AP Biology Academy

In this course, participants will engage with Rice University faculty and others in an in-depth discussion of topics and documents commonly taught in AP Biology.

Lovett Hall with sunshine and clouds

Participants will explore the connections between AP courses and college-level courses and examine new research in their field. Readings and documents will be provided during class.



Section Instructor Format Schedule start date
CCR42245 Robert Dennison, Sebastian Kraves, Ann Brokaw, Matthew Bennett, Christian Schaaf, Scott Solomon, Jeff Tabor On-campus 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 27, 2017

INSTRUCTOR: Robert Dennison, Sebastian Kraves, Ann Brokaw, Matthew Bennett, Christian Schaaf, Scott Solomon, Jeff Tabor
FORMAT: On-campus
SCHEDULE: 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
START DATE: June 27, 2017

Instructor: Robert Dennison

Lead Consultant

Robert Dennison has taught all levels of biology during his 37-year career in public schools. Mr. Dennison has been a consultant for the College Board since 1995 and has presented at local, state, national and international science conferences. He was a featured general session speaker at both the 1999 and 2012 annual conventions of the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) and was the opening general session speaker at the 2003 Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching (CAST). Mr. Dennison served as president of the Texas Association of Biology Teachers (TABT) in 2003 as well as serving on the NABT Board of Directors from 2009-2011. He has won numerous teaching awards, including the NABT Outstanding Biology Teacher award, the TABT Honorary Life Membership award, the College Board’s Southwestern Region AP Special Recognition award, the H-E-B Lifetime Achievement award for excellence in teaching and the O’Donnell Texas AP Teacher award. Mr. Dennison holds a B.S. in biology and an M.Ed. in science curriculum and instruction from the University of Houston.

Dr. Sebastian Kraves is co-founded the Cambridge-based start-up miniPCR to help bring DNA analysis technology to the masses. Kraves was previously a principal at BCG, where he spent more than six years working on health care challenges, such as how to make biomedical technology accessible in sub-Saharan Africa. A molecular neurobiologist who trained at Harvard, Kraves has published research on optogenetics and the genetic regulation of behavior, but is now focused on his dream to make DNA analysis tools accessible to everyone, everywhere. Sebastian dreamed of becoming a biologist at age 12 after reading Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle.

Ann Brokaw is in her 24th year in the biology classroom and 23rd in AP Biology all at Rocky River High School, in Rocky River, Ohio. She has presented at numerous national, regional, and state conferences; presented several one-day workshops for AP and non-AP Biology teachers; and has written several classroom resources for the HHMI’s BioInteractive.org website. She is a participant in the first cohort of the NABT/BSCS AP Biology Leadership Academy and a regular contributor to the College Board’s AP Biology Online Community. In addition to being the recipient of the 2013 Kim Foglia AP Biology Service Award, she is also a 2007 Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Education, the 2006 Outstanding Biology Teacher in Ohio, and the 2005 Teacher of the Year for the Rocky River City Schools. Ann is passionate about biology and science education; and continually seeks ways to improve her personal knowledge as well as her classroom strategies.

Matthew Bennett is an associate professor in the Department of Biosciences and the Department of Bioengineering at Rice University in Houston, Texas. He received is PhD in physics at Georgia Tech, where he studied nonlinear dynamics and non-equilibrium statistical physics. He began working in synthetic biology as a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Bioengineering at the UC San Diego. Dr. Bennett’s current research spans the boundary between experimental and theoretical synthetic biology. He is particularly interested in developing the computational and molecular tools necessary for engineering synthetic microbes for medical and environmental applications.

Christian Schaaf is an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular and Human Genetics of Baylor College of Medicine and an investigator at the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute of Texas Children’s Hospital.

Christian has been remarkably successful as a physician, scientist, and educator. He and his team have discovered several new disease genes for neurodevelopmental disorders, including those for Schaaf-Yang syndrome and Bosch-Boonstra-Schaaf Optic Atrophy syndrome. Christian’s work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a Doris Duke Clinical Scientist Development Award, the Physician Scientist Award by the Chao Foundation, the prestigious William K. Bowes Jr. Award in Medical Genetics, and the Donald Seldin – Holly Smith Award for Pioneering Research by the American Society for Clinical Investigation.

Christian has authored four books, including a major textbook of medical genetics. Christian currently serves as the Chair of Education for the American College of Medical Genetics.

Scott Solomon is a biologist and science writer based in Houston, TX. He received his doctorate in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior from the University of Texas at Austin where his research examined the evolutionary basis of biological diversity in the Amazon Basin. He has worked as a visiting researcher with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC and the Universidade Estadual Paulista in Rio Claro, Brazil. Scott currently teaches ecology, evolutionary biology, and scientific communication as a Professor in the Practice at Rice University. He also speaks and writes about science for the general public. Scott’s writing and photography have appeared in publications such as Slate, Nautilus, Aeon, and Wired.com and his first book, Future Humans: Inside the Science of Our Continuing Evolution was published by Yale University Press in October, 2016.

