The goal of the laboratory and field investigation component of the AP Environmental Science course is to complement the classroom portion by allowing students to learn about the environment through firsthand observation. Experiences both in the laboratory and in the field provide students with important opportunities to test concepts and principles that are introduced in the classroom, explore specific problems with a depth not easily achieved otherwise, and gain an awareness of the importance of confounding variables that exist in the "real world". In these experiences students can employ alternative learning styles to reinforce fundamental concepts and principles. Because all students have a stake in the future of their environment, such activities can motivate students to study environmental science in greater depth.

Laboratory and field investigation activities in the course should be diverse. As examples, students can acquire skills in specific techniques and procedures (such as collecting and analyzing water samples), conduct a long-term study of some local system or environmental problem (such as pollution of a nearby stream), analyze a real data set (such as mean global temperatures over the past 100 years), and visit a local public facility (such as a water-treatment plant).

Critical Elements of Lab and Field Activities

Although there is a great diversity in the laboratory and field activities that are appropriate for the AP Environmental Science course, they should include the following elements:

  • The activity should always be linked to a major concept in science and to one or more areas of the course outline.
  • The activity should allow students to have direct experience with an organism or system in the environment.
  • The activity should involve observation of phenomena or systems, the collection and analysis of data and/or other information, and the communication of observations and/or results.

The relative magnitudes of these elements may vary from activity to activity. As a whole, the course's laboratory and field investigation component should encompass all of the elements.

Student Abilities Challenged

The laboratory and field investigation component of the AP Environmental Science course should challenge every student's ability to:

  • Critically observe environmental systems
  • Develop and conduct well-designed experiments
  • Utilize appropriate techniques and instrumentation
  • Analyze and interpret data, including appropriate statistical and graphical presentations
  • Think analytically and apply concepts to the solution of environmental problems
  • Make conclusions and evaluate their quality and validity
  • Propose further questions for study
  • Communicate accurately and meaningfully about observations and conclusions