Tuesday, May 13, 2014

AP Blended Learning Pull Out Program- Successes and Failures

This past year, I was pretty naive.  I was trying to find a more cost effective and productive way to run an AP course for a very small group of students.  I had taken over the course from a teacher that left us in August.  Scheduling had worked against us and it was proving difficult to have an existing history teacher take over the course.  I agreed to pull them out of their honors global history course once a week and work with them in preparation for the exam.  However, I needed a program or something that would substitute for the fact that I wouldn't be able to teach them daily.  I've taught AP European for a while nearly every year I have taught.

I figured with enough outside reading and practice students would feel comfortable successfully taking the exam.  The class was fairly self selective.  Once students realized it would not replace their regents Global History course, but rather be a tack on to it, the number dropped from 11 to 6.  These 6 students are extremely dedicated, highly intelligent, and focused students.  By saying this, it does not mean they didn't look for "shortcuts" on how to study for the exam.  You better believe they did.  They asked repeatedly what they "really needed to know" and which study guides could serve to replace the textbook.  When I responded there are no shortcuts for effort and showed them the type of essay questions they would be expected to answer, they began to understand.  While I am not confident the program worked in terms of AP preparation simply because I believe now they needed more time to discuss and analyze the complex issues among themselves and with me in prep for the AP, I am confident they gained a great deal in 21st century skills that they will utilize and adapt for their college years and beyond.  They became self motivated, organized, and relentless.  They learned something priceless, the value of grit.

At first, we attempted to utilize blended learning to compensate for the lack of face time beyond one 40 minute period once a week.  We found the specific content provider, Aventa, challenging because it operated much like a textbook instead of an interactive test bank and teaching tool.  It didn't have enough multiple choice AP style questions on each unit.  It didn't have interactive ppts or flipped lectures.  I think if it had, it might have been a real asset to the experience of the students and might have really helped them prepare.  However, I have yet to find a blended learning platform that does this for this specific AP, let alone for the AP European.  Instead, the blended learning platform had a vast number of articles on topics already in their textbook (yes the provider required we purchase a specific textbook) and a lot of essay questions that the teacher then had to grade.

Since the AP is 50% essay and 50% multiple choice, the latter only really helped with the assigning 50%, but not in the grading.  It also didn't really teach my kids.  So, I began giving them videos to watch online the nights before we met with a few simple questions.  I'd like to say this worked, but the kids really didn't like videos made by other teachers.  They wanted to see me.  They wanted to see a "movie" about the topic.  This was sometimes doable, but could not replace the reading they needed to do on the topic because of the depth of information needed to be acquired on the topic.

Lately I've been turning to Flooding, which you can read more about here:

Despite this, I don't think our students got as much as they would have had they had a whole year of daily instruction in the AP.  Yet, I do think they will walk away with a real sense of what it takes to do well in life and an understanding of how to focus and structure your life in a way to get you there.  So, while I am not keen on instituting another AP pull out program, it might have been a real skill based success.