Jeff Tabor is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Bioengineering at Rice University. He received his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology under the supervision of Professor Andy Ellington at the University of Texas at Austin in 2006. He was an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow with Professor Chris Voigt at the University of California San Francisco between 2006 and 2010. He started his research group at Rice in 2010. His group engineers 'optogenetic' tools - genetically encoded photoreceptors - in order to control molecular biological processes in live organisms with light. He also engineers edible bacteria that sense disease-linked molecules in the gastrointestinal tract. These bacteria may serve as non-invasive early stage diagnostics of inflammation, cancer and other diseases. His work has been covered in numerous international media outlets including the New York Times, and he has received several national awards including the NSF CAREER and ONR Young Investigator.

Term: Spring/Summer 2017

Start Date: June 27, 2017

End Date: June 30, 2017

Schedule: 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Length: Tuesday-Friday

Location: Rice campus

Fee: $549.00

Continuing Professional Education (CPE): 26

Note: This course is not currently accepting registrations. Please select VIEW CURRENT OFFERINGS to see similar classes offered by the Center for College Readiness.

What participants should bring:

  • Laptop for use during the institute

  • Flash Drive


Agenda (subject to change):


AM: Robert Dennison

Overview of the Week

Introduction to miniPCR and Personal DNA testing in the classroom, with Sebastian Kraves

For decades, the tools of biotechnology and DNA analysis have been difficult to implement in classrooms and other settings outside of high-end biomedical labs. Sebastian Kraves and the team at miniPCR are working to put DNA technology in the hands of more people. From improving vaccines to modifying crops to solving crimes, DNA technology has transformed our world. Sebastian will share the story of miniPCR and its real-world applications, from combating Ebola in Sierra Leone to enabling genomics research aboard the International Space Station.

PM: Sebastian Kraves, PhD: Using PCR to Identify and Test Circadian Rhythm Genes in Your Students

Are you a night owl? A morning lark? The answer may be in your genes...
In this lab we will study the genetic control of circadian rhythms by looking at your own DNA. Circadian clocks are endogenous oscillators that control rhythms in physiology and behavior with 24-hour rhythmicity. This lab allows students to test their own circadian genes and investigate a possible link to their sleep phenotype. We will use PCR to amplify a VNTR in the per3 gene that has been associated with sleep behavior. Individuals who have 4 copies of this repeat have been found to have a preference for evening activity, while people with 5 copies of this repeat seem to prefer morning activities. Using gel electrophoresis students can read their own genetic variant, and our collective data may help elucidate this possible association between per3 genotypes and sleep phenotypes, in an authentic open inquiry investigation.

Wednesday: All Day with Ann Brokaw

Evidence and Explanation: Implementing the Science Practices to

Enhance AP Biology Ecology Content

The redesigned AP Biology Curriculum Framework emphasizes the integration of seven Science Practices with the Learning Objectives found within each of the four Big Ideas. Each learning objective combines biological content with inquiry and reasoning skills found within the science practices. Throughout our day, we will work through several classroom resources related to Ecology that focus on data literacy, evidence-based claims, and scientific reasoning. The classroom-ready resources and implementation strategies modeled in this workshop will challenge and strengthen your students’ application of content, reasoning, and data literacy.


8:00 – 10:00 AM: Matthew Bennett, PhD. Rice University

Synthetic Biology: Is it possible to engineer life?

Synthetic biology is the emerging discipline of building biological systems from the ground up. By manipulating the genetic code of organisms, synthetic biologists are able to reprogram cells to perform novel functions. But just how is this done and what can genetically engineered organisms do? In this talk, I will discuss the ins and outs of this highly interdisciplinary field: including its humble origins, its current practice, and its future promise.

10:00 – 11:30 AM: Christian Schaaf, MD/PhD, Baylor College of Medicine

Genome-wide approaches to intellectual disability and autism

Genome-wide sequencing technology has radically changed our approach to neurodevelopmental disorders, such as intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder. It has provided research opportunities, leading to the identification of hundreds of genes, which, when altered, can predispose to the respective neurological conditions. Now, genome-wide diagnostic tests are making their way into actual clinical care. This comes with hopes, opportunities, challenges, and ethical considerations.

PM: Scott Solomon, PhD, Rice University

What is the future of human evolution?

Dr. Solomon will review what is known about our evolutionary past, examine the ways in which we are continuing to evolve and consider our future as a species. The presentation will draw on research from fields as diverse as genetics, demography, psychology, microbiology and medicine. Participants will examine questions such as how existing technology and modern medicine affect natural selection and consider how future developments, including germline gene editing and space colonization, may affect the ultimate fate of Homo sapiens.


AM: Jeff Tabor, PhD, Rice University

Engineering Gut Bacteria To Sense Diseases

We are engineering bacterial two-component systems, the largest and most diverse family of genetically-encoded sensors, to detect chemical biomarkers of inflammation in the body, and report the disease by production of a visible pigment. We aim to use this technology as a home diagnostic to improve early detection of inflammation flare-ups while reducing unnecessary, expensive and highly invasive endoscopy procedures. To improve the reliability of sensing, we are developing a handful of novel two-component system engineering technologies that will be the focus of the talk.

PM: Wrapping up the week: A discussion of how to bring the week’s topics back to the AP Biology classroom.

Robert Dennison, lead consultant.