For the past couple of years, I have asked graduates from Coppell’s IB Diploma Programme to advise the current seniors on issues that consistently cause them stress during their final year of high school: how to successfully complete all IB assignments, how to apply to college, how to apply for financial aid, and what life is like once they attend college. I do this because it means more to the seniors when this advice comes from people who have recently gone through those challenges successfully.
This year, I invited the IB graduates to do the same thing, and the response was overwhelming! A total of 51 graduates were willing to offer their time to speak to the seniors, even though they were finishing up their summers: some were working, some were packing and getting ready to head back to campus, and others were getting ready for their first year orientation activities.
Scheduling 51 people over the first six days of school was a challenge, but it worked out so that every period of IB math class had two or three speakers at the beginning and the end of class. This may seem excessive. At one point I even thought to myself: These seniors are going to hear the same thing from everybody over and over again.
Near the end I realized, if these seniors hear the same thing from everybody over and over again, it will be even better! It’s not just the top-ranked students or the most outgoing students that were successful, it was all of them! Not only that, they had all chosen different paths with different success stories that led them to their current situation. So the advice was not only consistent, but it went against everything they thought they knew about college.
Seniors have often been told that grades and GPA are the most important thing. They are also told that they should apply to the best schools, with Ivy League schools topping the list, in the country so that they can get good jobs after they graduate.
But the graduates told a much different story, and the story was always the same:
- When choosing colleges, choose your interest first. Then find schools that have reputable programs that match. Also find schools that match your personal preferences: small vs. large, local vs. out-of-state vs. international. It’s important to note that American colleges tend to be far more expensive than colleges overseas. It’s important to choose some reach schools, some state schools, and some safety schools. And take advantage of the College Visit days that the high school gives you to visit the campuses that interest you.
- Grades are not as important as you think. Colleges know how skewed those scores can be from high school to high school. So focus on the essay. This is the opportunity for you to talk about yourself, things that schools can’t find in your transcript or your resume. And be genuine. It is the job of admissions officers to read these essays, and they can tell when someone is trying to play the game by telling these officers what they might want to hear just to get in.
- IB students feel more ready for college than non-IB students. This is because IB students do so much writing, and are required to acquire service hours for their IB diplomas. As a result, when college professors require a similar level of writing, it’s a task that IB students are already familiar with. Some IB students even said that their freshman year of college was easier than their senior year of high school. IB students have also had more practice at managing their time and being self-motivated. So the adjustment to a situation where they are the only ones accountable for meeting multiple deadlines is an easy one.
- While many students received credit for their IB courses, the students didn’t use this as an opportunity to finish college early. Instead, they filled their years of study by learning things that they were interested in, even though they were not required for their degrees. College is the place to learn as much as you can, as much as you want, and to enjoy the process of learning.
- Some students changed majors when they realized their original choice wasn’t working out. But it gets more challenging as the years pass, since most majors have a list of that every student has to take.
- Internships are a valuable addition to the college experience. Internships lead to connections that lead to jobs after graduation from college. And sometimes those jobs will help pay for a postgraduate degree.
If students heard these tidbits from two or three graduates, they might dismiss them as being an exception or a special case that didn’t apply to the general population. But since they heard the same advice from 51 individual people, from different backgrounds, with a wide range of GPAs, attending dozens of different colleges, majoring in a spectrum of programs, at different stages in their post-secondary life, I believe the message has finally hit home. There is no guarantee that life after high school will go your way, but if you pursue your individual goals, seek out opportunities to learn more, advocate for yourself with your new peers and professors, and hold on to your personal integrity, things will work out better than you could have planned.
I eagerly await the opportunity to do this again next fall. The organization of times and technology was a burden, but to see the faces of my former students being successful adults, and to see the faces of my current students now excited for what’s ahead, the whole process was more than worth the effort.
Thank you to Ashna P., Holden B., Pam M., Akshaya S., Dev T., Jeanna C., Janet H., Maanas S., Sarah H., Dharshini S., Varshini S., Anjali N., Sai P., Veronica N., Lesley W., Saman H., Daniel C., Jia L., Wesley V., Isha K., Jonathan L., Maggie T., Mason E., Nadia M., Kyle W., Maggie L., Amruta D., Lauren H., Sadie H., Jasmine L., Rohin B., Keaton L., Carena T., Christina L., Jess H., Jess G., Alex R., Rachana M., Mio Y., Erin J., Michael S., Revant R., Adithya S., Matthew G., Natasha S., Clint B., Maria L., Shreya C., Dev C., Mubin P., and Ryan I., for volunteering your time to help out this year’s IB seniors. I know they truly appreciate it!
