Chemistry at BHS

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Chemistry class/teacher at BHS

March 2015

My son has managed to keep a straight A in mr Bissells chemistry class this sophomore year. Since Mr Bissell has returned from his suspension, the work seems to have picked up substantially. Not only picked up but become more difficult to understand. My son has skipped some of his after school activities and goes to bed an hour later in order to study more and has spent his lunches getting help in his chemistry class. While I know things pick up some before tests, I question why my son seems to have a more difficult time understanding the subject. He's very conscientious and focussed and I've never heard him say he doesn't care anymore as I'm hearing now. He's putting in his all and that doesn't seem to be enough. Is anyone else experiencing this issue? Do I now need to get a tutor or is the teacher not presenting the material well? Sad to witness my enthusiastic and dedicated student so distressed and defeated. What to do?

I haven't had experience with this particular teacher, but when my kids took Chemistry at BHS (recently) the teachers warned that the pace picks up dramatically in the second semester. Since your son is working hard and asking the teacher for help and is still struggling I would get a tutor immediately. The rest of the year is likely to be very challenging, and having someone knowledgable to ask for help is invaluable. I have no idea if she's available, but we used Rosie Ueng, who is fabulous. Her phone number at the time was 510-649-3039. BHS parent


Lab scheduling zero period conflicts with Band

March 2013

Could some experienced Berkeley HS parents please explain to me how the zero- or seventh-period lab schedule works for AP science classes at BHS? My 9th grader in BIHS wants to take AP Chem as a sophomore next year. He says that the class has additional lab classes that can be taken either at zero- or seventh-period twice a week.

If he also does zero-period band, then does he have to take the lab classes at seventh period?

He also plays sports at BHS, so if he has to take seventh period lab classes, does this mean that he has to miss team practice twice a week? What if his lab class is on a game day? Can he make up the lab class at zero period (but what if he already has band at zero period )?

In general, which days of the week are zero- or seventh-period lab classes held?

Curious to hear how other BHS students/parents resolved this AP science class scheduling issue, if they also participated in zero period music and sports. Thanks. BHS parent

Hi I'm one of the AP Chemistry teachers at Berkeley High and one of the science team leads. The zero period meetings for AP Chemistry can generally be worked into the schedule of a student who wants to take music, this year I have ~10 students in music zero period who are also in my zero period AP Chemistry lab. Most of the time they come to lab 2 days a week and music 3 days, but the music teacher and I are both flexible and when there is a need students might miss a day here or there. In generally it seems to work fairly well. Aaron G

Usually they go to orchestra three times a week/lab twice a week, and get 2.5 credits for the class instead of 5 credits. That part of the schedule seems to work out. My student wasn't able to fit swim team in at the same time, because the practice schedule was too demanding. Perhaps it depends on the sport. anon

AP chemistry labs are usually only offered zero period due to sports and other afterschool activities. The music teacher and the science teachers have in the past worked it out so that students can do both the zero period lab and the music The students go 2 or 3 days a week to music and the same for the labs. There are many students every year who take AP Chemistry and music and are on sports teams. They learn to manage their time. AP chem teacher and parent of 2 BHS students

AP Chemistry homework load for BHS sophomore?

March 2008

I read all the postings about AP Chemistry for sophmores. My son is good at math and is taking Adv. Bio as a freshman this year at BHS. Does anyone have a feel for how much more work AP Chemistry will be over Adv. Bio? Thanks very much!

My daughter took AP Chemistry as a sophomore at BHS and loved it. She's a senior now. The homework load seemed manageable. She says it was less homework than AP Biology, which she took last year, or AP Physics, which she's taking now. Neither of my kids has taken Advanced Bio, so I can't compare it to that class. Like your son, my daughter is good at math and loves science. Both of those things help for getting through the class. It's not the homework load, but some difficult concepts to understand, especially the first half of the school year. It's the only class she's ever taken in her whole 4 years that she had a tutor for, and that made a huge difference. There's a lot more at-school (free) tutoring available now than there was three years ago, so a private tutor may not be necessary anymore, but if you decide you want one, I highly recommend Steve Brand, who used to teach the class at BHS but is retired now and doing private tutoring. His phone number is (415) 456-4243. BHS Mom

AP Chemistry or regular chemistry in 10th grade at BHS?

