To AP® or Not to AP®…What does the Research Say?

What does the research really say about taking an AP® class?

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of “rumors”, “here-say”, “anecdotal info”, &”verbal discussion” of the benefits of AP® based on information or studies from years ago. I’ve heard that just taking an AP® course helps in college and/or taking the exam (no matter if you pass) and I’ve wondered “Is that true or still true?” What does the AP® research say?

Some more questions: Aren’t the kids who take and/or pass AP® already the kids who would succeed in college no matter if they took AP? So, is it AP® that makes a difference or just being a smart kid? Where’s the controlled study? (by the way, this is a hard one to get an answer to).  What about dual enrollment?

I searched databases and the internet and found these resources. You can click on the underlined title to get to the actual study or resource. Below each title, I pulled out some quotes and added my thoughts.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and any other studies you’ve come across.

Here’s my take away from these articles:

1.  AP® is a good thing for students and give them an edge in college.
2.  Students must do well on the AP® Exam (some studies show a 2 or better, some show a 3 or better) to get this edge
3.  Students must ready for AP, not just enrolled, because its “good for them” or “good for the school”, but truly ready for the rigor. (This being said, this is not an excuse for gatekeeping–there are lots of kids who are not typical honors kids, but who are ready for AP® as they get to be upperclassmen)
4. AP® saves kids money.  My own son will save thousands as he enters college
5.  AP® is better than dual enrollment for completing college

Here’s the research about AP

Are AP® Students More Likely to Graduate from College on Time?

This study shows that a score of 2 or better leads to higher success rates in college. A score of 1 does not help. (page 7 Table 1)

“We cannot be sure whether this positive relationship is linked to the notion that an AP® student would be more likely to enter college with more college credits and is therefore more likely to graduate in four years or whether the positive relationship could be linked to the notion that AP® students have been exposed to college-level work and are therefore more comfortable with managing this work; perhaps it is a combination of the two or another alternate explanation.” (page 22)

“The current study found a positive relationship between both AP® Exam participation and performance and graduation within four years. This relationship held, even after controlling for relevant student and institutional factors associated with graduation rates. Given the financial burden associated with extending the time to graduate, this study provides support for the AP® Program as an educational opportunity that may aid in timely completion of college. In particular, it may be worthwhile to explore the policy implications of these findings to work toward decreasing the time to college graduation and decrease student debt in a meaningful and large-scale way” (page 24)

Basically, we don’t have a controlled study to show that these kids who take AP® would already be successful in college, but at least they’re saving a lot of money on tuition.

Should AP® Be Plan A?

“Studies that simply establish that students who are involved with the AP® program in high school perform better in college do not necessarily provide proof that the AP® program caused the students to be successful in college.” Students who have the motivation and study habits to take AP® classes in the first place have those same attributes upon reaching college, argues the report, “[s]o how can we know if it was the program that caused these students to do better in college?”

Advanced Placement® Exam-Taking and Performance: Relationships with First-Year Subject Area College Grades

This study finds that students need a 3 or better to be statistically better in college.

Assessment of Advanced Placement Participation and University Academic success in the First semester: Controlling for Selected High School Academic Abilities

Here’s one that accounts for accounts for similar academic ability (SAT and class rank) and found that kids who earn AP® credit (passing with a 3,4,5) do better in college than kids who do not take AP.  It does not measure just taking the course (AP® participation or earning a 1 or 2)

Harvard FICSS  

This group at Harvard measures the factors that influence college success in science.

“Students with passing AP® exam scores (3 or above) do not earn high enough grades after retaking introductory college science courses to assume prior mastery. AP® students who do not earn passing scores (2 or less) appear to have gained no advantage from their year of AP® study. While students who take AP® science, on average, do better in college than those who take less rigorous courses, half of this performance difference is accounted for by demographic variables and prior coursework in high school.”  (from website)

AP: A Critical Examination of the Advanced Placement Program

Same authors as the Harvard FICSS study

Passing an AP® exam does increase college success rates (honors Physics and honors Chem also).

