If you teach an AP course, you know all about the concern of covering content! The end goal that all AP teachers push their students toward is receiving a score of a 4 or 5 on the AP exam in May. Thus, content heavy lessons become the daily focus of the course. Unfortunately, this often leads students to merely memorize the information, rather than to truly learn the information.
Having taught AP U.S. Government for the last eight years of my fourteen-year teaching career, I understand the desire to “push” through the content. I know all about the demands of the College Board. In fact, I would argue that most high school AP courses are much more demanding than the dual enrollment courses that many students opt to take at local colleges. I am also the first to admit that for the first few years of my AP teaching experience, I merely “covered” content. However, I can’t guarantee that my first classes of AP students truly learned the content.
As AP teachers we know that AP level students are masters at the game of school. They can read and memorize, listen to lectures and memorize, and can pass a unit test with flying colors, having memorized all of the content. But the question remains: Have they truly learned the content and mastered the standards of the course?
While I had been using project-based learning in my other courses for several years, I was skeptical at implementing PBL into my AP Government class. In fact, it wasn’t until one day, while discussing ways in which voter turnout could be increased that my students took charge of the class and created their own project. Admittedly, I was dubious, not to mention worried that too much time would be spent on the project with too little content covered and too few standards met. However, at the end of the project, I was amazed to learn that more content was covered and more standards were met than I ever imagined were possible. When I began to move away from the structure of the textbook and toward an integrated thematic approach, the design of the project came naturally.
Today, I am excited to report, that I have more non-traditional, first-time AP students who register for my class than any other AP class in my district. While not every student who takes my class signs up to take the AP exam in May for various reasons, I am please to say that 75% of my students last year received a 4 or a 5 on the exam. Most importantly, I can say with confidence that my students are truly learning the content and meeting the standards in my course that is solely structured around project-based learning.
If you are interested in hearing more about PBL in an AP setting, join me on November 2 for a free webinar. Space is limited so please register at http://www.bie.org/services/webinars to reserve your spot.
I will be sure to talk about the project that convinced me that PBL is the way to go in an AP course, as well as offer examples of projects that have been successfully implemented in other AP courses. I will also provide you with tools to make PBL a success in your own AP courses. Until then, start thinking about ways in which you can transform your traditional AP classes into project-based learning experiences.
BIE National Faculty