Feb 2008

My son is trying to figure out whether to sign up for chemistry or AP chemistry for next year,when he will be in 10th grade at Berkeley High. Has anyone had recent experience with these courses? Do you have any advice? Class selection for next year is happening next week so, unfortunately, time is of the essence. Thanks,
who doesn't know what to advise

I am a current BHS senior who took AP Chemistry my junior year. I never thought the class to be very difficult. The general sense I got was that the sophomores in the class were very challenged, yet the juniors seemed to be hardly challenged. The class is heavily math based, and much of the work involves taking abstract concepts involving chemical reactions and converting them to and from mathematical equations. Anyone who is strong in math and science should have little trouble keeping up in the class. I personally required very little work to get an A in the class, and my lack of dedication shows in my score of 4 on the AP test. I was able to take 4 AP classes and still pursue other interests outside of school with a weighted GPA far above 4.0. I believe that students should make the most of their time in school, by taking the classes that interest and challenge them most, but should always keep in mind ''never to let school get in the way of your education''. Hope this helps. BHS Senior


My daughter took chemistry at Berkeley High as a freshman and constantly complained that she didn't learn much. Many of the students weren't all that interested in chemistry and the teacher spent a lot of time just managing the class. She's in AP Biology now and she is learning a lot. The AP classes, however, are really fast-moving survey courses where students have to absorb lots of material. It is a huge amount of work. Since my daughter is in the International High School, she is considering taking IB Chemistry next year since she didn't learn enough in her regular chemistry class. Frances


I taught AP Chemistry at BHS for many years. I think a lot of students want to take AP Chem for the prestige or because they think regular chem will be too easy for them.


My advice is to take regular chemistry unless you are bored in most science and math classes because they move too slowly for you.

AP Chem requires a lot of work because it covers a lot of material in a short time (the test is in May so the teacher must cover all the curriculum in that time). The course also requires the teacher to teach to the test. That may not be a bad thing since the test covers a comprehensive curriculum; but a lot depends on the teacher being able to present that curriculum in an interesting way and not skimming over the basics in order to get to the hard stuff which you must master for the test.

My own daughter took regular chem at El Cerrito High School and went on to major in sciences at UC Santa Cruz and to become a doctor. I think she may have foundered in AP Chem had she taken it. She didn't even do very well in regular Chem. But she did very well in Science Fair and learned how to study in college. Perhaps she would have learned to hate sciences had she taken AP Chem. I don't think it's out of the question since she was involved in lots of activities and probably wouldn't have taken the time to study that's required in that course. Steve B

I have a different take on AP classes. I found them valuable because my kids got to make friends with other academically inclined students. I thought Latin at Berkeley High was great for the same reason. It was work for them to take AP classes, but it was not overwhelming. They continued to have time for extra-curriculars and goofing off. anon

I just wanted to give my perspective about the choice between AP and regular chemistry at Berkeley High. I have two kids now in college. When they were at BHS they both took regular college prep chemistry rather than AP. One teacher was great, taught the material thoroughly and deeply. The other one was mediocre. The mediocre teacher didn\x92t explain things clearly, so some kids didn\x92t understand, then she would be unable to continue forward with the material, waited until everyone understood her hard-to-understand explanations. This resulted in not covering all the material, then at the end before a test she\x92d have to rush through the rest. Her classroom management skills weren\x92t good either, and that in combination with her not explaining things well resulted in many kids at different levels of understanding and made for an ineffective educational experience for almost everybody. My kid was able to understand from reading the textbook and was very bored and a little frustrated, but did well in the class, then subsequently took the chem series at UC Davis successfully.


Both kids successfully made it through chemistry at the college level, and the one with the great high school teacher got an A in college chem, a notoriously difficult class. In our case the issue wasn't the level of chemistry; rather it was the teacher who made all the difference. We all want the best for our kids, but look deeply when you make that choice and don't just dismiss non-AP chem. There's no guarantee that choosing one level or another will be the only factor in how beneficial the class is for the education experience.

The point I want to make is that regular chem at BHS can be a great and worthwhile experience, and I feel people reading the other prior posts might conclude that anything other than AP isn\x92t worth doing.

I must've missed the original posting for this, but reading the latest responses I think I would like to pipe up. Firstly, I'm not sure 10th graders can take AP classes? Something to look into. My daughter took regular Chemistry in 10th grade at BHS and found it to be challenging on several levels. She's good at math and likes science, but it was a hard class. The work itself is difficult, but she managed to get it all done and passed with a B. The teacher and she also had a hard time with their ''chemistry.''! We worked that out by me coming and talking with the teacher after it all all came to a glorious head with a very upsetting interaction between the two of them. My daughter also became more understanding of the teacher and the teacher of my daughter. But back to Chemistry class... My daughter liked the labs best as she's a very hands-on learner. Unless your child is REALLY chomping at the bit for harder and more work, I think the regular class is fine. She's in AP Environmental Science this year and it's fine too. About 45-1hour of homework a night, and some fun and interesting projects. anon


Editor Note: there is a similar discussion on this page: AP Chemistry for HS Sophomore?