But, it is not a way to close the achievement gap for poor and ethnic students.  It is a waste of resources to just drop students into AP® classes which they are not ready for. Students who are not ready to succeed are more likely to fail.

A Comparison of the College Outcomes of AP® and Dual Enrollment Students | In Progress

Both AP® and Dual Enrollment (DE) increase college enrollment with DE being higher. As time goes on, however, college persistence and graduation rates are much higher with AP.



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.  (AP®  is a trademark owned by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.)

15 Tips

  1. Make a year-long plan and STICK TO IT!  Its hard to cover everything that you think you should. Lecture often takes longer than expected…and there’s this great documentary…and then a great debate or project…and then the kids say they’re not ready for the test and need a day or two….and ultimately the test gets pushed back a day or two. If you do this for multiple chapters, you’re sunk. You also need some days of buffer if you live in a state with weather closures. Many new AP® teachers (or even experienced ones) panic in March and ask which chapters they can skip, because they’re behind (The answer is none of them, because sometimes an entire FRQ is on a minor chapter). 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-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.  My files contain 3X as many good things than I have time for. Make sure all labs and activities that you choose give you a lot of “bang for the buck” I recently cut out a two-day predator/prey lab that I had done for 10 years, because after analyzing released MC exams, I found that predator/prey questions were very rare. I now teach the concept in 5-10 minutes which is a better use of time for the random question on the AP® exam.  Instead, I spend time on labs such as owl pellet dissection in which many topics concerning trophic levels can be covered in one lab.

    This is an Ocean Acidification Lab which teaches experimental design, the properties of ocean acidification and also buffering.
  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 bratty to new AP® teachers. You could be a veteran teacher, but once you cross into the AP® world,  kids will look at you skeptically and question your competence. Obnoxious. This happened to me and has happened to almost every new AP® teacher in my school. From my conversations with other AP® teachers across the country, this is not unique. A couple of ways to combat this is to subtlety drop in things about your expertise in science.  “You know when I was at this conference last summer, we studied the research regarding ….”, or “I spent last weekend touring a power plant”.  Another idea is to reference other experienced AP® teachers from your online communities.  “My friend, at so and so high school, is a reader and grades AP® exams, and she says that students have to cover content at home.” or “I don’t know the answer, but let me ask my hive (online AP® teacher community). 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!  This applies mostly to my course, but there are several other AP® courses that talk about problems. It can easily become the doom and gloom class if you focus on all the problems. 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. Tell kids that they can work on solutions as their career-give them hope. Show them places they can make personal choices to help like. When I first started this course, I felt like I had to passionately get them to care about the planet. I realize now that they get it just by the content of the course. Don’t use depressing videos (11th hour is an example). Use ones that show the problems, but have encouraging solutions (NOVA videos are great for this). You also don’t have to discuss every current event out there to get them to understand the dire state of the planet.  
  7. Realize that your class is not the most important thing in a kid’s life or at your school . When I was a kid, my dad was a Spanish teacher and helped start the AP® program in the 80s at my high school. It was a REALLY BIG DEAL. They screened kids, only offered one section of each class, only offered a handful of APs and really made a lot of it.  When I was a new AP® teacher, I had this in my mind.  I planned a breakfast the morning of the AP® exam and then told kids to ask their teachers to get out of their 7 am class to come.  I was incredulous that one fine arts teacher didn’t let the kids out of class. I thought “doesn’t he know this is super important?!” That was arrogance on my part. Now I realize that his class was important too, and that my kids juggle a lot of things. They take multiple AP® classes, ASB, band, sports, jobs, etc. I need to be sensitive to my students and while expecting them to work hard, realize that they are juggling a lot.
  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 processes.  In my first couple of years of teaching AP, I wanted to bring all the articles I found on the subject into class.  Not only did this take precious class time, but I also found that the kids don’t appreciate the news articles until they understand the science. After a few months, when they start to know the science, they will tell you about current happenings that apply to the class and forward you news articles that they find-on their own. This is organic and more exciting than having it as an assignment.  After about 2-3 years, current topics may make their way onto the AP® Exam, but not before so you don’t have to stress about it. . Many AP® teachers do current events for extra credit or after the AP® Exam in May.

