Using Mastering in an AP®class

I’ve been using the “Mastering Environmental Science” companion website for Environment: The Science Behind the Stores by Withgott and Laposata for many years. The Mastering platform (a Pearson website for college-level textbooks) has been very beneficial for my students.  Here’s how I use the Mastering site for my AP® Environmental Science classes, but this method also works for other Mastering courses such as AP® Biology, AP® Physics etc.

Reading quizzes are done IN CLASS, timed, randomized and open book/note. I used to allow kids to do at home as homework, but had rampant cheating  as one kid would take screenshots of all the questions/answers and send via group text to the class.  Now, I have enough access to Chromebooks to allow me to quiz during class time.

My homework is typically to read a section of a chapter along with some supplemental mini-videos on Edpuzzle that give visuals to the reading. The next morning is a reading quiz. Other homework is sticky-note lecture, because I flip. 

This is my current method of using Mastering (like all teachers, I’ve changed a lot through the years). In a nutshell:

  1. Use a Master Class to create and edit assignments such as reading quizzes and coaching tutorials
  2. Copy assignments to individual periods of AP
  3. Change settings on quizzes to prevent cheating and to force kids to read
  4. Utilize coaching questions as review assignments to help develop critical thinking skills

(Note: there are extensive video tutorials to help you with Mastering if you are just learning how to use. This post focuses on certain features and methods I use–not the entirely of how to use Mastering).

Setting Up My Classes or “Courses”

I create a “Master Class” each year and transfer the previous year’s quizzes and assignments to this class.  In this master class, I edit and change the things that I want to change and then copy the assignment into my other classes.

Assignments in my “Master Course”. These are assignments I’ve created over the years and transferred to my Master Course. I pick and choose which ones I will assign and “copy” to my periods of AP.

I make a separate class in Mastering for each of my 6 periods of APES.

I click “Create a New Course” when I create my different periods of AP. When I create a new “Master Course” for the year, I click on “Copy one of my courses” in order to transfer the Master class from the previous year which has all of the assignments that I’ve already made over the years.
Creating a separate course for each period.

Students enroll (via codes provided by Pearson with a subscription) into Mastering and then into their specific period’s “course”.

Making Reading Quizzes

I do not use the pre-made chapter reading quizzes made by Mastering. Instead, I make my own using mostly the Mastering questions along with a few of my own.  I sometimes quiz every section (4.1, for example) or every two sections (4.1/4.2, for example). I add a few questions from the case studies to the first section of each chapter since Mastering doesn’t have these questions and I want students to read the case studies.

(Side note: You have to teach kids how to find the “sections” in the textbook since they aren’t labeled “4.1” etc. Each green bold title is a new section. Kids get it and don’t have a problem finding the section to read.)

When I make a quiz using the question bank on Mastering, I choose mostly “reading quiz” questions along with a few “test bank” questions  I feel are really easy and probably won’t use on my exam. They are basic, low-level, questions that only check for if a kid read. They are not high-level questions that prepare students for the AP exam.  Higher-level questions come later in exams.

When I create my assignments, I click “Randomize Item Sequence” so each kid has a different order of questions. I also choose about 15-20 questions for the quiz and click “Pool Assignment” an then “Give each student 11 of 15 items”. So each kid gets 11 of the questions in a randomized order. This also prevents cheating.

Places to click to help prevent cheating.

To prevent more cheating, I stand in the back of the room and watch all screens.  I cannot tell if a kid takes a screenshot, but I can see if they pull one up or if they’re messaging each other via Google during the quiz. Or..looking up answers online. I will soon have GoGuardian which will allow me to monitor this better. Considering my averages for quizzes are typically in the 60% range, I don’t think a lot of cheating is occurring.

Copying Assignments to my Periods of AP

When I copy assignments (such as reading quizzes) over to each period’s course, I program the day and time the quiz becomes available–typically 3 minutes after the bell rings. This prevents kids from doing the quiz earlier in the day in another class where I cannot monitor them. I can also program the quiz to lock after the period or day so that absent students cannot do the quiz from home.

Click here to copy assignments from the “Master Class” to each of the  AP periods.
Use this screen to program the dates and times the quizzes open.

Changing Settings

I have the following settings for my reading quizzes (based on a lot of trial and error). You need to adjust these settings for EACH PERIOD after copying them over. Changing the settings on the Master Class does not change them when you copy to other periods. You can make default settings for each period so you don’t have to change these settings with every quiz.

I allow students to see if an answer was right or wrong since they’re supposed to be learning from their mistakes. I also have a time limit of 7 minutes.
I hide titles so kids cant search for the question on the internet.  I also limit access so kids cannot give answers to absent kids. Students are not allowed to print.
I don’t allow hints and the first answer is for full credit. I used to be more lenient and allowed hints and half credit for the second guess, but kids started slacking so I am stricter now and kids rise to the level of expectations.

Coaching Assignments

Mastering has WONDERFUL pre-made coaching tutorials, graphing and video questions. These are higher-level thinking questions and improve critical-thinking.

I combine all these questions into a “Coaching” assignment per chapter. The questions  are often drag and drop vocab or steps in a process (like eutrophication), or animations with tutorials. My students do these in class so I am sure they are not copying.

Also, doing them in-class is important for equitable access. Some of my students only have cell phones or tablets and these questions are not often compatible with mobile devices.

This is a coaching assignment for chapter 2. This assignment would take 15-20 minutes of class time.

For coaching assignments, I allow kids to re-sort or guess again with just a few points taken off, because they are review for the upcoming exam.  They are also untimed.

Below are some examples of the types of questions found on Mastering. I did not capture the whole image since they are not open-source.

Kids drag and drop terms into the rock cycle diagram.
This is a vocabulary sorting activity.


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