The Big Picture - My AP Chemistry Scope and Sequence


This popped up on my Facebook feed the other day:



To be 100% transparent, I was planning to write this post. In light of seeing requests like this on the interwebs, I hope this personal reflection gives ideas and provides activation energy to begin on a gratifying, yet kind of daunting, task.

In my last post, I discussed my first year chemistry scope and sequence. Here, I continue with AP chemistry scope and sequence, and a little bit with how I developed it the year before, the summer before, and during the year. Keep in mind, I consider the work I do with students to always be a project in progress. I learn so much from working with them as they engage with the content through a different perspective than I have.


January-ish 2014: The School Year Before


Teaching at a charter school in its third year, my department chair came to me and asked for a list of supplies that needed to be purchased. I had never taught AP chemistry, and had no clue. While I wasn’t committing yet to Flinn’s lab kits, I did use them as a guide to determine glassware and instrumentation required for the course. (Side note- while I did order the Flinn kits for year one, I ended up gutting many of the kits to use different write ups).


June-July 2014: The Summer Before Teaching


So when did curriculum planning begin? First, I attended an APSI (AP Summer Institute) at the University of Tulsa. I was still intimidated by content I hadn’t seen in some time, even though by degree is in chemistry. I figured why make myself crazy in advance? After that experience, I dug into the standards. I found the PDF from the college board really unuseable. I found a spreadsheet of standards from the depths of the AP Chemistry Discussion board*. After reviewing big ideas and sample scope and sequences from the College Board/people on the internet, here is where I landed:


Semester 1


[55 min/day*5 days] +

[1 day per week: 55 min after school]=


About 6 hours of time per week

Quarter 1

1) Stoichiometry & spectroscopy (August)

2) Gases (September - 3 weeks)

3) Reactions and thermodynamic favorability: precipitation, acid/base, intro redox (Try to finish before fall break)

Quarter 2

4) Kinetics (November)

5) General Equilibrium (December)

6) Atomic structure/periodicity (mostly over winter break)

Semester 2


[55 min/day*5 days] +

[1 day per week: 55 min after school]=


About 6 hours of time per week

6) Atomic structure/periodicity (mostly over winter break)

7) Acid Base Equilibrium (January)

8) Thermodynamics + Electrochemistry (February + some of March)

9) Bonding/molecular geometry/IMF/physical separations (March + some of April)

10) Review (2 weeks before AP exam)


To me, integral themes in the story of chemistry are “What do I have? How do I know?” Since spectroscopic techniques are used throughout the year, I just figured I had to start there.


Also, with this scope and sequence, virtually every topic was visited TWICE (yay spiraling content!). For instance, my students learned about voltaic cells, balancing redox reactions, calculating cell potential in Unit 3. They then see it again in Unit 8 second semester, when they have more thermodynamic tools available.


After this, I scoured for resources I already had in my possession, in addition to resources from the College Board - specifically, sample units from exemplar teachers. I just copied and pasted resources and essential questions into tabs in my organization hub - One Note. These scavenger hunts are fun to me, and it’s an excuse to play with a lot of new sims and encounter a lot of new ideas. Bonus: as I played with sims and scanned through activities, I totally (a) relearned and/or (b) deepened some of my content knowledge in advance. Granted, I learned a TON more when I actually started teaching it and my students engaged in the activities, but still. Every bit counts!



With this in hand, I felt my anxiety level shoot way down. A backbone to work with helped me select tasks for students. While timing didn’t go 100% as planned, we still finished content two weeks before so we could shut down and review.


August 2014 - May 2015: During the School Year


I also made friends who had taught AP Chemistry. The College Board Discussion board was just too intimidating, disorganized, etc. for me. While I was alone at my school, I had friends from the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation (KSTF). Our contexts were quite different:

  • location (me in Colorado, one in Michigan, the other in Massachusetts),

  • student demographics,

  • personal choice in scope and sequence, and

  • years of teaching,

these two people were lifesavers in so many ways throughout the year in terms of assessments, labs, and lab rubrics. Lab rubrics were the bane of my existence - easy to find labs, tough to find rubrics. As many of you may know, AP labs tend to get pretty complex pretty quickly and can take forever to grade. Having templates from friends to edit helped reign me in throughout the year. Oh, and it goes without saying they were lifesavers as I asked content questions too. I applaud the new AP Chemistry standards and assessments - they go deep. I needed help, and this was a safe space to get that help flying solo in my school and not brave enough to ask the general twitterverse.


