AP Chemistry with WE Service

text: AP Chemistry with WE Service

During the 2020-2021 school year I decided to embark on something new in my AP Chemistry class - AP with WE Service. I have been teaching AP Chemistry for over 11 years. I enjoyed exposing the top students at my school to the rigor of a college-level class, but I had the itch to help my students use their science powers for good. This is why I was so excited when I saw AP Chemistry with WE Service modules. 

WE (WE.org) is a non-profit organization focused on service learning. They teamed up with CollegeBoard’s AP program to award special certificates and scholarships to students who successfully complete a service-learning project in their AP classes. The certificates are sent to colleges and universities along with their AP scores. Students do not need to pass the AP exam to earn the WE Service certificate. Check out the AP with WE Service Program to learn more. 

I started my journey with service learning right before COVID. In February 2020, I was fortunate to be selected to attend the AP WE Service Summit at Microsoft Headquarters in Washington. Being new to AP with WE Service, I learned a lot and dived in. Unfortunately, when schools shut down in March 2020, my students decided to forgo the WE Service certificates because there were so many uncertainties and their planned service projects were not COVID-friendly. I attempted again last school year using the Incorporating Green Chemistry Module and was very surprised by how successful they were despite COVID restrictions. 

If you have a similar itch to get your students exploring service-learning, I wanted to share my experience and what I learned from my first year teaching AP Chemistry with WE Service.

  1. Service-learning fits into the AP Chemistry curriculum better than I thought. There are two AP Chemistry service-learning modules offered by the AP with WE Service program - Incorporating Green Chemistry and Access to Clean Water. You can make your own service-learning activity as well. I chose to use the Incorporating Green Chemistry Module and was able to reinforce the conservation of mass and many bonding concepts. Chemistry is truly everywhere if you know where to look!
  2. Students gain a better understanding of the content. Service-learning allows students to engage in meaningful community service that is connected to instruction and reflection. Connecting learning to students’ lives makes content “stick.” Data from the AP with WE Service Program Guide states that 71% of students say service-learning deepened their understanding of content and 74% improved their critical thinking skills. In my informal student survey, 100% of my students reported having a better understanding of IMFs. I created a PFAS Analysis guided inquiry activity with the help of many Twitter scientists, activists, and teachers (Shout out to @Saskia_SvB, @ShiraJoudan, @dqasci, @PFASactiongroup, @mrfarabaugh, and @CummingsLinda). After the AP Test, I used the movie “Dark Waters”1 and the PFAS Analysis guided inquiry activity to introduce students to “Forever Chemical” pollutants in the environment. As students applied their knowledge about electronegativity, polarizability, and bond strength to PFAS molecules I was able to see and help clarify student misconceptions that didn't come to light during my normal instruction.
  3. I was able to gain more class time to prepare for the AP exam. This will be different at every school district, but when I proposed changing AP Chemistry to AP Chemistry with WE Service, I was able to increase the course credits from 1.5 to 2.0 credits which increased my class time with students to 80-90 minutes every day. I do not have to sacrifice much class time before the AP test to their service-learning projects. After the AP test, students dedicated all their class time to service-learning (about 4-5 weeks or about 30-40 hours).
  4. The program is very flexible and respects my teaching situation. WE Service can be run to fit the needs of your students and your community. Last year my students completed most of their WE Service projects after the AP Test. This year I plan to introduce the topic of Forever Chemicals earlier during the bonding unit since the PFAS guided inquiry activity did such a great job eliciting and addressing IMF and bonding misconceptions.
  5. There are a variety of ways students can take action. They can volunteer, raise awareness, provide material support, fundraise, help change behaviors, and promote advocacy. Even with COVID my students wrote letters to state politicians about passing environmental justice bills, created a local campaign to encourage local restaurants to stop using single-use plastics, created a tennis ball recycling program for the area tennis teams, created petitions and pledge drives to help minimize single plastic use, volunteered at local lake improvement events, raised money to help dig wells in third world countries, helped test water in low-socioeconomic areas for nitrates, and educated the community about nitrates in the water through Letters to the Editor in the local newspaper. Students were creative and made an impact. My heart was bursting with pride as they became leaders in their community.

Check out the AP with WE Service program. I was glad I did! I am looking forward to seeing what this year’s group of AP students come up with and what impact they will make!

Take a look at my PFAS Analysis guided inquiry activity covering intermolecular forces and bonding,

  1. Dark Waters, 2019 movie, story of an attorney who uncovers a dark secret hidden by one of the world’s largest corporations, DuPont, starring Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp, Victor Garber, Mare Winningham, William Jackson Harper, Bill Pullman. Available for purchase on many streaming services.