11 May 2010

why should students take ap classes anyway?

I have my own opinions on the matter and plan to share them here. In case I forget to ask, I'd love to hear what you have to say. I'll admit, my opinion won't be the popular one, but it is, after all, just an opinion and is not based in research or even very much experience (this is my 3rd year to teach).

I teach AP Physics. Wait, let me go back a little further. AP classes are supposed to be taught at a college level. The AP stands for Advanced Placement and is designed to prepare students for a test that can gain them college credit in the class taught, i.e. psychology, calculus, biology, spanish, etc. I'd love to hear input from some college freshmen that took AP classes their senior year and then took an equivalent class during their first year of college. Was it on the same level? Was it harder? Easier? Was the workload the same?

So, whether you are ready for my opinion or not, here it comes. Students taking AP classes should not be trying to take the class to get credit in college. Sure. College credit is a great benefit of taking the class, but should it be the primary objective? When I asked student in my AP physics class to tell me why they were taking the class, the overwhelming majority of them told me "so I can get college physics credit". However, most of these students will be entering college as a science or math major. My class is probably not (quite) up to the rigor of a college class, because of that fact, I am constantly trying to improve it and make it more like the post-secondary level it should be.

Bear in mind there are students in my class who have never made anything less than an "A" on their transcript. The parents of these students call and complain when they are making a "B" or (heaven forbid) even a "C". This is the argument I hear, "my student has NEVER made less than an "A", why are you not teaching them well enough so that they can be successful (meaning get an "A") in your class?" I hate to break it to you parents, there are a lot of students who go to college and don't make all "A's"! There is a serious problem called grade inflation and probably needs to be addressed in a separate post.

In my opinion, the purpose of my class is to prepare students for the appropriate class at the college level. If I am teaching physics, they should be able to continue their studies of physics in college and be successful (maybe even make an "A"!) Would I love to have all of my "precious ones" make 5's on the test? Of course! Since that won't ever happen, would I at least love to have them all pass with at least a 3? Yes! But honestly, I could care less about the test. Because the College Board says I have to teach to the test I do (which screwed us all this year since typically rotational motion is supposed to be about 20% of the test and my class is designed as such, but this year probably 50% of the test was rotational). But in reality, my underlying (sometimes not so subtle) goals are to increase student's problem solving abilities and prepare them for college.

That's it. If you are mad about that, too bad. However, I hope I have taught students something and given them a glimpse of what they will see in college. At least in their introductory classes. I think many students will be surprised at the amount of independent study will be required of them when they enter freshman-level classes. If memory serves (I only just graduated 3 short years ago and am currently working towards my master's) the professor doesn't spoon feed the information to students. They are supposed to be studying 2 hours for every hour they are in class each week. That means more than going over the notes the professor gave. In fact, most will give you their PowerPoint, so what's the use in taking notes, right? Maybe students should just read over the PowerPoint and then skip class? If I give the benefit of the doubt, and say students should only study an hour, not wait, a half hour for every hour they are in my class, then there should be about 8 hours per week of independent study going on. Oh and this does NOT include homework. Students are supposed to be studying that much in addition to the homework given by the instructor. I wonder how many of my students did that? Even on average? I dare say none.

I guess I didn't foster an environment that encouraged independent study. I think I started out doing pretty well at that, but then for some reason gave the idea that it would be okay just to get the notes in class, do the homework, and everything would be okay. The great thing about teaching is that there is always next year to change up what you are doing and try to make things better.

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