this year at BHS. Does anyone have a feel for how much more
work AP Chemistry will be over Adv. Bio?
Thanks very much!
My daughter took AP Chemistry as a sophomore at BHS and
loved it. She's a senior now. The homework load seemed
manageable. She says it was less homework than AP Biology,
which she took last year, or AP Physics, which she's taking
now. Neither of my kids has taken Advanced Bio, so I can't
compare it to that class. Like your son, my daughter is good
at math and loves science. Both of those things help for
getting through the class. It's not the homework load, but
some difficult concepts to understand, especially the first
half of the school year. It's the only class she's ever
taken in her whole 4 years that she had a tutor for, and
that made a huge difference. There's a lot more at-school
(free) tutoring available now than there was three years
ago, so a private tutor may not be necessary anymore, but if
you decide you want one, I highly recommend Steve Brand, who
used to teach the class at BHS but is retired now and doing
private tutoring. His phone number is (415) 456-4243.
My son is trying to figure out whether to sign up for
chemistry or AP chemistry for next year,when he will be in
10th grade at Berkeley High. Has anyone had recent
experience with these courses? Do you have any advice?
Class selection for next year is happening next week so,
unfortunately, time is of the essence.
who doesn't know what to advise
I am a current BHS senior who took AP Chemistry my junior
year. I never thought the class to be very difficult. The
general sense I got was that the sophomores in the class
were very challenged, yet the juniors seemed to be hardly
challenged. The class is heavily math based, and much of the
work involves taking abstract concepts involving chemical
reactions and converting them to and from mathematical
equations. Anyone who is strong in math and science should
have little trouble keeping up in the class. I personally
required very little work to get an A in the class, and my
lack of dedication shows in my score of 4 on the AP test. I
was able to take 4 AP classes and still pursue other
interests outside of school with a weighted GPA far above
4.0. I believe that students should make the most of their
time in school, by taking the classes that interest and
challenge them most, but should always keep in mind ''never
to let school get in the way of your education''.
Hope this helps.
My daughter took chemistry at Berkeley High as a freshman
and constantly complained that she didn't learn much. Many
of the students weren't all that interested in chemistry and
the teacher spent a lot of time just managing the class.
She's in AP Biology now and she is learning a lot. The AP
classes, however, are really fast-moving survey courses
where students have to absorb lots of material. It is a huge
amount of work. Since my daughter is in the International
High School, she is considering taking IB Chemistry next
year since she didn't learn enough in her regular chemistry
I taught AP Chemistry at BHS for many years. I think
a lot of students want to take AP Chem for the prestige or
because they think regular chem will be too easy for
My advice is to take regular chemistry unless you are
bored in most science and math classes because they move
too slowly for you.
AP Chem requires a lot of work because it covers a
lot of material in a short time (the test is in May so the
teacher must cover all the curriculum in that time). The
course also requires the teacher to teach to the test.
That may not be a bad thing since the test covers a
comprehensive curriculum; but a lot depends on the teacher
being able to present that curriculum in an interesting
way and not skimming over the basics in order to get to
the hard stuff which you must master for the test.
My own daughter took regular chem at El Cerrito High
School and went on to major in sciences at UC Santa Cruz
and to become a doctor. I think she may have foundered in
AP Chem had she taken it. She didn't even do very well in
regular Chem. But she did very well in Science Fair and
learned how to study in college. Perhaps she would have
learned to hate sciences had she taken AP Chem. I don't
think it's out of the question since she was involved in
lots of activities and probably wouldn't have taken the
time to study that's required in that course.
I have a different take on AP classes. I found them valuable
because my kids got to make friends with other academically
inclined students. I thought Latin at Berkeley High was
great for the same reason. It was work for them to take AP
classes, but it was not overwhelming. They continued to have
time for extra-curriculars and goofing off.
I just wanted to give my perspective about the choice
between AP and regular chemistry at Berkeley High. I have
two kids now in college. When they were at BHS they both
took regular college prep chemistry rather than AP. One
teacher was great, taught the material thoroughly and deeply.
The other one was mediocre.
The mediocre teacher didnít explain things clearly, so some
kids didnít understand, then she would be unable to continue
forward with the material, waited until everyone understood her
hard-to-understand explanations. This resulted in not covering all the
then at the end before a test sheíd have to rush through the rest.
Her classroom management skills werenít good either, and that in
combination with her not explaining things well resulted in many
kids at different levels of understanding and made for an ineffective
educational experience for almost everybody. My kid was able to
understand from reading the textbook and was very bored and a little
frustrated, but did well in the class, then subsequently took
the chem series at UC Davis successfully.
Both kids successfully made it
through chemistry at the college level, and the one with the
great high school teacher got an A in college chem, a
notoriously difficult class. In our case the issue wasn't
the level of chemistry; rather it was the teacher who made
all the difference. We all want the best for our kids, but
look deeply when you make that choice and don't just dismiss
non-AP chem. There's no guarantee that choosing one level
or another will be the only factor in how beneficial the
class is for the education experience.
