Running to Improve My AP Scores

When my students returned after winter break, I issued a challenge for all of them to take the AP exam on May 8 and explained that I would be challenging myself by preparing to run a 5k next fall.  If you knew how spectacularly un-athletic I am, you would realize how truly daunting a task I have set for myself.  I showed the kids a photo of myself on the first day I attempted to run around the elementary school track near my house, resplendent in my new running shoes.  The second photo showed me prone on the ground a short while later.  I am happy to report that I have been walking and running pretty consistently over the last three months and have improved tremendously.  I don’t think Usain Bolt has anything to worry about YET.  Teachers do all kinds of crazy things to inspire their students and I think it’s important to think about how the things that we do can impact student performance.

1.  We are role models.  If we want our students to be risk takers who are willing to take a challenging exam, even when there is a chance of not doing well, then we need to show we are willing to do the same.  Taking on difficult tasks (that some of my students might find easy) shows that I am more like them than they might think.

2.  Setting specific and measurable goals.  On May 9, I have promised the students I will run around the track at the high school to celebrate the completion of their AP exam on May 8.  They ask me often how my running is going and I am happy to report my very incremental improvement.  I have now reset my goal to run around the track TWICE.  As they take their AP practice exams, I ask each of them to set a personal goal to improve over their previous performance or to beat the average on the free response questions.  They seem to enjoy working toward those definite goals and try to help one another improve.  They compete against themselves rather than against one another.

3.  All difficult tasks require stamina and determination that can carry over to other difficult tasks.  As I was running the other night, I was thinking about the importance of positive self-talk.  When I am running, I will tell myself “this is difficult, but you can do it” or near the end of my run “just keep going!”  Today, just before students started their practice tests, I passed out post-it notes and asked them to write themselves a message to inspire them to keep going when the test got hard.  I was fascinated by what they wrote:  “Si, se puede!”  “You are smart.  Now prove it.”  “College credit.”  “Make your father proud.”  I plan to tape the notes up on an unused chalkboard in my room.

4.  Fun matters.  Students appreciate it when they see their teachers doing goofy things to inspire them.  It makes them want to work harder.  I have a good friend in Houston who allows his students to shave a representation of a 5 into his hair (dyed blue, the school color) every year prior to the AP exam.  He has had a mohawk with five spikes, an outline of a hand with five fingers spread out, a roman numeral V, etc.  As much as I want to work hard this spring and have the students work hard toward their goal of doing well on the AP exam, I want them to have a good time and enjoy the spring of their senior year.  If laughing a little bit at my expense lessens the stress of studying, then that’s fine.

5.  Success can be measured in many different ways.  Running a 5k seems like an almost impossible task to me at this poing, just as earning a 5 on the AP exam seems almost impossible to some of my students.  I need to keep working toward that goal though.  If I fall short, as some of my students will as well, I will still be far better off for having tried than if I had maintained my couch potato ways.  The process of preparing for and taking the AP exam is important in and of itself, regardless of what score is earned.  I have told the kids that I will never win a trophy or medal for running.  When I get that finishers’ ribbon at the end of the 5k, I am going to be incredibly  proud of myself.  I want my students to feel that same pride when they walk out of the testing room on May 8.

The AP exam is just over a month away.  If you have interesting ways that you inspire your students to study and do well, send me a comment and I will publish it!  Keep running toward your goals and enjoy the terrain along the way.



2 Responses to “Running to Improve My AP Scores”

  1. Krista Willertz Says:

    I have four unit tests during the year (one for each big idea). We have quick quizzes almost every day, but these four tests are a culmination of knowledge and are a pretty big deal. To help reduce stress regarding these tests, I’ve created (with the inspiration of many others, of course) a “Fear Factor” review that we do the day before the test. We get into 4-5 teams and go through multiple choice questions similar to what they will see on the test. Every team answers each question (on a piece of paper – they submit their responses to me after each question) and if a team gets a question wrong, they have a chance to earn their point back by completing a “challenge.” Challenges are where I have the most fun! I’ve brought in Durian fruit, clam juice, octopus, etc. for them to consume. Other challenges include going to another class and performing an embarrassing task such as singing a song dressed in an ugly dress, asking for a piece of gum, chewing crackers and having to whistle, etc. I have TONS of fun creating the challenges and the students have fun watching each other complete the challenge. The winning team earns 5 bonus points (and we all know how AP students love bonus points). It is the only time I give bonus points during the year so the competition is fierce. I love Fear Factor days and the students love having fun watching their peers slam a bottle of clam juice (quite difficult by the way – it tastes horrid!).

    • apleadteacher Says:

      I love this idea! Thanks for sharing. I think it’s important to do fun stuff as the AP exam gets closer and kids are stressed out by all of the studying, end of year senior events, etc. Tomorrow, my BC students are starting their last topic of the year (Polars) so I am having a polar party after we finish the first part of the notes and serving ice cream floats. Also plan to crank up the airconditioner to make the room a little colder than usual. Wish I had a parka to wear, but central Texans don’t have that type of winter gear! Hey readers, what fun ideas to you use in your AP classes to keep the kids motivated and enjoying this final push toward the AP exam?

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