AP can be about more than just tests

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At the end of one of my design thinking workshops this fall, a participant said she found it strange that I present workshops to promote divergent thinking and classroom innovation, then turn around and present AP workshops for the College Board.

She asked: Isn’t this kind of teaching exactly the opposite of what AP requires?

My response was: I sure hope not.

But I keep running into this perception. At the Council for Economic Education national conference last month, I was explaining how I use case studies and problem-based learning in my AP Micro and Macro courses, and other teachers at my table responded: I don’t have time for that in AP. I have to just focus on the test.

This week, I was explaining authentic pedagogy to a visiting group of 25 Chinese educators. When my students (who had started businesses, run newspapers, and conducted their own experiments) came up to share their thoughts on these experiences, the teachers wanted to know: How do you have time for this, when you must prepare for tests?

Honestly, if I had to strip my AP classes down to just lecture and test prep every day, I’d have to stop teaching AP.  It sounds awful, and it’s not good for kids. That can’t be what we are about.

If it is, we’re taking our best and brightest and dulling down their learning experiences.

I don’t find it hard to reconcile the obligation to prepare my students for AP tests with my commitment to divergent thinking and teaching strategies, though, because I think students who deeply understand the subject matter will do fine on those tests.

That’s why my AP Psych students train their pets with operant conditioning, create interactive books and videos to teach others about the brain, create their own PSAs to raise awareness about sleep and construct their own experiments to study topics like intrinsic motivation.

PSA on Sleep

Students presenting experiments

Those projects aren’t designed to be lightweight or fun — they’re designed to teach students content in a thoughtful and thought-provoking way.

That’s also why my AP Micro students study a public policy problem — like declining fish populations or public financing of stadiums — through an economic lens, and why my AP Macro students will be redesigning city blocks with UrbanPlan this year.

I started teaching AP many years ago because I liked the idea of being able to push the limits of what kids could learn and achieve. I appreciate the depth and rigor, but I don’t like the idea of a test as the one defining measure.

Our students can be successful on AP tests AND learn the material through high-engagement teaching strategies, like authentic tasks, discussion/debate and inquiry learning. I see it work every year. Our job is to think outside the box and figure out how.

Martha Rush is a teacher, blogger, author and speaker. Visit NeverBore.org or like the NeverBore LLC Facebook group for more information. @MarthaSRush #beatboredom