For the past 12 years I have spent the first week of June with other geography teachers scoring the Advanced Placement Human Geography Exams. While many of my colleagues think I’m crazy to spend a week of my summer scoring tests, I quickly realized the opportunities available to teachers at the AP Reading won’t happen anywhere else. From the very first year I knew the experience of scoring hundreds of exams was the best thing I could have done for my students.
In my 25 years of teaching, the best professional development I’ve experienced has been at the AP Reading. The readers are made up of both college professors and high school teachers. As a high school teacher it is so valuable to have access to college professors who teach the college equivalent of our AP course. I have learned a great deal about content from these content experts over the years, especially about political geography, a weakness of mine. After my first reading, I came back and spend the rest of my summer rewriting my course based on what I had learned.
Many high school teachers are the only teacher of AP Human Geography at their school and the opportunity to talk and network with other AP Human Geography teachers is invaluable. My first reading I remember meeting Dan Snyder, who’s APHG website was a life-saver when I started teaching the course. I felt like I was meeting a celebrity. Twelve years and many, many conversations later, I consider Dan a valued colleague and friend.
Several years ago the reading leadership began to plan professional development events to fill the evening hours after the reading day ended. One night is devoted to meeting the Test Development Committee. Readers have the opportunity to ask questions of the committee on both the test and future changes of the course itself. Another night is reserved for a guest lecturer, usually a college professor specializing in a human geography topic. We have enjoyed talks on Defining the Midwest, Geographies of Home, Teaching About Population Growth and a very entertaining discussion on GeoInquiries by ESRI. The final PD night is a crowd favorite — The Night of the Round Tables. This event involves teachers and professors sharing lessons, activities, strategies and ideas that have worked in their classrooms. It is a collection of the best of the best and I always find ideas to take back to my classroom. This year there were 32 presenters. Some of my favorites this year were Using Inquiry Charts in AP Human Geography, Vocabulary Pyramids, Tips for Flipping Your Classroom and Energy Superheroes. You can find information on many of the presentations on Seth Dixon’s Geography Education site.
My APHG PLN grows every year I attend the reading. With nine people at each table spending 8 hours a day for 7 days together, we get to know each other pretty well. While we share about our families, hometowns and schools, we also spend a great deal of time talking about what we have the most in common — teaching AP Human Geography. Some of our topics of conversation this year during our downtime — Quizlet vs. notecards for learning vocabulary, department chair responsibilities in different districts, how to best prepare students for the AP exam, and pros and cons of different APHG textbooks. We also create resource lists of tried and true resources we use in our classrooms. It is from these lists that I have discovered many of the books, maps, video clips I use in my classroom today.
One perk of attending the AP reading is getting to hang out with #worldgeochat friends in the “real world”. This year I got to spend time with @GbhillNtx, @geopenny, @professordixon, @parkergeocat and @geogotti to name a few. It’s really cool when your online life and your professional life collide.
I look forward to the reading each year, not because I love reading hundreds of exams, but because I love the people. No where else can you find so many passionate geography teachers in one place. Teachers who are willing to share and collaborate. Teachers who give up a week of their summer so that they can become better teachers. Teachers who’s drive to improve their practice for their students is beyond compare. My wish is that every AP teacher would attend their subject’s reading at least once for the experience. You never know you just might enjoy it!