Poor score on Chem SAT despite A's in chemistry at BHS

August 1999

My daughter likes chemistry, got A's in it without any struggle. She took the chemistry SAT and scored in the low 500's. She said there was a lot of material on the test that she had never seen before, and she couldn't answer many questions. I don't understand this. Does BHS not teach material on this test, or is the test way out of line for what is covered in a 2-semester high school chemistry course?

My son had a similar experience with the SAT in Chemistry except that he discovered the problem a few weeks before the test when he looked at a SAT Chemistry Review book and discovered that there were many questions on topics that they had not covered. Unfortunately there was not enough time to learn all that new material in the last 2 weeks of school what with papers and finals.

I did call the head of the science department to ask why students hadn't been taught this material. Her explanation was not satisfactory--she indicated that no high school could teach all the chemistry material, she also indicated that his having had a new teacher to BHS (and chemistry) may have been part of the problem.

Since there will be a new science department head this year, I am planning to call him right after school starts and suggest that science teachers alert students to this problem at the beginning of the year and tell students which areas they (the teachers) will not be covering but are likely to show up on the test. That way students could learn this "extra" material themselves as they go along. Another idea is for the student to consult a SAT Review book early in the year to try figure out what material they're not being taught (not that easy to do, but worth a try).

It would be helpful if other parents who experienced this problem also called the new head of the science department to see what he planned to do to deal with this problem. I also don't know if this was a problem only for Chemistry or if it occurs in Biology or Physics.

Aug 1999

Concerning the Chemistry SAT preparation, my son had AP Chem and got 770 on his June SAT. He thinks he did poorly on the test. ( !!!!) He did go to a BHS review session for that, but was also preparing for the AP Chem test, so he had a lot of class review, which he thinks wasn't all that helpful. He said the SAT was still like a reading test, where you had to analyze the data they gave you. There were some things on the test he swears he never learned. I couldn't get him interested in even looking at a SAT chem prep book. I don't think you can compare students by their classes or what was offered or not in the class. Absorbtion rates differ as do test taking abilities.

Sept 1999

Regarding Chemistry at BHS, our bright daughter had a discouraging experience. It seems the teacher told the class that he "did not know the material and was going to learn it with them" (presumaby by trying to teach it). My daughter was taught poorly, was confused (and could not tell if the shortcoming was with her ability to learn, or the way she was taught the material) and did not do well in SAT Chemistry. Only if we had known what was happening in the class, we could have sought help (e.g., meeting the teacher, hiring a tutor).

As the events turned out, we learned of what had happened at the Chemistry class much later on, when it was too late, because dealing with all the other pressures at school kept our daughter from discussing this particular issue at home.

I posted a message earlier regarding my child's chemistry class at BHS last year. She got all A's with little effort, and then scored in the low 500's on the SAT2. I finally got the assistant chair of the chemistry department on the phone to discuss this with her. She had a great deal to say, but none of it explained how a student could get straight A's in chemistry and find there were a great many questions on the SAT that covered material she had never seen.


I am concerned about this beyond the issue of the low score. Chemistry is my daughter's particularly strong interest area, and I expect she will go on to have a career in science and technology. It appears she has not had an adequate chemistry preparation at Berkeley High, and that has serious implications for her academic future. I realize she can make up any weak areas by taking junior college classes, but why should a bright, motivated student have to "make up" classes that she already took in high school? Should arrange to take her high school science requirement at a junior college?

I have to say I am troubled by what this incident suggests about the level of science education at Berkeley High. It is not what I expected.

Jan 2000

There is chemistry tutoring at lunch. Maybe someone else can give you additional information about some after school tutoring for chemistry as well as the exact location during lunch.
Flora Russ, Computer Science

July 1999

By the way--in terms of at-school resources, I know our son did go to chemistry tutoring sessions at BHS a number of times--I think they were sometimes at lunch, sometimes after school. Sometimes they were helpful, sometimes not. He said it was best when he had a very specific question. I think it was harder when he was simply feeling out of his depth, and not getting the general concepts. But they also provided a place to work on some of his homework with other people doing the same thing.