Apr 082013

Today is the first official day of Spring Break (Monday) and so far I have had an eventful weekend. I started by flying to Los Angeles and attending the 5th of the series of AP Workshops they have had. These are the one day workshop where teachers can attend and get some additional tips, hints, and prep for their AP classes.

They definitely inspired me!

I flew down on the districts dime. They offered to send myself and one other teacher to this workshop and paid for flights and hotel for us. This was very generous and even though the workshop was not offering Statistics I felt I could not refuse the offer to go and spend the day doing some calculus. I am glad I did. I spent the day talking to teachers from LA who work in very urban to not so urban schools about how to teach better. I also got a chance to speak with Don who works for the CollegeBoard and has some amazing insights into the AP process. More on that later.

First: This was the FIFTH in a series of these workshops for the LA Unified School District. Think about that. They have had 5 so far, and one more planned. If you teach AP, you are getting some great professional development. But it goes beyond “if you teach AP”. I was in the ‘little to no experience’ calculus room by choice, and in that room there were 7 others who DID NOT TEACH CALCULUS at all. One very eager teacher taught 10 years of geometry and 2 years of algebra 2, but wanted to make sure he was teaching correctly to help develop calculus learners. Another young teacher was in her 3rd year of teaching, and wanted to make sure she was still fresh and current on all levels of math.

Think about that. The depth of teachers LAUSD is developing by opening the sessions up to teachers who want to learn but are not currently teaching calculus is amazing. When Washoe County does their one workshop each year I doubt that it is this widely attended. I went once, but have not gone the last two years because of speech and debate meets being scheduled the same weekend. The one I attended was 100% only current AP teachers. What are we losing by limiting these?

Second: Some tips gleaned about what works for the “urban learner.” I won’t try to define what that means, but suffice it to say that LA has its fair share of them. Some of the tips here are pretty normal. A couple I never thought of. Worth the price of admission right there.

  1. Go over new material BEFORE questions about homework. <insert dopeslap here> DUH! What happens when you get lots of questions about the material from yesterday? You end up rushing the lesson for today. Which leads to more question tomorrow. Which leads to rushed lessons, and then you are always behind and the learners then learn to use that to their advantage and never let you get caught up.  Teach first, THEN go over homework if you need to. Teach first.
  2. Warmups in groups of 3 to 4. The urban learner has been trained NOT to be the smartest or the standout learner. The standout outside of the classroom is the mole that gets whacked (to use my own notes and putting it in different context.) Group work for the warmup allows them to talk about content without being “that kid”.
  3. Meet with parents at the beginning of the year in an AP class. Tell them what the expectations are. Let them know that there needs to be a homework time where NOONE watches TV in the house. Stress the importance of learning. Set the example. Have the parents form a support group of their own. Stress the importance of constant vigilance on homework and learning. Let the parents know there will be very stressful days for their learner. That is okay, support them.
  4. Encourage learners to build study groups by assigning problem sets from old AP exams that are due as group work. Start off by having 2 to 3 week deadlines. They need time to learn how to work as a group. Eventually shorten it to 3 to 5 days with more problems in the problems sets. It is about managing their workload and teaching them how to learn and talk about content.
  5. Praise often, and praise the right stuff. Look at a problem the learner did. Notice they did 85% of the problem right but made a consistent mistake. Point that out. Show them how much they know, and how little they really got wrong. The “100% is correct or nothing” mentality built by the “urban learner” is devastating to learning if they don’t see the progress.

These were the biggies. It is about creating culture of success in the classroom.

Finally, the next thing I learned was the importance of hammering the gatekeepers and using the AP Potential report. The AP Potential report is why the school district pays for every sophomore to take the PSAT. We get a report that itemizes for each learner what AP classes scores like theirs have been successful in AP classes. For 24 different AP classes.

I wonder if that report lists more than 60 learners for AP mathematics. Because that is how many learners are taking AP mathematics at my school out of 2100 learners. This means that at my school, only 2.9% of the learners take AP math of either calculus or statistics. Pretty sad, actually.

I am going to get a copy of our AP potential report so I can look at it and start pushing for AP math at my school. I am also going to share that with all the other AP teachers. I may ruffle some feathers but it is time to push, challenge, and ruffle some of the gatekeepers feathers.

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