    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. Don’t assign projects to cover curriculum. Some teachers will disagree, but here’s my reasoning.  In my course, 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 in certain chapters and then have them practice word problems in and around those chapters to help them both review for the chapter, and also review the math. 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 textbook if you don’t have another plan. Kids really feel much more confident that way and like anticipating what’s next. Since you are new AP® teacher, the kids might be a little anxious with your abilities (see #6) so following the text gives them a bit more peace. If you want to mix it up later to better meet the needs of your population of kids, then do it-after all, you’re the expert on your school and kids.
  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. You will incur the wrath of other AP® teachers who use those exams as a final. Or, who use worksheets and don’t want keys online.  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 copy-writed 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 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.  Try to obtain test banks from other books. You can purchase or borrow from a neighboring teacher. My exams have questions from 3-4 banks so if they find the test bank for my book, they won’t have any idea where I pulled the other questions from. For FRQs on exams, cut and paste different released FRQs together to create a unique FRQ, but is still AP® quality with rubrics. Collect phones during exams so they cannot look up answers or take pics for kids in a later period.
  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.  Therapy and co-dependency groups are helpful to get over this mindset.


Research About Flipping the Classroom

I recently led a couple of workshops about Flipped Classrooms for a technology institute. (Discalimer: I’ve only fully flipped for about a year. I’ve done a partial flip for several years. So….not the expert, BUT, I spent hours finding research, studies, and helpful videos from the experts.) If you are interested in my experience and how I did it, go to my blog: Why and How I flipped this year.

Below is a nice PBS Newshour article explaining what a Flipped Classroom is like:

In  my research, I came across data that showed teachers were happier overall.  I can tell you that this is the first year in a long time that I’ve not felt completely burned out by the end of the year.  Here’s some other benefits from an articled called “Flipping the Classroom 2.0” from NSTA’s “The Science Teacher Magazine”:

  • “It is efficient. Lecture content can often be transmitted more effectively in a video than in a live lecture. McCammon consistently finds that a 60 minute in-class lecture can be effectively delivered in as little as 10 minutes via video.
  •  It improves the life of each teacher. Flipping allows the teacher to cover the material once on video instead of repeating content class after class, day after day, and year after year. u It strengthens relationships. First, students are able to “take their teacher home” as they watch videos. Second, more class time is freed up to increase teacher student interactions.
  • Third, when students watch videos at home, parents often get a peek into what is happening in the class.
  • Fourth, administrators can watch the videos, establishing trust and accountability. u It improves the quality of teaching. By recording content and reflecting on the video, each teacher becomes better at communicating content to students.  
  • Flipping the classroom opens up more class time for student collaboration.
  • Flipping the classroom provides the time and structure needed to differentiate instruction.
  • It allows a blended (online and face-to-face) and selfpaced instruction more aligned to how this generation of students learns.”Brunsell, Eric, and Martin Horejsi. “Flipping the Classroom 2.0.” The Science Teacher (2013): 8. Flipping Your Classroom in One Take. National Science Teacher’s Association, Mar. 2013. Web. June 2017.

One of the biggest things to understand is that a flipped classroom is not really about videos. Its a whole new pedagogical approach to teaching.  Videos at home enable higher level activities in class–the stuff that’s harder for students and need more help from the teacher.

A controlled study in a college level Biology course can be found here.

This article, What You Should Know Before Flipping For Flipped Learning, discusses this as well.

And this one:  Why Good Teachers — Not Good Videos — Are Key To The ‘Flipped’ Classroom

Jon Bergman, the guru of flipped classrooms, discusses what a classroom should look like in this video:

How do I make videos?  Don’t be nervous.  Most of my videos are honestly just pointing my iPad at my textbook and recording.  The kids don’t care about quality–seriously.  They think its hilarious when I drop something or my kid is practicing trombone in the background.