The point I want to make is that regular chem at BHS
can be a great and worthwhile experience, and I feel people reading
the other prior posts might conclude that anything other than AP
isnít worth doing.
I must've missed the original posting for this, but reading the latest
responses I think I would like to pipe up. Firstly, I'm not sure 10th graders
can take AP classes? Something to look into. My daughter took regular
Chemistry in 10th grade at BHS and found it to be challenging on several
levels. She's good at math and likes science, but it was a hard class. The work
itself is difficult, but she managed to get it all done and passed with a B. The
teacher and she also had a hard time with their ''chemistry.''! We worked that
out by me coming and talking with the teacher after it all all came to a
glorious head with a very upsetting interaction between the two of them. My
daughter also became more understanding of the teacher and the teacher of
my daughter. But back to Chemistry class... My daughter liked the labs best
as she's a very hands-on learner. Unless your child is REALLY chomping at
the bit for harder and more work, I think the regular class is fine. She's in AP
Environmental Science this year and it's fine too. About 45-1hour of
homework a night, and some fun and interesting projects.
Editor Note: there is a similar discussion on this page:
AP Chemistry for HS Sophomore?
My daughter likes chemistry, got A's in it without any struggle. She
took the chemistry SAT and scored in the low 500's. She said there was
a lot of material on the test that she had never seen before, and she
couldn't answer many questions. I don't understand this. Does BHS not
teach material on this test, or is the test way out of line for what is
covered in a 2-semester high school chemistry course?
My son had a similar experience with the SAT in Chemistry except that he
discovered the problem a few weeks before the test when he looked at a
SAT Chemistry Review book and discovered that there were many questions
on topics that they had not covered. Unfortunately there was not enough
time to learn all that new material in the last 2 weeks of school what
with papers and finals.
I did call the head of the science department to ask why students hadn't
been taught this material. Her explanation was not satisfactory--she
indicated that no high school could teach all the chemistry material,
she also indicated that his having had a new teacher to BHS (and
chemistry) may have been part of the problem.
Since there will be a new science department head this year, I am
planning to call him right after school starts and suggest that science
teachers alert students to this problem at the beginning of the year and
tell students which areas they (the teachers) will not be covering but
are likely to show up on the test. That way students could learn this
"extra" material themselves as they go along. Another idea is for the
student to consult a SAT Review book early in the year to try figure out
what material they're not being taught (not that easy to do, but worth a
It would be helpful if other parents who experienced this problem also
called the new head of the science department to see what he planned to
do to deal with this problem. I also don't know if this was a problem
only for Chemistry or if it occurs in Biology or Physics.
Concerning the Chemistry SAT preparation, my son had AP Chem and got 770
on his June SAT. He thinks he did poorly on the test. ( !!!!) He did go
to a BHS review session for that, but was also preparing for the AP Chem
test, so he had a lot of class review, which he thinks wasn't all that
helpful. He said the SAT was still like a reading test, where you had
to analyze the data they gave you. There were some things on the test
he swears he never learned. I couldn't get him interested in even
looking at a SAT chem prep book. I don't think you can compare students
by their classes or what was offered or not in the class. Absorbtion
rates differ as do test taking abilities.
Regarding Chemistry at BHS, our bright daughter had a discouraging
experience when she got taught by Mr. Mathew Bissell. Mr. Bissell it
seems told the class that he "did not know the material and was going to
learn it with them" (presumaby by trying to teach it). My daughter was
taught poorly, was confused (and could not tell if the shortcoming was
with her ability to learn, or the way she was taught the material) and
did not do well in SAT Chemistry. Only if we had known what was
happening in the class, we could have sought help (e.g., meeting the
teacher, hiring a tutor).
As the events turned out, we learned of what had happened at the
Chemistry class much later on, when it was too late, because dealing
with all the other pressures at school kept our daughter from discussing
this particular issue at home.
I posted a message earlier regarding my child's chemistry class at BHS
last year. She got all A's with little effort, and then scored in the
low 500's on the SAT2. I finally got the assistant chair of the
chemistry department on the phone to discuss this with her. She had a
great deal to say, but none of it explained how a student could get
straight A's in chemistry and find there were a great many questions on
the SAT that covered material she had never seen.
I am concerned about this beyond the issue of the low score. Chemistry
is my daughter's particularly strong interest area, and I expect she
will go on to have a career in science and technology. It appears she
has not had an adequate chemistry preparation at Berkeley High, and that
has serious implications for her academic future. I realize she can make
up any weak areas by taking junior college classes, but why should a
bright, motivated student have to "make up" classes that she already took
in high school? Should arrange to take her high school science
requirement at a junior college?
I have to say I am troubled by what this incident suggests about the
level of science education at Berkeley High. It is not what I expected.
this page was last updated: Aug 24, 2008
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