Sari Beth Rosenberg preps her students for the AP US History exam remotely.
Coronavirus AP Test Prep, Online Teaching and HIIT Workouts
It was Friday, May 15 at 1:05 p.m. As usual, the majority of my students had the video feature disabled on Google Meet. However, the faces that I could see were tense. In less than an hour they would be taking the 2020 AP U.S. History exam. As they prepared to write about history (in a 45-minute essay), they were also getting ready to be a part of history. This was the first year ever that the College Board AP exams were being conducted online.
We had been reviewing for what felt like the majority of remote learning with practice essays and videos. Yet this was no longer a drill. It was time for the test.
Whenever I prepare students for standardized tests, I draw from my roots as a student-athlete in high school and college. So when I detected their collective pre-exam jitters, my instinct was to have them try a technique I often used on race day. (Shout-out to the Summit High School Hilltoppers and the Columbia University Lions!)
Read Sari Beth's first blog in this series.
Test Prep: Shaking off the Jitters
I had everyone breathe in for five seconds and then breathe out for five seconds for multiple rounds.
“Breathe in…breathe out. Breathe in…breathe out.” (Even writing those words calms me down.)
My students seemed much more relaxed after our yoga breathing exercise.
Then I told them the following:
- You have worked really hard all year.
- You prepared as best as you could within the challenging circumstances of remote learning and a global pandemic that has hurt our city, New York City, the most.
- One 45-minute test will never appropriately assess the breadth and depth of your knowledge of American History.
- Test prep has mostly been a tool to focus our attention during quarantine.
- A score of 4 or 5 on the exam (the score that most colleges accept for college credit) would merely be icing on the cake.
Back in the day, training for a race felt the same as studying for a high-stakes test. When I stood at the starting line waiting for the gun to fire, I would reflect on all my training and preparation. At that point, aside from my mindset, the results of the race were out of my control.
In many ways, test day is the same as race day. My students had already put in the work. The rest was out of their control: what writing prompt and documents they would receive, any unexpected interruptions at home while taking the exam or even trouble uploading their exam.
As I reflected on how my training as an athlete influences the way I teach, my friend and historian Dr. Natalia Mehlman Petrzela shared the article with me, “5 Steps to Stay Focused When Teaching Online” by Rae Ringel, Brian Tarallo and Lauren Green in Harvard Business Publishing.
It turns out that my instincts were on point about the intersection of efficient training methods and effective pedagogy. The article reviews the book The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. Loehr and Schwartz make the case that the same ideology behind a HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout can be applied to effective teaching:
“If balancing rest and movement supports healthier bodies, it can also help our mental focus and attention. Short intervals of a complex work or learning task followed by periodic breaks ensure that when we re-engage, we are cognitively ready to give our best effort to our work.”
The focus in this article is on online learning, but I think this method can be applied to classroom learning as well.
Now that students have completed the AP exam, we are going to do a unit on the 1960s to the present. We will go over key events and I will select films for students to watch to apply their historical understanding and knowledge. However, I plan on being more strategic about trying out how the HIIT workout class model can be applied to online learning. I am going to start thinking about my lessons as intervals with rest, warm-up and cool-down, moderate activity and intense activity. In some ways, I might already be instinctively following this model.
Note: When we were in the classroom I did find ways to integrate fitness into class. Fridays became APUSH-UPS FRIDAYS, when students could participate in a push-ups warm-up at the beginning of class. For example, one day we did a push-up for every president we had learned.
In the meantime, I am relieved that the exam and the test prep and drills are over. Just as I looked forward to off-season training when I could take to the open road without a race day in sight, it will be a joy to return to studying history just for the fun of it.