Beyond High School: A Look Into a Few AP STEM Classes


Hannah Shaw, Writer

For many high schoolers, the idea of taking higher-level STEM courses is daunting enough that adding Advanced Placement (AP) classes to their schedule becomes nearly inconceivable. However, the benefits of taking AP science and math courses may outweigh the challenges that accompany them. AP STEM classes are typically equivalent to an introductory level college class and will allow students to start college with plenty of additional knowledge regarding these topics. Having a strong background in math and science sets the stage for success in college as math and science make up the world around us. Skills such as data analysis and collection are perfected in AP STEM courses and will teach students how to better understand information like statistics, a skill that applies to aspects of life outside of academics.

AP Physics C: Mechanics

The seven units within AP Physics C: Mechanics focus on topics such as Newton’s Laws of Motion, rotation, gravitation and other phenomena. It is equivalent to a one-semester introductory college physics course and leads into 18 majors and 66 different career areas, such as chemical engineering, architecture and dentistry. Additionally, this class hones in on various other skills, ranging from analyzing data to using mathematical relationships to solve physics problems. This class is typically centered around hands-on labs or activities.

In recent years, Mark Lenfestey, Homestead High School’s AP Physics C: Mechanics teacher, has noticed a dramatic decrease in class size. In 2020, there were 63 students enrolled in this course, but in 2022, there are only 32. Though this change could be due to a variety of causes, Lenfestey is mainly concerned with increasing these numbers. It is no secret that AP Physics Mechanics is a difficult course. This class was originally an honors physics class before becoming a first-year advanced physics class. “I always tell my students that means it’s going to be difficult so if it’s not a big deal for them not to get a 4 or 5, then it could still be a good course,” said Lenfestey. That being said, very few students earn D’s or F’s in this class.

The benefits of taking AP Physics Mechanics lie in the fact that this course provides students with background knowledge on concepts valuable to a multitude of college classes. Taking AP Physics Mechanics in high school enables students to excel in other college courses that are heavily intertwined with physics, such as calculus. Although Lenfestey encourages students to take this class again in college, understanding physics will help them master other difficult courses. In terms of who should take this
course, prioritizing is important. A student with the end goal of preparing for college and learning the building blocks of future STEM classes would be the perfect candidate for AP Physics Mechanics.

AP Biology

AP Biology covers eight units ranging from biochemistry to cell communication to ecology. It is equivalent to a two-semester introductory biology course at a university level. Lab work and hands-on group work is a key component of the class. Taking this course opens the door to 52 majors and 103 different career areas, including environmental engineering, psychiatry and medical studies post-high school graduation.

But what can be expected from Homestead’s AP Biology course?

Naturally, the class revolves around studying biology, but students will also build upon skills that apply beyond the biological field. “We have math and we have some statistics, but I think it really focuses on critical thinking,” said AP Biology teacher Christine Koehrn.

A majority of the class is spent working through problems with a small group, providing a more in-depth understanding of each topic. Group work may include designing and completing labs, working through assignments or analyzing given data. Koehrn believes that this style of study provides students with necessary skills for both the collegiate and professional experience later on.

“Even if you don’t love every aspect of biology, we do a lot of stuff where you’re thinking and you’re looking at data or you’re looking at models or you’re looking at experiments, and you’re trying to figure out what’s going on and making the connections. I think that helps just in general with life,” said Koehrn.

Although taking AP Biology has benefits relevant to every student, Koehrn emphasizes that anyone interested in going to college—especially those interested in any field of science—should consider this course. To those feeling nervous about taking this class, know that students statistically do well. Over 80% of Homestead’s AP Biology students received 4’s and 5’s on the 2022 exam, and students who turn in their work usually do not struggle to get good grades. “There are safety nets put in there so that you can stretch yourself,” said Koehrn, who also described her classroom as a family in which no one feels alone.

AP Chemistry

AP Chemistry takes the content learned in first-year chemistry and expands upon it over the course of nine units covering topics such as intermolecular forces and properties, chemical reactions and thermodynamics. This course is equivalent to a one-year introductory general chemistry course in college, which clears the path towards 48 majors and 84 career areas—ranging from nursing and pharmaceutical science to botany and animal sciences. It is centered around laboratory investigations and the application of chemical calculations.

“This class is most beneficial to anybody who is going to take a college-level science course”, said AP Chemistry teacher Rob Dillman. Specifically, those looking to go into medicine, engineering, or any field of science should consider taking AP Chemistry. However, the benefits of taking AP Chemistry are extremely broad, as it provides building blocks for careers such as becoming a chef, an animal caretaker, a dentist, or a lawyer. Dillman puts this best, saying “all of
the interactions that you observe just by being in the world around us are all related to chemistry.” Introducing advanced chemistry early on also introduces the processes that are fundamental to the surrounding world. Regardless of career path, AP Chemistry proves to be a valuable insight into how the world works, knowledge beneficial to any career. Although AP Chemistry may be difficult, students should not shy away from challenging themselves academically. In fact, taking a class that pushes your academic limits may even be insightful to your strengths and weaknesses. “Sometimes a student is going to struggle with certain concepts, but it’s good to identify your weaknesses when you’re in high school so you can learn how to fix those when you get to the college level”, said Dillman. Taking such a rigorous science course will pose some challenges, but facing these challenges head-on now as opposed to later during college helps students stay ahead of the curve.

AP Calculus AB

AP Calculus AB is the first of two Advanced Placement Calculus courses. In AP Calculus AB, students cover topics such as limits and continuity, differentiation and integration throughout eight units. This course is equivalent to a first-semester college calculus course with a focus on differential and integral calculus. Taking this class opens the doors to 48 majors and 136 careers, including aerospace engineering, economics and research psychology. AP Calculus AB hones in on the basis of calculus and
teaches students how to apply these theories to real-world problems.

This course is particularly fascinating to those interested in understanding where this math comes from. “The focus on understanding the ‘why’ in Calculus is given more emphasis than it is at the college level”, said AP Calculus AB and BC teacher Tisha Bowman. The extra attention to what makes calculus work leads to students retaining this knowledge for a longer period of time. Because calculus is ingrained in so many other studies, having a firm understanding of the topic creates students with strong futures, no matter what they decide to become.

Calculus has a reputation of being the hardest math class that a student can take. Although it is a difficult subject, Homestead’s teachers put effort into making the experience as positive as possible. “I suggest taking homework assignments one day at a time. Just like any class, time management is key. I don’t intend on assigning a ton of homework,” said Bowman. She suggests working at a comfortable pace through the work outside of class in order to build a long-lasting comprehension of the material.

Many colleges require at least calculus or finite to receive a bachelors of science degree. “Getting that credit done in high school and to no longer have to worry about it is freeing,” said Bowman. The chances of earning college credit in this course are high with Homestead High School’s AP Calculus AB 2022 pass rate sitting at 86.3%, which is 30.7% higher than the global pass rate. For students considering going on to AP Calculus BC, the school’s pass rate in 2022 was 95.8%. Taking one, or both, of the AP Calculus courses offered not only instills knowledge but also checks off a requirement in many colleges.