Here’s a research article about best practices.

You need to make your own videos, however, not just use Bozeman or others that are pre-made. That’s what the research says for the best student learning. Bozeman videos are awesome and my students are required to watch as review, but the initial learning needs to be slower and come from you.  You can also work in personal examples from your area that a pre-made video will not have.  Work with another teacher who uses your book–each record half of the video.  Don’t worry about editing.

Make them short.  Research shows that 10-15 minutes are best.  This is because when one video ends and another begins, the students’ brain resets and they can focus better.  I will often assign two or three 15 minute videos for notes in one night at the AP® level.

Here are the different tools for recording:

Here’s Paul Anderson’s method of making videos:

One of my new favorite ways to make videos is on the Explain Everything app on my iPad.  You can load on documents, powerpoints, videos etc. and write all over them while you’re speaking.  Here’s a video I made using this app:

What about kids who don’t have access to the internet at home?  Since I don’t have very many with this problem-usually only 1-2 kids, I work with them on an individual basis to find a personal solution.  I usually ask about their access in a “getting to know you survey”.  Also, I make everything I send home mobile friendly as many kids have smart phone if they don’t have a regular computer.  Here are some other ideas:

1. If making videos using existing powerpoints, perhaps print out a copy for the kids who don’t have computer/Wifi access at home and have them do Cornell notes or some other type of extended note-taking. That way they’re interacting with the notes for deeper learning even if they’re not hearing you talk on a video.
2. If a kid has an ipod for listening to music, perhaps save the audio of the notes for the kid along with a print out of the notes.
3. For math videos, you can screenshot the video several times for a printout of the notes. Or, allow only the kids without internet access to watch the video in class with problems at home–the traditional way. Here are some videos with more ideas

What if kids don’t watch the video? 

In an AP® Class, kids who don’t watch the video will just get behind and have to catch up before the exam. Since my videos are on Edpuzzle, its part of their grade also.  Here are some other ideas:





Why and How I Flipped this Year.

Why I decided to Flip

I decided to do a full flip in 2016/2017 out of self-preservation. My sections of AP® grew from 3 to 4 to 5 per day and I was exhausted from the constant rushing. Lecture days were hurried from bell-to-bell and labs were rushed.  I still have 15-20 years of teaching before I retire and while my expertise is growing, my stamina is declining. Something had to change.

 For many years, I did a partial flip-in terms of requiring content through reading the book. Kids were expected to read the textbook and take an online quiz at home and then we went over the pages of the textbook via “sticky-note lecture” in class.  (See this post about sticky-notes). Students brought their books to class and sticky-noted their books along with my document camera and my master book.

I videoed all the lectures for absent kids a couple of years ago so they wouldn’t get behind. Some kids already watched these videos ahead of in-class lecture.  When I decided to do a full flip, I made these videos mandatory at home and took some of the items that used to be homework and made them class work. Examples are lab reports, online coaching tutorials, math practice. 

How I Flip

I assign a section in the textbook (Withgott, 5th edition) to read for homework. My chapters are usually broken into 4 sections. Most nights, I assign one section, but on occasion, I assign two short sections. The reading assignment is supplemented by a few short videos on Edpuzzle (usually 2-4 minutes long). These Edpuzzles reinforce and give visuals to what is read in the section.

In the example below, I assigned two Edpuzzles for each night, March 28th and March 29th. Edpuzzles work on a phone so all my kids either have computers or smartphones to use to watch.

Edpuzzle dashboard. Mini videos are assigned along with reading.

The next day in class, students take an online quiz to check if they read. I allow  books or notes for the quiz. They can also access an e-text on this site if they don’t want to bring their books to class.  The quiz is timed at 10 minutes so kids do not have time to “wing it” and try to look up all the answers in the allotted time. To do well, they had to read.  I usually assign about 10-15 questions per section.

Sample online quiz question.