This post is really about planning, right? Well, as overwhelmed as I was with the content choices, pacing, labs, assessments, grading, and (according to my students) collecting tears of my AP students, etc., I didn’t think about how my students would interact with the fast pace.


I am so grateful that a KSTF collaborator showed me one way she and her colleagues helped students navigate between the big picture and nitty gritty day to day. The first day of each unit students received a packet of content- guided notes, lab, practice sets. The first page of the packet had a general calendar, big ideas, and assignments with due dates. I absolutely could not commit to having everything ready by the beginning of a unit (and to this day I can’t do that), but I could tweak the idea for my context to share daily agendas with students.


The planning I did was in a giant google doc for each unit. My own personal reflections and scratch work for each unit went in One Note (look at the titles of the other tabs in the picture above), but daily tasks went in the google doc (screenshot of the first page below). My type A students LOVED the transparency in this document that our learning management system couldn’t quite capture. I felt like a wiki couldn’t quite capture the living nature of what I was creating, and formatting in wikis can just be awful. All assignments and such went in our learning management system but it all was based on the unit syllabus.


Throughout the year, I would plan about a week at a time on Sunday afternoons. Another tasset bonus here: Students also got to see the document grow throughout the unit and, I like to think, saw a tiny perspective of me as their teacher engage in this creative process and some of the agony that ensues. Often, I’d leave comments and notes to my future self on activities or assignments if things weren’t totally fleshed. Of course, students saw that too (and would sometimes leave comments in the document). Below is a screenshot from the entire document linked here.



Penultimate Thoughts


While preparing to teach a new course, even though AP Chemistry has been around for a very long time, was super gratifying. This work helped me continue to make tweaks to my first year chemistry course as well to start to develop one (relatively) cohesive story over the course of years.


Ultimate Thoughts


I learn so much from others, and am interested in your scope and sequence? How have you backwards planned for new courses?

Thank you SO MUCH for reading! On a side note, I am floored by the number of reads I get on each post. Thanks for reading, and thanks for engaging in the conversation at ChemEdX.

*The spreadsheet posted is from D. Brewster and the original file is found here once you login: (Source included 7/20/16- Sorry D. Brewster for not citing you in the first place! That was a rude oversight on your work).

Join the conversation.

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Comments 4

Chanel Douglas | Sun, 07/17/2016 - 08:38

Do you grant access to your OneNote file?  If so, can a get a copy?

Tracy Schloemer's picture
Tracy Schloemer | Wed, 07/20/2016 - 11:22

Hi Chanel-

What resources are you interested? I have some personal reflections on lessons in there that I'd rather not share with the world, but could put together a version to share. Respond below or email me at my first.lastname @ gmail . com (spelling listed above- no spaces in the actual email).


Kristina Harkins | Wed, 05/15/2019 - 09:32

Thanks so much for being vulnerable and sharing your planning process. One of the issues I continue to run into (besides not teaching at the same school in consecutive years) is lack of commitment to one planning source. I have used One Note, Evernote, Google Drive and its apps, hardcopy notebooks as wells as Apple's Notes program. Currently I am in the midst of putting together a general chemistry planning guide for the upcoming (2019-2020) school year. The challenge is that this must be a department-wide resource and each teacher has a different teaching style! On the one had I can see my teacher training and career experience coming through as many of the resources I have included are heavily based on guided inquiry. On the other hand, I understand that some teacher's strengths lie in a more teacher-centered approach. So I am on the hunt for resources that cater to that pedagogical approach as well. Another hurdle I must overcome is the unique model of my school. Each class is one-to-one, meaning one teacher one student, with a 50-minute teaching block followed by a 50-minute self study block. Therefore, labs have to be careful handpicked then modified and any student-student collaborations have to be structured so as not to violate the one-to-one model. !!! I am enjoying trying to figure all of this out. 

I am also encouraged to see a fellow fellow on ChemEdX. I have been reading for years, but seeing your post has inspired me to register and reply. :) I hope to see you if only to say hello in the summer.

Tracy Schloemer's picture
Tracy Schloemer | Wed, 05/15/2019 - 13:54

Thanks for posting and sharing! I hope this helped you process your thoughts and best wishes wrapping up this year!