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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Carlson

Six Tips for Teaching APES for the First Time

In Nov 2019, I told my principal that I wanted to add APES to our offerings. I was super excited to create a new course, and after many years of teaching AP Bio, I felt like APES would be cake (the content is easier!).

And then....COVID. It turned out that I now needed to create an entire new course while navigating virtual learning. We were constantly switching between in-person, virtual, was a terrible time to teach a new class. Nevertheless, I survived, and here is what I did to help me through- and even though it's not a crazy pandemic year (thank goodness), these things could be helpful to you, too.

1. Learn to say, "Good Enough."

I have been teaching since 2010. It took me TEN YEARS to learn to say this phrase. In the past, I strove for perfect lessons and perfect units. During COVID and creating this new course, there were times where I knew my lessons were crap, but they got the point across and my kids still learned- even if it wasn't the most engaging lesson of all time. I have applied this mindset to the new courses I've added since, and it's been life-changing.

2. Get to an APSI, if you can.

This may not be possible for everyone. But I was able to attend an APSI Summer Institute during the June or July of 2018. It was extremely helpful and really made a difference in learning the course and the material. If you are able to get to one, definitely do so. Get your school to pay for it- or apply for the scholarships (which I believe are usually due in April or May).

3. Follow the CED.

If you go to an APSI, you get a giant binder with the CED (course and exam description). If not, you can still access the PDF for free online here. This is your APES Bible! It has all the things you need to teach, and even provides ideas for instructional activities to engage your students. Some people go in their own order, but if it's your first year, I highly recommend just going in the order presented. I've been through the course 2x as I write this, and I really wish Unit 4 (Earth's History) was first- and you may hear others in FB groups say the same- but I'm lazy-ish (see #1) and just go with the flow as presented.

4. Find a pacing guide to help you stay on track and get ideas for materials.

When I first started, I SCOURED the internet for any sort of pacing that I could find. Personally, the feeling of teaching the class with pacing blindness (because you just don't know) is THE WORST FEELING EVER. I sought out documents from others to help me decide if I was behind, ahead, or on-track.

Because this is something that I would have wanted, here is my pacing guide. Even if you don't know what some of the specific items are along the way, you can simply use it to check what topic I'd be on at that specific time. After two iterations of the course, I'm very happy with my pacing.

And if you teach AP Bio, I PROMISE it's way easier to get through APES content than AP Bio content in the course of a year. (I'm in WI and by law, we can't start until after Labor Day- so many of you get 2+ weeks of content time on me. Plus we also have a crap ton of snow days, ugh. So yah, sometimes I struggle to get all my AP Bio in with enough time for review).

5. Ask, find, buy- you do not have to do this alone.

Know someone who teaches APES and you're struggling to find a resource? Ask them. I bet they'll be willing to share. Don't know someone? Look up teachers in nearby schools and reach out.

Join the National APES Teachers Facebook Group (or any other ones that are out there). There is a giant folder of shared resources that you can access for free. Ask questions, too! People here are super helpful.

When I was creating my course, I relied heavily on the items made by Kristi Schertz. Her website is so well-organized and her materials are high-quality. Thanks, Kristi, for getting me through!

Of course, TPT materials exist, too (cough cough shameless-self promotion). But you don't need to buy stuff (and if you do, ask your school if they will pay for it!!!). There is so much that is free if you search around online. You might have to modify the activity to make it work for you- or you might just have to say "eh, good enough"- but there are so many free things out there that can be useful.

6. Use AP Classroom if you have access.

If you have submitted a Course Audit that has been approved, you should have access to AP Classroom. This is an INVALUABLE resource!! I love the question bank and made short, 5-7 question question sets that I regularly assigned as homework. I also used it to formulate my quizzes and tests.

The other wonderful thing about APCL is the AP Daily videos. Remember #1? Sometimes you just need to get to "good enough." There were times when I just didn't have enough brain power to create a lecture. So I'd assign the video(s) for the topic to students to watch either during class or for homework. Some of the videos aren't my favorite, so sometimes I'd find an alternate on YouTube (a WOOHOO for videos by Mr. Smedes!) that I liked better.

Those are my top six tips for creating a new APES course at your school. Best of luck this school year- you got this!

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