What Makes AP Courses So Important?

ap logo2It used to be enough for graduates to have all A’s on their high school transcripts to be admitted to highly selective colleges. Not any more! Now the top college-bound students must also demonstrate they have challenged themselves with rigorous Advanced Placement (AP) courses that teach college-level material in high school. Some high schools also offer International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, which are considered even more rigorous college-level courses than AP.  

This emphasis on academic challenge is meant to help students prepare for the demanding workload they’ll face in college. Rigor is commonly measured by the number of AP and/or IB courses they take in high school. Some experts say this focus on rigor is taking a heavy emotional toll on students, causing some to “collapse on the treadmill trying to keep up.” As recently reported in Inside Higher Ed, students often feel pressure to pass up other valuable educational experiences just so they can take more AP courses. It is not uncommon for some colleges to require as many as 6-8 AP courses during the high school career, mostly in 11th and 12th grades. You might expect these high demands from the Ivy League schools, but Georgia Tech and UGA also have high expectations.

There are over 30 AP courses offered in high schools in the arts, English, history, math, sciences and world languages. AP is a trademark of College Board, the same folks who bring us the SAT and PSAT exams. Each year in May, there are 30+ AP exams scheduled at schools over a two-week period. Click here for the 2018 AP exam schedule.

The AP exams are usually two to three hours long with multiple-choice questions and free response (typically essay) questions. The scoring scale is from 1 to 5, with 5 as the top score. Some colleges allow students to get credit for a college course if they score 4 or 5 on an AP exam. In more cases, colleges use AP scores as guidelines for placement, waiving prerequisites and allowing students to start advanced courses sooner.

At Dogwood, we help AP and IB students with one-on-one tutoring throughout the school year to stay on top of the challenging curriculums. Our expert tutors also help students prepare for each May exam by prioritizing and reviewing the topics covered. And we teach key test-taking strategies to approach the AP/IB exams more methodically. Using practice tests and other materials, we provide valuable review and practice exercises to prepare students for test day.

Click here for the 2018 AP exam schedule and IB exam schedule. Call Dogwood today at 678-735-7555 to help your student get ready for the AP and IB exams in May. Customized tutoring in our professional learning center, seven days a week by appointment.

ADHD: What Every Parent NEEDS to Know

Let’s start with a clarification. ADHD is a medical condition, not a personality flaw. Just as you need to be aware of, monitor, and support any other medical condition your child might have, the same is true of ADHD. Here’s why:

A child who isn’t paying attention, isn’t learning

Even if your younger child is managing now, you will find that as they progress in school and the workload gets greater, what was once manageable through some extra time on homework or parent support, is no longer sustainable. It’s like the old saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Only in the case of a child who has ADHD, “You don’t know if you don’t know what you missed.”

Unidentified ADHD impacts social skills, particularly in girls

Ever hear the words “flighty” or “spacey” to describe a child? Chances are, she was a bright girl with ADHD who was overloaded. Imagine the impact on a child’s self-esteem when instead of supporting her when she needs help, we laugh it off to a character flaw. It might at least partially explain the under-diagnosis of girls with ADHD.

Consider the ADHD reality. Boys with ADHD are more likely to run around and play sports during recess. A recommended strategy to support ADHD. What about girls? They are far more likely to walk and talk, just the opposite of the type of mental health break a girl with ADHD probably needs. And when she misses part of the conversation, her friends get mad thinking: She doesn’t care, doesn’t listen, and never remembers what we tell her. As a result, if a girl doesn’t know how to cope with her attention needs, it could impact her friendships.

Unsupported ADHD can lead to risky behaviors

stop buttonKids with weaker attention tend to have more cognitive difficulty controlling their impulses. It’s not that they are any less aware of the consequences, but everyone, especially teens, contemplates taking risks. The problem is that kids with ADHD are more likely to take the risk. Let’s just say their “stop button” often doesn’t work as effectively without training. Unsupported ADHD is linked to behavior problems in school, eating disorders, dangerous and distracted driving, addiction, and earlier sexual activity.

What’s Next?

