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Stumped by AP calculus? Click on Davidson College’s online help

CMS teachers, including Kevin Patterson of North Mecklenburg High (center), have been working with Davidson professors since 2013 to create online lessons on the toughest concepts in AP calculus, physics and macroeconomics.
CMS teachers, including Kevin Patterson of North Mecklenburg High (center), have been working with Davidson professors since 2013 to create online lessons on the toughest concepts in AP calculus, physics and macroeconomics. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Davidson College is out to make the planet a bit smarter – or at least more successful on Advanced Placement calculus, physics and macroeconomics exams.

The edX High School Initiative just started offering free online lessons on the concepts most likely to trip up high school students who tackle these brain-busting college-level tests. The interactive lessons were designed by Davidson professors, with teachers and students from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools as guinea pigs.

While the Internet teems with online lessons, it’s hard to find ones that match the AP curriculum and the College Board’s exams, said Bruce Bacon, an AP calculus teacher at South Mecklenburg High.

The videos created by Davidson professors “hit the sweet spot,” he said.

While anyone can use the lessons, they’re designed to bolster the work of classroom teachers. Even the best teachers can struggle to teach the material, and some schools don’t have teachers with the advanced knowledge needed.

The goal is to ensure all students a shot at mastering the high-demand skills and earning good enough scores to get college credit.

The Davidson team has been working with edX, a nonprofit site that offers free online classes, and the CMS volunteers for two years. A $1.8 million grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation in Houston covered most of the development costs.

Other schools also got involved. For instance, Stephanie Vanderford of Charlotte’s private Providence Day School led a demonstration video on macroeconomics.

Individual students can use the “Davidson Next” lessons, but the push is to get teachers to incorporate them into AP classes. The state of North Carolina, in partnership with the College Board, will promote the option for rural schools that may need the support, said Pat Sellers, vice president for strategic partnerships at Davidson College.

Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX, said the lessons are likely to be used around the world. His site has served 5 million students with college and high school courses, he said, and 70 percent live outside the United States.

“There’s been a huge demand for content of this sort,” Agarwal said.

Bacon said he’ll work the online reinforcement into his lesson plans this year. “Any time that we can kind of spice things up a little bit, it’s a good thing,” he said.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

Ready to study?

Go to www.edx.org and search for “Davidson Next.” Courses are free but registration is required.

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