School is only days away, and my mind is already excited for the first day. I love meeting all of the young people I will be teaching and guiding over the next ten months. Any teacher will tell you, though, that the hardest part is learning all of their names and getting to know all of them individually, all while getting through the curriculum.
If you have been reading my blog, you know that I value relationships with students above all else. I use the Flipped Classroom model so that I can spend more face-to-face time with each student. And I use the First Five Days of school to teach perspective, compassion, and empathy, so that they can have meaningful relationships with others. Well, there’s more:
A few years ago, a colleague of mine developed a survey to give to students, in order to learn more about them: what they like to be called, what math course they took last year, what activities they are involved in, and what their personal interests are.
I used this survey for a few years, and this year, I decided to make my own. I asked a lot of the same questions, but added some new ones: what is your main goal for math class this year, and what is your greatest obstacle in math class. I send out the survey as a Google Form and use a spreadsheet to track the results.
This accomplishes a lot of things. First of all, it lets me know quickly the varying levels of math background the students already have. Specifically in my Calculus BC class this year, I noticed that while most students have finished Calculus AB, there was one student who took Pre-Calculus last year, and two who took Honors Algebra 2. So before the year begins, I already know I’m going to have some conversations with these students, and possibly their parents and counselors, to let them know the level of knowledge and rigor that is expected in Calculus BC. I also know that when certain Calculus topics come up that require skills that they were not exposed to, I will have to give them some resources to get them to the same level as their classmates.
I was also fascinated by their varying goals. Some were focused on grades and GPA, while others just want to learn calculus, or just enjoy math. Personally, it worries me when someone’s goal is grades or GPA – it’s like saying my goal in life is to have a lot of money – I worry that they don’t care how they accomplish that goal, even if it involves dishonesty. But I have to give them the benefit of the doubt: maybe they just haven’t really thought about what goals are supposed to look like. What I mean is, a goal should be to learn, whereas a high grade is a consequence of achieving that goal. Similarly, a worthwhile job is a goal, whereas money is a consequence.
As I look at the results, I now have a lot of information about my students before day one, which is to everyone’s advantage.
The survey itself is great, but I’m the only one who benefits if I stop here. So now comes the fun part. I write an email to each student and personally welcome him or her to my class. I comment on their responses, especially if we have something in common. For example, many of them are involved in a school music program, and I’ve been playing piano since I was 7. If we have nothing in common, I look for responses that I could talk to them about. Many of them are involved in activities outside of school that I know little to nothing about, and I want to learn. I tell them this in my message to them.
The whole process is very simple, and even though it takes time to write all of those emails, the student knows that he or she is a welcome and valued member of my class before walking into my classroom on the first day. The relationship has already begun and is already meaningful before we ever shake hands and say, “Good morning,” for the first time.
This is my seventh year implementing the Flipped Classroom model, and I don’t know why, but I feel more excited than usual about this new year.
Maybe it’s because I’ve moved to a new classroom. For the past several years, I’ve been in a hallway with my fellow IB teachers, but now I’ve moved back to the math hallway. I will definitely miss my IB colleagues, but I think it will be good for me to be around more people who can talk math with me. Also, it will be a chance for them to learn more about what we actually do in IB Math classes.
Maybe I’m excited because I just came back from presenting at my second conference this year. Earlier this year I presented on “The Flipped Classroom” and “The First Five Days” at the Common Ground conference in Ocean City, Maryland, and was well-received. Last week, I presented on the same topics, plus “Making Assessments Cheat-Proof,” at the Conference for the Advancement of Mathematics Teachers (CAMT) in Houston, Texas, and the response was amazing! The first session was three-quarters full and the other two were completely full! After the conference, I received multiple emails asking me to share my resources (which I gladly did).
Or maybe I’m excited because, while keeping all of my IB Math classes, I’ve gone from teaching Algebra 1 to teaching AP Calculus BC this year. It’s been a while since I’ve taught Calculus, but there are a lot of the same concepts in my IB Math courses. There are just a few lessons that I need to brush up on, and then I’ll be fine.
As far as flipping goes, I will still do that in my IB classes, because that continues to be successful. I think I will use this year to make my classes more asynchronous and mastery-based, but I know I will have to teach the students how to manage their independence. I still start the year keeping everybody on the same lesson on the same day, and then as the year progresses, assign firm deadlines but give more freedom as to how they get there.
I don’t feel comfortable flipping Calculus yet, especially since it’s my first year. But I will use this year to see which IB videos and activities I can directly transfer to the Calculus classes. Then next summer I can craft the necessary playlists for those classes.
Again, I don’t know why I’m excited. I think it’s because I get to work with more of those precious seniors than usual. Yes, I look forward to teaching them mathematics. But more importantly, I hope I can gradually build their sense of integrity and character, and give them a sense of assurance that life after high school will be okay.