  1. Don’t assume your school will alert you. Remember, ADHD is a medical condition. So while asking the school to help you identify if your child shows signs of ADHD is a legal right, the teachers and support team at school might not recognize your child’s struggles.
  2. Don’t jump to conclusions. There probably isn’t a parent alive who hasn’t at one time or another wondered if their child has ADHD. Every child can show symptoms. Only a professional using an objective measurement tool is qualified to tell you if your child has ADHD. Don’t make assumptions, but do seek out expert help if you have concerns.
  3. Consult a professional. A psychologist, psychiatrist or pediatrician who specializes in ADHD is the best path to an accurate diagnosis and a comprehensive support plan. Of course, this is also expensive, and depending on where you live and the time of year, potentially a long wait.
  4. Use an Attention Screener. If you’re uncomfortable talking to the school and not yet ready for an outside professional, consider an objective screening tool to understand if your concerns are well-founded. Parent observation checklists are a good start. Child Mind Institute’s symptom checker and Understood.org’s Checklist of ADHD symptoms are two options. Ultimately, you will want an objective test. Mindprint’s free objective attention screening test is similar to the type used in some doctors’ offices.
  5. Begin supporting your child. Having difficulties with attention doesn’t equate to needing medicine. However, it does equate to having strategies to support time management, focus, and organization. Fortunately, most of the strategies for supporting students with ADHD will help all students. They are just a necessity for students with ADHD. ADDitude, Understood, and Mindprint all provide free strategies to support attention.

Guest Blog by:  Mindprint Learning

How To Navigate a Gap Year

Illustration depicting a roadsign with a gap year concept. Blue sky background.

A College Application Guide for Gap Year Students

By Kyle DeNuccio — New York Times  April 6, 2017

Applying to college is onerous enough. Asking to defer enrollment for a year can be even more intimidating. Here’s how to navigate the gap-year process.

When to Apply to College

Delay freshman year, not your application. Students interested in a year off should still apply to college their senior year of high school, advises Michele Hernández, co-president of Top Tier Admissions and a former admissions officer at Dartmouth. It ensures that you’ll have access to your school’s resources and won’t be bogged down with applications and standardized testing during a year that may include travel abroad.

“You’d be surprised how quickly your high school forgets you,” Dr. Hernández said. “It’s really hard to go back and ask for teacher recommendations and the other materials you might need after a year has passed.”

It’s also a good idea to keep options open should plans suddenly change. You might not get that internship or job you were counting on, or you might get into a college with even better options for a bridge year, like the tuition-free international program at Princeton or Tufts’ “1+4” program, offering both national and international service opportunities.

When to Ask for a Gap Year

Harvard has long encouraged applicants to consider a year off, but that won’t increase your chances of getting in. While more and more institutions are seeing value in a gap year, it’s better to inform them of your intentions after you’ve been accepted.

 “It might work against you because admissions’ priority is filling that year,” Dr. Hernández said. “They don’t know what the next year is going to look like.”

If your plans have merit — education, work or service components — they are likely to agree. But, she said, “depending on what you’re going to do, a gap year can be viewed as slightly frivolous. So that’s why I say, get in first and then propose an idea.”

If a college has no gap year program, write to the admissions director before deposits are due. Describe plans for the year ahead, and ask whether time off will affect any scholarships the school has offered for freshman year.

Where to Find Resources

USA Gap Year Fairs organizes events where students can hear about an array of programs and speak with professionals in the field: 39 were held this winter; a list of locations for 2018 will be published in the fall (usagapyearfairs.org). The American Gap Association accredits independent programs that offer skills- or service-based learning experiences. It maintains lists of the programs, which run a few weeks to a year, and their scholarships, as well as university policies on deferring enrollment (www.americangap.org).

The association tracked $2.8 million in need-based support for gap year programs in 2015. Some universities even provide funding for service-based experiences. Florida State University offers $5,000 gap year fellowships, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offers fellowships of $7,500, with a focus on students from rural school districts in the state.

Chapel Hill is impressed with the results.

“Students in the gap year fellowship don’t struggle like other freshmen do with the transition into college,” said Richard Harrill, who helped design the program. Instead, he said, participants “become even more intellectually hungry.”


Can You Prevent Math Anxiety?

Fending Off Math Anxiety

By Perri Klass, M.D.  —  New York Times  April 24, 2017

Stressed High school or college Latina female student sitting by the desk at math class. Blackboard with complicated advanced mathematical formals is visible in background

My mother was what we would now call math anxious, if not phobic. My daughter, on the other hand, was a math major, which always left me feeling like the transitional generation, capable of mastering standardized-test math problems and surviving college calculus (it’s one of the pre-med requirements) but never really connecting to the beauty or power of the subject.

