Advanced Placement classes are hard.
It’s true. They’re rigorous and overwhelming, forcing students to take a second glance at every topic, dig through it and come to complex conclusions while still expressing themselves coherently. The work is college level; any kid who takes an A.P. exam shortly before taking the SOL will tell you the second test is a breeze.
My A.P. History teacher, the great Judy Abbott, made our class practice answering a data-based question on every test we took. The exercise taught us how to make an argument, back it up and pack in as much detail as possible without losing steam. It wasn’t easy, but practicing for a year certainly took the edge off when it came time to write an essay for the actual test.
I did not, however, do so hot on the multiple choice portion of the test. I don’t remember much, but I remember many of the questions pertained to the settling of the West, the construction of the railroad and other things that just didn’t interest me. I couldn’t seem to recall who did what and when. That’s where I could have used A.P. Boot Camp.
When Tabb High School AP teachers Melinda Sloan and Linnea Terndrup noticed students weren’t performing as well on the tests as they did in class, they decided to place more emphasis on developing study methods that work. They created A.P. Boot Camp, a three-day afternoon camp in August devoted to teaching study skills. It was built on foundations first taught in after-school sessions during the regular school year, but incorporated more engaging activities and offered assistance with summer assignments. Those after-school sessions, held in the auditorium, attracted an average of 300 students per session.
The camp was specifically targeted to students who were new to A.P. classes. The three-day coursework included lessons on how to approach multiple-choice questions, essay writing basics, tips for success in math and science, how to build one’s vocabulary and perhaps most importantly, how to study.
At the end of the three days, students completed “final inspection” projects that demonstrated a “thorough understanding” of A.P. skills, outstanding creativity and team work, attention to detail and quality and pride in one’s work. The students could create a booklet for future A.P. students to use; create a tips and tricks website; write a parody song as a memorization tool; prepare and perform a five-minute skit; create an A-B-C book; create a collage or mosaic; design a museum exhibit; create a series of posters about study skills; or create a product of the students’ choosing.
In a video shown to the York County School Board on Monday, students shared testimonials about the boot camp. One said just reading the material is not the best way to study; another said she learned to read in small sections, then close the book and write everything she remembered. All of them mentioned new ways they learned to study, skills that will help them long after their last A.P. classes. Last year’s campers will take their first A.P. social studies tests this coming week.
The camp also created a sense of familiarity between the students and teachers – an added benefit, Sloan says. “It’s been fun to watch them. Those kids will take the lead, explaining and elaborating in class,” she says. “The camp did build a lot of working relationships with the kids that we really needed connections with.”
Since last summer’s A.P. camp, the teachers have continued to host after-school refresher sessions, and have created podcasts about study skills. This August, they’ll host A.P. Boot Camp 2010, which will incorporate skills from other A.P. courses. More than 60 students signed up to attend the first camp, but the teachers had to cap the enrollment at 30 students. This year, they hope to expand the offerings to more students, Sloan says.