15 Things a new AP® teacher should know

Being a new AP® teacher is exciting and daunting! It will be a tough year to not only learn the material yourself, but also teach it to your kids.  Hang in there! It can be a very rewarding journey. Make sure to join a community of fellow teachers for help and encouragement. Here are some tips I often tell to new AP® teachers .  Most of these suggestions work for many AP® subjects, not just science.

15 tips I’ve learned along the way

  1. Make a year-long pacing plan and STICK TO IT!  Its hard to cover everything that you think you should. Give the test on the day you planned. Be disciplined. Tell the kids you have a deadline that you and they must meet or they won’t be ready for the exam in May. Lay out the pacing plan to the students-they will respect it.  Cut out a movie, assign content at home, but stick to your pacing plan. Plan for your supplies ahead of time. 
  2. You can’t do everything that you find.  Shared material online or from other APES teachers can be overwhelming. You have to carefully pick and chose–we all do. Make sure all labs and activities that you choose give you a lot of “bang for the buck” and cover multiple topics.
    This is a list of my current labs for each unit, but there are a lot of other great labs shared by many teachers. 
  3. You can’t cover everything in class time.  You need to assign content at home. You can do this in a few different ways. Reading assignments with quizzes, partial flip or full flip, sticky notes are examples. Tell the kids they they cannot rely on you to give them everything they need during class time and some of the easy stuff will be homework.  

    Content can be assigned through reading the book, watching videos on a site such as Edpuzzle, or on other websites.
  4. Start out the year hard, but don’t go overboard. My course, AP® Environmental Science, is sometimes called the “easy AP” by students. That is the common misconception. We do fun labs in this class and the content is interesting, but fun does not equal easy. While the course is easier than AP® Chem or AP® Physics,  it has a low national pass rate (usually less than 50%). Kids will need to work to get a good grade and to pass the AP® Exam. If you start out too easy, the kids will turn on you when you try to make it harder.  On the flip side, sometimes new AP® teachers assign unnecessary work just because we think we “should” in an AP® class or that it will prepare them for college.  This includes reading a novel, research papers etc. I did this and over time stopped when I learned more about my students. They have so much to balance in their lives–other AP® classes, sports, a job, clubs etc. When you give them work that’s not needed to pass the exam, you lose their trust and can overwhelm them. I tell my students that I don’t give them extra things to do and that everything is strategic–so don’t slack off. They appreciate it so much and will respect you for it.

    This meme is from an APES “cult classic” film called Cane Toads. Its weird and kids love it (but not as much as their teachers love it).
  5. Talk about your competence.  In other words, brag on your self. Now, I know this sounds weird, but in a lot of schools (especially in high achieving schools), the AP® kids can be really difficult to new AP® teachers.  A couple of ways to combat this is to subtlety drop in things about your expertise in science or reference other experienced AP® teachers from your online communities. They will look at you in amazement that you have other AP® friends, or a hive and are drawing on their expertise. Don’t worry, this attitude usually subsides after the first year.

    Often mention conferences, workshops, “AP® friends” and an online community.
  6. Keep it positive!  . Yes, they need to know the problems, but also focus on the solutions and where we have made improvements in our country. We’ve cleaned up our air (here’s a great example in CA), our water (Cuyahoga river), saved a bunch of species, and have increased in organic foods. These are just a few examples. Avoid depressing videos-they get the urgency just from the content. Tell kids that they can work on solutions as their career-give them hope. 
  7. Realize that your class is not the most important thing in a kid’s life or at your school .  Our students juggle a lot of things. They take multiple AP® classes, ASB, band, sports, jobs, etc. We need to be sensitive to our students and while expecting them to work hard, realize that they are juggling a lot. Try not to assign unnecessary work.
  8. Ignore current events (mostly).  Don’t get me wrong, learning to read current news articles is important to create an informed and literate generation. News articles that cover part of the curriculum are also important as primary or secondary sources. But, remember, you can’t do everything and you need to not only make sure you complete the content, but also work on higher level skills and science practices. Your kids may need all that time for this in class-as the professional, you can decide what’s best.