The site I use for quizzing is “Mastering Environmental Science” from Pearson which comes with the Withgott textbook Environment: The Science Behind the Stories. There are a lot of free quizzing sites available online if you don’t have one through your textbook.

Instant formative assessment results:

This graphs shows me the questions that kids didn’t know. Instant feedback.

After the online quiz, we will do other activities, labs, videos, practice math etc. in class. Flipping allows the higher level and harder stuff to be done in classtime.

After the students have read all the sections and taken the online quiz, they are assigned “sticky notes” on Edpuzzle for homework.

This chapter has two sticky note lecture videos of about 15 min long.

Students watch the videos (about 15 min each) and answer the questions on Edpuzzle while sticky-noting their own books.  Alternately, students can write the notes on pieces of notebook paper-with pages indicated. You can read more about sticky-noting here

I will do a “note-check” the day before an exam and check that the kids actually wrote the notes and didn’t just watch the videos.  I note-check about 2 chapters at a time, because I test 2 chapters at a time for most exams.

Sample week:

Monday                Tuesday              Wednesday              Thursday               Friday

15.1 Mastering quiz

Water Analysis Video

HW: Bring water samples
Read 15.2
Edpuzzle-CA water


15.2 Mastering Quiz

Water Quality Lab Day 1

HW:  Rd 15.3


15.3 Mastering quiz

Aquifer Demo

Water mini-videos
Oxygen Sag Curve (BOD)
Diagram handout

HW:  Rd 15.4
Edpuzzle-CA Drought Fix-OC’s
Reclaimed water,
desalination water treatment


15.4 Mastering quiz
Water Quality Lab
Day 2

HW:  Conclusion
and questions
on Turnitin


SCV Water notes

Experimental Design

HW: Chapter 15 Sticky
Notes (3 long Edpuzzles)
Due Mon night


Student feedback:

This method worked well.  Here’s the feedback from my students via a survey at the end of the year:

1 = No, I didn’t learn very well this way

5 = Yes, it was great to learn this way.

Why did you choose this number? (Below are what students typed in response)

  • it made us study at home
  • Reviewing at home helps prepare for more interactive learning in class.
  • easier to focus on what i was writing at home
  • I learn much better from doing the notes in class
  • like learning in class better because wont slack off better
  • It was helpful, however a little more instructional time in class would have been helpful in order to complete the online mastering assignments.
  • It helped me to retain the knowledge because I was forced to do it at home.
  • I feel like I would have learned more from the notes if we had done them in class instead of trying to get them done as fast as possible at home for homework
  • I feel like we spent too much time at home learning, when the activities that were done in class could have been homework assignments (apart from labs)
  • Instead of copying notes in class you had more time to actually teach and talk about concepts.
  • I have a tendency of skimping out on homework and just paying attention during class time. As a result, this class structure harms myself.
  • I thought that it gave us more flexibility when we were learning the material.
  • I loved having class time to do more hands-on activities

Results?  Mostly positive.

80% of my class gave it a 3,4,5

20% of my class gave it a 1 or 2

My Personal Reflection on Flipping: 

Most students benefit.  They liked the flexibility of doing notes at home at their own pace. Most liked doing labs in class.

Some struggle with flipping.  Why?  Time management? Not understanding? Wanting to sit back and absorb material instead of active learning? Can’t copy homework?

Next year, I plan to implement more discussion of big ideas/essential questions at the start of class to tie together what they learned at home.

Sticky Note Methodology

I get asked everyone once in a while by fellow APES teachers how I run my class with sticky-notes, flipping, Edpuzzle etc., so I am writing this post to outline what I do. As any good teacher would do, feel free to copy what might work in your class and tweak things to match your own personality, teaching style, and the type of community and kids you have.

Sticky Notes

I started doing sticky-notes in the textbook as a form of notes at around the 2nd year of teaching APES. I had issues the first year of teaching the course when the really smart kids who could read the book and understand it didn’t want to take notes from my PowerPoints. I totally understood their point of view as I also was one of those kids as a student.

