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Topic tags: why PBL, how to do PBL, advanced placement


September 26, 2011
Can PBL be effective for Advanced Placement Courses?

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.



PBL in Advanced Placement Classes

AP courses are content heavy and are dictated by the College Board. Thus, teachers often find the most efficient way to "get through" the content is in the traditional lecture-style setting. AP veteran teacher and BIE National Faculty member, Dayna Laur, takes you through the process in which project-based learning allows your students to master AP content rather than merely memorize it. Strategies for maximizing student learning through project-based learning will be discussed, as will ways in which you can align College Board demands with 21st Century learning. Hear ideas on various projects for a variety of AP content areas and get ready to start implementing your own!


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