Nearly 200 educators are at Erie High School this week learning how to become better advanced level teachers and create more inclusive classrooms.
The Colorado Education Initiative partners with schools in St. Vrain Valley to host the 11th annual AP for All Summer Institute. The College Board-certified institute has been held virtually for the past two years due to the pandemic.
“AP can be for everyone,” said College Board consultant Jacqueline Stallworth, an AP English teacher at a high school near Washington, DC. “Any teacher can make it inclusive, if they’re willing to do that job.”
St. Vrain Valley has been recognized by the College Board for increased overall attendance, student of color participation, and growth in AP exam scores. Over the past five years, total AP student enrollment has increased 43% to more than 5,400 students. The number of Hispanic and Black students taking AP exams has also increased.
“We encourage teachers to encourage kids to take that risk,” said Erie High principal Matt Buchler, who is retiring.
This week’s sessions cover more than a dozen AP topics. There is also a Capstone Summer Institute to assist teachers with AP seminars and research courses.
During a Wednesday session for AP biology teachers, presenter Kelcey Burris talked about teaching his first AP class more than 20 years ago in an environment where the only goal was to produce high scores at tests. Students who did not perform well on the sample AP tests given at the start of the course were encouraged to drop out of the course, he said.
“It wasn’t fun teaching in this area,” said Burris, a College Board consultant and high school teacher in Washington.
Now, he said, teachers should give any student willing to try the option of taking AP classes, with the aim that advanced classes reflect the same diversity as the school canteen.
As he spoke about recruiting and supporting students, teachers shared their schools’ challenges. These included a school that relies on teachers to encourage students of color to try advanced classes at a school where it is mostly students in special classes who transfer to AP classes.
Nick Cashman, who teaches at a private international school in China, pointed to a study that shows students who try AP classes are more likely to do well in college, even if they don’t do well on AP tests.
“I tell students it’s not about the score,” he said. “It’s not a matter of grades. You are here. You try.
Burris shared his grading system, which he modified from a “useless” system used by an AP science teacher at Fairview High School in Boulder. While Burris continues to assign grades, he gives answer keys for all non-test assignments and allows students to suggest the grade they should achieve in the class – although he asks them to provide evidence through a journal to substantiate the rating.
“They know it’s about learning, not just doing it,” he said.
During the institute, presenters shared resources and taught mini-lessons, ranging from asking teachers to try a writing assignment or having them do lab work.
College Board consultant and Connecticut high school teacher Fred Vital showed AP chemistry teachers how to create a fireball as part of a classroom demonstration. He heated a candle flask of wax to boiling, then quickly cooled it on ice. The wax releases enough energy when it returns to a solid form to produce a flash of flame, he said.
“You need energy to separate things, not to put them together,” he said. “It can be a difficult concept. It’s a way of making sure the kids remember it. »
He said he wanted to help teachers feel more confident in their understanding of chemistry, as well as share ideas for activities he’s found effective in his classroom.
“I want to help students learn more about science,” he said. “Not all of them will be graduates in chemistry. We want to create citizens who have a scientific culture.
Attendees ranged from seasoned teachers looking for new ideas to those teaching AP classes for the first time.
Jessica Butte, an Erie Middle School teacher who is moving to Erie High to teach AP and regular chemistry in the fall, wanted a refresher on high school chemistry and ideas on how to help prepare her students for the AP exam.
In addition to getting a refresher on class content, she said, she appreciated the opportunity to network with other AP chemistry teachers and help navigating College Board systems. Plus, she says, it’s fun to try out the same labs as the students.
“I can help kids learn chemistry, and I’m learning more at the same time,” she said.