So when I hear people talk about lack of self-confidence when it comes to numbers or intense math anxiety, I always think first of my mother, a college English professor who was terrified by the idea of calculating a 10 percent tip, and desperately grateful to leave it to any grandchild at the fourth grade level or beyond. (Little did my Depression-era mother know that I had taught her grandchildren to jack up the tips to 15 percent; it would never have occurred to her that anyone would willingly undergo both a slightly more difficult arithmetic problem and a slightly higher cost.)

New research shows that math anxiety is by no means an American problem, and is found in countries where students regularly outperform us in math skills. In a recent study, researchers from the University of Chicago looked at data from 64 countries participating in the Program for International Student Assessment, which tests 15-year-olds in math, science and reading skills.

“Math anxiety is prevalent all around the world,” said Julianne Herts, a study author and a doctoral student at the University of Chicago who works in cognitive psychology. “If you look within Japan, students in Japan who are math anxious aren’t scoring as well at math,” she said. “If you look between countries, countries where more students experience math anxiety tend to underperform.”

So does being “bad at math,” whatever that is, make you anxious, or does being anxious make you bad at math?

“There’s increasing reason to believe it’s a bidirectional relation,” said Alana Foley, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago in developmental psychology, who was the first author of the study. “Poor performance in math can lead to math anxiety, but there are also studies that point in the other direction; if you have math anxiety it disrupts your concentration.”

Even students who score high on math tests can feel a special worry around this subject, Dr. Foley said. Among high-performing students, she said, “math anxiety takes a bigger bite out of their performance.”

Other researchers involved in the study traced math anxiety back further into early childhood. Sian Beilock, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago and the author of the book “Choke,” about performance and pressure, said that math anxiety “oftentimes relates most strongly to the performance of those kids who want to do well, who tend to be high achieving in school.”

A couple of years ago, Dr. Beilock and her colleagues published an article showing that parental math anxiety could be transmitted to children (you can take a test based on the assessment they used, to look at your own level of math anxiety). “The moral of the story is that parents likely play an important role, either for the positive or the negative,” she said.

There has been some overlap demonstrated between math anxiety and other more general types of anxiety, especially related to test-taking, but math anxiety seems to exist as a separate phenomenon; studies have shown increased heart rates when people were tested on math, but not on other subjects.

One problem is that we tend to believe with math that you either have the ability or you don’t, rather than assuming that your skills and abilities are the result of study and practice. “It’s an interesting phenomenon in our culture to hear highly intelligent people bragging about not being good at math, not being numbers people,” Dr. Beilock said.

Dr. Susan Levine, chairwoman of the department of psychology at the University of Chicago, agreed: “An educated person doesn’t go around saying, I’m not a reading person.”

Researchers believe that the skills — and the anxiety — are actually shaped even before children start formally learning math.

Dr. Levine said, “a lot of my work starts in the preschool years with the thesis that math learning begins at home.” Math skills at kindergarten entry, she said, predict not only later math achievement but also other important skills, including reading. “There’s some research out there that shows that when kids enter the kindergarten door behind in math, it’s hard to close the gap,” she said.

So what are those crucial math skills in early childhood? Dr. Levine said that although many preschool children know how to count, they don’t necessarily understand the meaning of the number words. By the time children are around 2, “They can recite the count list up to maybe 10,” she said, but “they don’t understand that the last number you reach is the set size; they don’t connect the counting” to the total. With children from 2½ to 4, “parents are often shocked when we bring kids into the lab,” she said. “They know the kids can count, but when we ask them to give me two of something they just grab a bunch of things.”

By kindergarten, children have additional skills; for example, they can understand that you can make five by holding up three fingers on one hand and two on the other, or four and one. Dr. Levine said they also can demonstrate what is known as flexible counting — that is, they can start from four or five, without going all the way back to one, or count backward.

“Parents embrace as part of their responsibility to get kids ready to read in school to introduce them to the alphabet and letter sounds,” Dr. Levine said. “They’re much more likely to think it’s the school’s job to teach math.”

Whether we realize it or not, the researchers say, those of us who get worried around math probably are less likely to talk about numbers and number concepts to our children. In a 2015 study, parents used a program called “Bedtime Math,” a mobile app that presented short numerical story problems to their children; the children’s math skills improved relative to children in a control group, Dr. Beilock said, but the improvement was strongest in children whose parents had math anxiety.

Working with the app might help dispel the myth that there are math people and non-math people, said Dr. Levine, and make parents less anxious and more willing to introduce math talk into their daily lives (let’s put five raisins in each cookie; let’s set the table, how many forks do we need?).

“Think of math as something that’s the purview of the home, not just the school,” Dr. Beilock said.