Monday, May 2, 2016

The Final Countdown: AP Week is Here!

Here's the motto I'm trying to instill in my kiddos this week:

During the middle of last year, a colleague and I were discussing the fact that our school only offered BC Calculus and we wished there was an option for students who were interested in pursuing Calculus but might not be ready for the demand of BC. Heck, my bachelor's is in pure mathematics and I did just fine having only been a product of AB Calculus. We approached our administration about this and luckily for both ourselves and our kids, they allowed us to take on the challenge of designing and implementing a full-year AB course. The course would be an "Honors Calculus" course in the fall, leading directly into an AB course in the spring.  It took some selling to get our enrollment up and I am forever grateful to the 20 kids who took the risk of a brand new Calculus course with me. The enrollment is already more than doubled for next year and that definitely wouldn't have been possible without this pilot group. 

I feel a little like the cast of one of those youth sports movies sometimes when we are in class- despite the fact that Emilio Estevez had consistently better hair than me in any number of those movies.  We are an unlikely mix.....17 boys and 3 girls (I promise our demographics are more evenly split for next year!!) with extraordinary variation in past experience with math, intrinsic motivation, and consistency in completing tasks. But they all showed up every day and tried. Cue the Mighty Duck's-esque montage where everyone learns that "Ducks Fly Together" and learn to skate without falling.  I've gotten to watch this unlikely mix of kiddos turn into a team who can function at a really high level (or more concretely, get about 5 to 9 points on the famous 2007 AB 3 problem).

Because of the extra time built into our course, I really do feel like I've given the kids all the tools I possibly can at this point in the game. I'm okay with not trying to "cram" any extra information in their brains on the last day....which is a feeling of peace as a teacher that I don't normally feel. With my unlikely group of mathematicians and the mindset that we've prepared with the most gusto we possibly could, I'm taking a very different approach on our last day in class tomorrow. Here's the plan:

1) A sincere "thank you"
Y'all.....I'm so proud of these kids. Because I teach mostly in a STEM program, this is the third straight year I've taught this particular group of 20 and they've been a huge part of my journey as an educator. Beyond all of that, they've been with me through an incredibly difficult year personally. They've accepted me on my bad days and pushed me to be better even on my best days. They've driven me a little crazy, of course. But I am so grateful for the hard work and determination I've seen from each and every one of them. They've made me laugh and learn and grow. I don't know if we ever thank our kids enough. I'm trying to remember to do it more. 
Good Luck Gift Bags (because my inner middle school teacher still hides deep below the surface)
2) A little more shop talk
Because I don't think you can emphasize "DO NOT write 'it' if you mean f'(x)!!!!" enough. I don't mind saying it for the 16,000,001st time if it means they remember. And for Heaven's sake, don't leave off the + C !

3) A real, honest talk about anxiety, nerves, and some brain chemistry
Here's why: I am someone that naturally appears incredibly collected and outgoing. I seem to thrive on being constantly interacting with others. This is a completely intentional choice I make everyday- I am much more of an introvert than anyone would suspect.  It was actually my time as an AP student that started my journey to discovering this. AP US History basically turned me into a robot; it was the highest expectations to which I'd ever been held in a subject area that wasn't my strength. Friends tried to talk some sense into me, but I assumed it was just stress and it would pass. As I got older, I started to become more cognizant of the amount of anxiety I felt on a regular basis (although I'd still fight you if you tried to tell me I was at all abnormal in what I felt). Only this year did my anxiety finally bubble over into something I needed to address and doing so has totally changed my perspective. 

I think a lot of kids feel this kind of anxiety and pressure. Our guidance counselors get crying AP students in their room regularly. We expect to see some mini-breakdowns as exams approach. And let's be real....most 16 and 17 year olds aren't equipped to deal with it. So here's what we're doing:

Activity #1:  Article Reading
I'm going to have the kids read this silently, marking a "?" next to anything they have questions about and a "!" next to anything they want to remember for the test. Then we're just going to talk and see where it goes. 

Activity #2: Journaling Activity
Since my very first standardized testing week as a 1st year teacher, this article has been in my arsenal. I love it. I love the idea that psychologically the symptoms of being "pumped" are the same as being terrified.  I try to get kids to get pumped to show what they know, not fear what they might not know. 
"In a study published last year in the journal Emotion, Dr. Beilock and four co-authors found that with students anxious about math, the more stress hormone they produced, the worse they did on a test; students with low math anxiety did better the more cortisol they produced. “The first group,” she said, “felt the rising anxiety in their bodies and reacted by thinking,I’m really nervous about this test. I’m afraid I’ll fail.’ ” They choked. “The second group told themselves something like, ‘I’m really psyched up for this test! I’m ready to go!’ ” Dr. Beilock recommends consciously adopting positive self-talk. Remind yourself that damp palms and a pounding heart accompany all kinds of enjoyable experiences: riding a roller coaster, winning a sports match, talking to someone you have a crush on."
We are going to end the class by actually doing the journaling activity as an exit ticket. I am encouraging each of them to leave their fears in my classroom by writing them down and putting them into a box. With those left behind, I am going to encourage them to take only their knowledge, skill, and confidence with them into the test. My hope is after the exam we look at some of their fears and see if they were worth "carrying" with us or if in retrospect it was okay to leave them behind. 

I'm incredibly proud of them and am hoping to leave them feeling excited to show all they've learned. Any I will definitely be reflecting with them on how to make the course better. 

Good luck to everyone's AP classes these next 2 weeks! Cheers to all your work to prepare an incredible group of kids for an incredible challenge! 

No comments:

Post a Comment