    Kids will start to send you pics of their vacations or talk about seeing the concepts they’ve learned in class out in the real world and will be very excited to see personal application in a course.
  9. I choose not to assign projects to cover curriculum. Here’s my reasoning:  Students have to memorize some lists of items along with their characteristics. These include biomes, biogeochemical cycles, air pollutants, energy sources, toxins and diseases. One problem with assigning different kids or groups of kids topics to research and present, is that the kids really only become an expert in one of them and then half-way learn the others.  The kids need to know ALL OF THEM!  These topics are frequently asked on multiple choice questions and on FRQs and the kids have to know details on all of them so they can answer the specific questions asked. Spend your time instead on having kids make charts, graphic organizers, etc to make sure they know all of the information. If you would like some more research and data about this philosophy about projects, go to this Harvard site.  You can do projects, however, on topics in which a kid needs to only know a couple of examples of. These include endangered species or invasive species and are usually asked as open-ended FRQ questions. I have my students make endangered species trading cards.
  10. Review vocab,  graphing, math etc. in context to save days and precious time.  Spend time on graphing review as part of the first lab by helping them set up their axes and discussing the appropriate type of graph. Review math concepts when they have math in labs. Or do a math diagnostic and differentiation if needed. . Kids in a college-level class should be able to memorize vocab as part of the chapter and exam-not as a separate assignment. This is ideal if kids are placed appropriately in an AP® course. If the majority of your class is low, you may have to spend more time on these topics separately, but realize that you will lose days on them. On that note, work with your school to appropriately place students. You can refer to AP® research for help.
  11. Don’t fret about the order of the curriculum. Go in the order of the Course and Exam Description (CED) or your textbook. There are pros and cons to each. No matter what you chose, cover it all and there are many teachers who can help support you with whatever order you go in.
  12. Don’t post anything that is copyrighted online–especially released AP® Exams.  And don’t put test banks or keys  to worksheets online.  Even if you think your website is secure and password protected or only your students would possibly get on your site, Google finds a way. The same goes for test banks. These items are “cached” by google so even if you remove when you are caught, it can stay for months on the internet.  The College Board may also take legal action if you post their copyrighted items.        
  13.  Copying and Cheating can be a big problem. I love my AP® kids. They’re some of the nicest, well-behaved kids in the school, but many are also grade-mongers and are highly vested in their GPAs. With smart phones, some (but not all) kids take pics of homework and group text them to others in the class. Anything you want authentic needs to be done in class time. This is one of the benefits of flipping-kids are supposed to copy notes so homework is notes.  Utilize Turnitin.com if your school subscribes. I use turnitin for lab reports and other writing assignments. A lot of “secure” info is online. This includes test banks so be aware of this. Secure cell-phones during exams.
  14. Work with your guidance office or administration to help them correctly place kids.  I’m NOT talking about gatekeeping. All kids who are ready should be allowed to take an AP® course and this is not just gifted or honors kids. I teach 150+ AP® kids a year and over 2/3 are taking an AP® for the first time as a junior or senior.   But, a lot of schools will increase their AP® enrollment, because it “looks good” or meets some parameter for scoring the school. I’ve seen too many kids disheartened and miserable, because they can’t keep up with their classmates. You can see what the research says about it here.  A great tool is provided by College Board called AP® Potential.   It took me a few years of nice discussions with our guidance counselors to explain what type of kid would do best in my course and they do a great job so I am grateful.

    This meme was made by a student last year.
  15. Be nice to yourself and cut yourself some slack as a new AP® teacher. It takes a few years to really understand an AP® course and its nuances.  Your value as a person is not dependent on your AP® scores. I spent several years really fretting over this and I have a good pass rate.  This is no way to live. Don’t fret over perfect lessons, take time to relax.  Be good to yourself and ask for help when you need it.

* AP® is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse this site.

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