Friday, July 27, 2007

Advanced Placement Summer Institute for Pre-AP High School Math: A one day training dragged out for a week

Two weeks ago I attended the 2007 Advanced Placement Summer Institute, sponsored by the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg, TX. My department head told me this was one of the best professional development opportunities I would have for math, and so I attended the Pre-AP High School Mathematics course. With my department head's encouragement and my own natural curiosity, I was very excited to learn all sorts of dynamic new ideas for engaging Pre-AP students and challenging them to get to the next level.

After an intensive week-long institute, this is the only strategy I walked away with:
1. Go to the College Board's AP Central website (free registration required) or look through a Pre-Calc textbook.
2. Download Free-Response Questions from old Calculus AB and BC exams or pick out some open-ended questions from that textbook.
3. Rewrite the questions to be appropriate for your subject.
4. Repeat.
The whole process is very neatly summed up in an article called Adapting AP Mathematics Questions As a Pre-AP Strategy (from AP Central). There are various examples there; one for Algebra I or Geometry classes would be to take a Riemann sum problem, remove all the integral notation, and ask your students to find the area under the graph using rectangles. Basically you're keeping the graph or diagram and some of the original questions and tweaking it. That's it. This is the only thing we were shown how to do in FIVE DAYS.

If you're wondering how we managed to fill the week, our consultant (the most abhorrent word in education) gave us Pre-Calc and Calc questions and had us work them out in groups over and over again. He rarely even mentioned how we might adapt each of these problems--I think he just wanted us to practice our Calc, because that's all we did. Some of the other teachers I talked to were glad for the refresher, but I was so bored that when I finished Will Shortz's Simple Sudoku Volume 1, I started making my own sudoku puzzles to pass the time.

So we were shown only one actual teaching idea--not a complete lesson plan, nor something touching on multiple intelligences or Bloom's Taxonomy, nor any sort of guidance as to how to integrate this into an already overbooked curriculum. Is this all this guy does in his Pre-AP classroom--give his students enormously difficult problems and have them work in groups to solve them? My students' heads would explode (but probably not before mine)!

Do yourself a favor. If you are not required and don't need the professional development hours, skip this institute. Read the AP Central article above on adapting AP questions, borrow some Pre-Calculus and Calculus textbooks from your department, and then tell your district math coordinator that you just saved the district about \$500 per teacher as you are now qualified to teach your colleagues at a reduced rate. You'll be Teacher of the Year!!

Caveat: I realize some people may have had a more productive and fulfilling experience at one of these institutes. Please leave a comment or email me and I'll be happy to share it here.