Using Blended Learning to Offer AP Courses
Guest post by Mark Steenstra, technology director at Calvin Christian School in Escondido, California
This school year Calvin Christian High School in Escondido, California, offered a new course, AP Computer Science. This was possible because we utilized the blended learning model.
I teach a variety of technology-related courses at Calvin Christian School, including Computer Programming. A few years ago, I discovered there were several students that desired to take AP Computer Science. Our school did not have the time or resources to establish a traditional AP Computer Science course, so I recommended that students take the class online. Finding a high-quality online course is difficult, and I confess the one I recommended had some shortcomings. Not that I took my recommendation lightly; in fact, I was directly impacted because my son was one of the students.
Observing and assisting my son with the course reminded me of some of the weaknesses of online courses, most of them having to do with communication and personal interaction. Simple questions require electronic messaging and the response time is unpredictable. Internet forums are no substitute for face-to-face discussions when students are having difficulties understanding tough concepts or even simply the requirements for an assignment. Without a personal presence to keep them accountable, it’s common for students to procrastinate and fall behind schedule.
Some online courses do a great job of negating these weaknesses. Unfortunately, I didn’t find Amplify’s AP Computer Science (users-mooc.amplify.com) until after my son completed the course. Amplify offers a student forum supported by several instructors to provide prompt feedback to questions. They also provide high-quality instructional videos created by Mrs. Dovi, who has been teaching AP Computer Science for years. But even better, they offer a blended learning option.
The blended learning option gives coaches (AKA teachers) access to the progress and performance of the students, supplemental resources, a special coaches’ forum, and training and support materials for coaches.
My request to the administration to offer a new AP course was accepted. We are a relatively small high school with only five other AP offerings. Adding another AP course was looked upon very favorably by both students and parents. There was no need to get college board approval; Amplify already did that. The additional teaching load was also less than a traditional course since there was no need to prepare the lesson and course materials or to do grading.
I decided to take the course online just as my students were. This gave me valuable insight into the problems my students were facing and enabled me to support them more effectively. Unless the course changes substantially, I should not need to take it again.
My blended learning AP Computer Science class meets together regularly during a designated period in our computer lab. I hold the students accountable. In fact, I found I needed to institute penalties for late work to motivate them to keep up. I review new assignments with the class and give students a chance to ask questions. I teach short lessons using the supplemental materials when I think they are needed. We have occasional class discussions where students answer questions and explain concepts to each other. Finally, I’m there to help students with their individual questions. I always have time to teach them one-on-one when they ask for it. That’s a luxury I don’t have in traditional classes.
We went down the blended learning path because it was the only way we could offer AP Computer Science this year. In hindsight, it may have been the best option regardless.
To connect with Mark Steenstra about this AP course or other digital learning happening at Calvin Christian, please email him at email@example.com.