Monday, June 6, 2016

Keeping Students Engaged After the AP Test

By: Dan Saken

There is such a feeling of finality once students take the AP test in a given class, for both students and teachers.  So how do you convince students to stay bought in and engaged for the month or so left of school that follows AP testing?  MOVIES!!!!.....just kidding (mostly).  Showing movies are great to allow students to decompress from the work that went into preparing for the test (I showed 2 of them in class).  But I noticed that most students were looking at their phone screens more than the movie screen by Movie #2.   While the students may say all they want to do is watch movies, it seemed that my students secretly were yearning for something that required them to do more than just have a pulse. 

My experience and what worked in my class is probably quite different than other classes because:
     a)    AP Psych has a majority of seniors, which is a different kind of beast (battling senioritis, students absent for other AP tests or activities, etc.)
     b)   Our AP test is the first day of AP week, so we have more time following the test than others may


I did a few other things in the first couple of weeks after the test with surveys, reflections, letters, etc., but I took the second-to-last week for seniors and decided to make it an “Activity Week.”  Besides the obvious idea of having fun, it was also important to me that the activities still connected to Psychology in some way.  It was also important that each activity be something that could be done in one day; a “quick-hitter” that held their attention just long enough before the interest wore off.  Here is what the week looked like (and I’ll attempt to hold back on the Psych jargon):

MondayThe Depth Perception Experiment
We do a unit on Sensation & Perception that includes how we perceive our world using depth perception from both eyes or just one eye, so this fit perfectly.  The great thing about this activity was the weather cooperated and we could do the experiment outside.  Students got in teams of 3-4 to conduct an experiment on a person’s ability to catch a tennis ball with one hand (Thanks PE department!)  They were thrown the ball 10 times with both eyes open, then 10 times with only one eye open and were asked to record the data.  The students were very competitive, wanting to do well and genuinely seemed to enjoy the process.  In our debriefing once everyone was done, we were able to calculate the mean, median, and mode, discuss the independent and dependent variables, brainstorm possible confounding variables, and more ideas that directly pertain to the Psych material we learned.  And they definitely learned that it is much easier to catch a ball coming at you with both eyes tracking the ball.

Tuesday – The Quotes Project
We once again took advantage of the weather outside because the project could be done from anywhere that had Wi-Fi.  Each student chose a famous psychologist we covered in class to create a single slide/poster with a picture, dates of life, perspective in psychology, and a quote from him or her.  I did make it worth points, though not enough to make much difference on their grade and said they would present it to the class on Thursday.  I attempted to motivate them even more by saying if their slide was excellent, I planned on making a poster from it to hang in my room next year and I’d place their name under it. Presentations on Thursday!


Wednesday – The Marshmallow Challenge
Students were placed in teams of 4-5 people to compete in a teambuilding activity that focused on their ability to be creative and use divergent thinking.  They were given spaghetti, tape, string, a marshmallow and 18 minutes to build the tallest structure possible that could stand on its own with the marshmallow on top (and create a team name).  Once again, I found the students incredibly engaged and working together to find solutions to this admittedly silly challenge while still being able to connect the lessons from the activity to psychological concepts.



Thursday – Quotes Project Presentations
Students were given the floor to project their slide up on the screen for the class to see and present their psychologist and his or her quote.  I obtained some phenomenal, poster-worthy material that I will definitely be putting up in my room and every student in class got their moment in the spotlight (whether they wanted it or not), receiving a one-clap from the class for their efforts.  Only 3-4 did not complete it out of my 70 students, which I was incredibly pleased with….and I got some new classroom decorations in the process!



Friday – Senior “Absentee” Day
I didn’t have an activity planned for this day….for obvious reasons :).

The feedback I got from students when I asked them about the week was overwhelmingly positive, with most students saying they were open to doing more.  One thing that I strongly believe helped in the success of the activities was that each activity was really a One-Day thing.  If I tried to do an extended assignment of some kind, I don’t think it would have been nearly as successful in keeping the students engaged throughout.  I already have more ideas for next year, but I also hope I can incorporate some of these types of activities into the regular curriculum as a change of pace and opportunity for application of what they’ve learned.  Because in case you didn’t know, “Psych is Life.”

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