Lighthouse Initiative for Texas Classrooms

The Role of Middle School in the Advanced Placement Program*

Sometimes I wonder who is more challenged in the Pre-AP* mathematics program—the teacher or the students. The Pre-AP mathematics program begins in middle school and targets students who are ready for a more rigorous curriculum than is normally taught. The Pre-AP courses these students take should prepare them for the subsequent high school courses that lead to AP* Calculus or AP Statistics.

I began teaching 6th grade Pre-AP mathematics in the fall of 1995. Initially, I believed instruction merely involved moving through the prescribed curriculum at an accelerated pace. The Pre-AP curriculum at the middle school level needs to cover the TEKS for grades 6-8, the standards for Pre-Algebra and the Algebra I TEKS. I soon realized that racing through the curriculum with no additional depth leads to frustration as well as an absence of meaningful learning. It has been a challenge for me to re-evaluate how I teach mathematics. I must present problems in ways that inspire students, cover several TEKS or topics in one lesson, and broaden learning beyond the grade 6 accelerated curriculum.

Rigorous and high standards upheld in a supportive environment are the hallmarks of a good Pre-AP program. Building a strong foundation in the early Pre-AP classes leads to success in AP classes. My connection with a vertical team in my school district, attending Pre-AP conferences, and my work with the Lighthouse Initiative for Mathematics Classrooms has been instrumental in helping me understand how best to challenge my students. I have used several modified calculus and statistics problems in my classes with much success. My students' excitement about being able to do such work is inspiring. I frankly have been amazed at how well they do and how much learning goes on when class activities apply to their lives. I have also found that not just Pre-AP classes, but all classes, have had some of the same successes with the activities and enjoyed the challenge of exploring these topics. I believe teaching Pre-AP mathematics has made me a better teacher in all of my classes.

The Pre-AP experience often presents a struggle that bewilders parents and students. In the NAASP Bulletin (February 1997), Suzanne Sutton commented that

“Struggling in mathematics is not the enemy, any more than sweating is the enemy in basketball; it is part of the process, and a clear sign of being in the game. Mathematics asks our students to think in ways they are not used to . . . A rigor of thinking and clarity of expression is demanded that will stretch them beyond familiar styles.”

We, as educators, play a significant role in communicating with students, parents, and the community about the value of the struggle. The “no effort A” is not enough. It is the struggle to go that extra step that teaches the discipline of perseverance—a discipline so needed by our students in schoolwork and in life activities. The maturity level of some students often prevents them from entering the Pre-AP program in the 6th grade, but a strong regular education curriculum will allow movement of students to Pre-AP mathematics classes in a later grade. Students, parents, and teachers at all grade levels should be fully aware of the multiple avenues of access to the AP program.

I believe a challenging Pre-AP program sets goals for students, something missing in many of their lives. It is fulfilling for me as a teacher to see students walk into class, get excited about mathematics, and connect with the learning process. All mathematics teachers at the middle school level have a challenge before them. They must prepare students for higher education and in such a way that it will also prepare them to become lifelong learners and contributors to society. The Pre-AP program provides tools that teachers can use in meeting this challenge and a framework that will help them to improve their instruction for all students.

Donna Enochs