I'm concluding my first year teaching Caculus AB. The exam is two weeks from today.

It was a bit weird start to finish, there is a lot I want to fix.

The Bad

Teaching a course for the first time is overwhelming. Teaching something so trenched in tradition as an AP course even more so. In July I attended a week long orientation for new AP teachers and it was decidedly old school. Lots of fiddly TI-84 knowledge, handouts, and homework. And it's tough to argue with this approach. The leader of our workshop is incredibly well respected in the AP community and demonstrates results year after year.

Throughout the year I felt like I lectured way too much. But at the same time there is just so much fiddly stuff in this curriculum that it felt difficult not doing so. I also screwed up a lot or found myself overlooking details that became important later. For example, I had a big misfire with Riemann sums that I didn't notice until like, last week.

I had very little in the way of creative presentation. I had a couple of interesting ideas in the fall, but there was just nothing in the spring really. My current Calculus resources aren't much more than the assessments I gave. I felt rushed every day of the second semester and wrapped up the content over a week later than I wanted to. Our hybrid block bell schedule was a hinderance most of the time, but that's changing next year.

Assessment could have been better. Calculus is so much more conceptual than I thought and after January I felt like their grades in the course were completely irrelevant. I assigned homework 15 times. I have no clue if it was much use. I found the textbook of no use to the students other than for homework problems.

The big nagging issue is that AP Exam hanging over our heads. My school has no success in recent history. And I dislike teaching to a test as my main goal.

The Good

There are some things to celebrate. Low AP scores were one challenge, quitting was another. Varsity Math was a huge success. My Pre-Cal students are capital J Jealous. We have t-shirts, stickers, and 90 minutes of laser tag in the school cafeteria to prove it.

Speaking of Pre Cal, taking on PreAP Pre Cal offered dividends. Calculus numbers are higher for next year, and I know 95% of the kids on the list.

The idea of Throwback Thursday worked well. I kept that up (sometimes accidentally) all year long. A lot of the Calculus curriculum is putting new vocabulary to old math.

On the assessment front, increasing their exposure to College Board material seems like it's working. I gave a series of practice exams at the end of each grading period. Prior to Spring Break, they had a big one that helped me determine who could succeed on the real exam. The 25 of 50 who cleared that hurdle stand a fighting chance.

While I find teaching to the test a negative, I don't find the AP Exam to be a bad test. It is very concerned with concepts and vocabulary. I think there is a lot I can do differently to get the conceptual ideas across without overtly invoking the test as much. A lot of the high volume algebra that most instructors try to scare kids with really isn't present here. In fact, as a strategy that seems bad, it is way too easy to overthink what's required of you with this material, and overloading students with mountains of algebra and trig identities just makes them paranoid.

The Action

Discovering that focus on concepts got me thinking. Did I do enough to get them fluent in the concepts? During after school review sessions many students told me that they had no problem with the math, but couldn't get a handle on the vocabulary. The math really feels secondary in our preparations. The kids are kind of funny about it, they get mad that intimidating questions on differential equations boil down to Algebra 1 ideas.

But where do I go from here? I want to change a lot. I don't think my assessment strategy works in the second semester. I don't think we talked concepts enough. I did way too much talking. Stuff just took forever.

I intend for Calculus: Varsity Math Strikes Back to be an entirely different animal.

AuthorJonathan Claydon