As a teacher, however, I also needed to address the needs of kids who are not the typical honors kid and are taking their first honors and/or AP® class. They needed more from me in terms of content.  How do I address both needs?  Sticky-notes was what I came up with.  I got the idea from English teachers who would have their kids sticky-note a novel as they discussed the novel. I thought “why can’t we do that with a textbook?” So, we did.

This is a page from the Withgott textbook on Acid Deposition.

I made sticky-notes as a template in my own textbook and used a document camera and LCD to project. The kids brought in their books to class to copy the sticky-notes down.  I explained the harder concepts and gave examples as we went through each page in the book.  

Pages from Chapter 15 Withgott-water quality

During sticky-notes, I point out what figures and captions are important.  I also add information to the appropriate page if my textbook doesn’t cover it well. An example above  is BOD-Biological Oxygen Demand. My book doesn’t cover it, so we add it via sticky notes.  I also point out some important facts such as “#1 Culprit of groundwater pollution is underground storage tanks”.

I expect kids to be able to read the book to obtain  information. On this page, I point out the two items they are expected to know: Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) and Plastic Pollution.

Students can read about these topics in the book and learn.

This page has an important chart and I point out that the kids need to know that Europe is shrinking in population and Subsaharan Africa is growing.

Charts, graphs, figures and pictures along with their captions are super important.

I also added some extra  information about Humus on this page.  

A teacher can easily add information to the appropriate page.

Some advantages with Sticky-Notes that I’ve found through the years

  • Less writing for students as they don’t have to re-copy the same things that the book says. The sticky-notes tell them what’s important to study on each page.
  • Saves a lot of time as you are not recopying term definitions or diagrams. A sticky note tells them which terms and diagrams are important on each page to memorize.
  • Pinpoints what is important for passing the AP® exam so kids don’t have to study everything in the book. I narrowed it down for them.

Some disadvantages of sticky-notes

  • Kids cannot use “super sticky” or they leave residue in the book which makes the pages stick together for the next student. 
    • Update from May 2017: I discovered this year that rubbing each page with felt or some rough cloth removes the sticky residue. I made all my students do that this year.
  • The books get thick so the bindings can become compromised. I tell kids to use small writing and the least amount of sticky-notes per page. If this is a problem with your school admin., then have the kids copy on notebook paper with page numbers so they can study with their books open and the info written on notebook paper. 
Example of book “thick” from sticky notes.
  • Kids cannot use bright neon-colored notes as they will bleed onto the page in a hot car.
Not allowed
  • Kids have to bring their book to school on days we sticky-note which makes for heavy backpacks and more wear and tear on the books.  Ideally, we should sticky-note every day after reading the section, but I don’t have them do that. Before flipping my class, I had them bring in books about 2-3 days per week only. I told them ahead of time and used Remind texting to help.
  • It’s not the best method for a struggling kid who needs a lot of help and everything explained to them. Fortunately, in my classes, the counselors don’t put many of those students in my course–they really do a great job at placing kids who are “AP® Ready”

(The College Board has something called “AP® Potential”). This doesn’t mean all high-achievers or honors kids. About ⅔ of my kids are average kids who are trying an AP® for the first time.

I recommend really talking with your textbook clerk and/or administration about why this method is so good so they understand why the books might get more wear and tear than normal. I tell them at least the kids are really reading and using my book compared to some other classes. When I started this method of note-taking, my pass rate increased by 10% and has not fallen as I’ve increased in students so I know it works.  

After sticky-noting for a couple of years, I started teaching an online APES class and recorded my sticky-note lectures for them.  We used the same book so I also made these videos available for kids who were absent from my regular classes.  The kids loved that they had the ability to watch the lecture and sticky-note at home. Some kids actually did all their notes at homes and then sat and listened to it again as I did the same lecture in class so they heard it twice.  Needless to say, these kids did very well on exams and the AP® Exam.

I flipped my class in 2016/2017 and used videos of the sticky-note lectures. You can read more about how I flipped here.

Sample Sticky note lecture