For test prep, teachers invite students to hang out

Virtual platform allows students to connect, study for AP tests

Aya Yahya (Michigan shirt) and her twin sister Nour Yahya study at home in Comstock Park

Twin sisters Aya and Nour Yahya were in review mode in their three Advanced Placement classes – chemistry, literature and calculus — when the state-mandated school shutdown was announced. 

The Comstock Park High School seniors worried how they would do on the courses’ exams, which students are required to pass to earn college credit. Thanks to some innovative teachers, they continue to prepare for the tests, to be taken online and in a shorter format than usual.

Students will take the 45-minute online exams May 11 through May 22, according to The College Board website. Content has been adjusted for the new format to allow for material not covered due to school closures.

The Comstock Park classes are meeting on Google Hangouts, a virtual meeting platform, with the goal of staying in touch and creating a sense of normalcy for their test preparations.

Alleviating Anxiety

“A lot of us were really, really anxious. I feel like I don’t trust myself keeping up with my work,” Aya said. “I need my teachers to help me work the right way.”

While the commonly used Google Classroom is a great instructional tool, Google Hangouts provides a forum for conversations and connections, said math teacher Kathy Commerat, who has nine students in her AP Calculus class. Google Hangout adds more dimension instead of just videos and assignments.

Kathy Commerat meets with AP Calculus students through Google Hangouts from her home

“When I heard about the schools closing on March 13, I started to just worry about the AP kids,” Commerat said. “I knew they would need a little more interaction than online lessons.” 

As events unfolded very quickly, Principal Dan Holden held a virtual meeting with teachers on Google Hangouts. Commerat knew it could work with AP students.

Her AP calculus class has met on the forum several times already with 100% attendance at the optional session. 

“They’re all participating, meeting and submitting their assignments. They’re great, motivated kids. I feel it’s nice to have to have the ability to interact – it makes it feel like we’re still connected,” Commerat said.

Senior Peyton Gilbert, who plans to take three AP tests in May, said the new approach is working well. She likes meeting with her classmates and getting questions answered.

“It keeps us motivated through the whole situation,” Peyton said, adding that Commerat “cares about how we’re doing as people.”

Chemistry and forensics science teacher Sarah Weber uses Google Hangouts for her 16 students enrolled in AP Chemistry. They meet on the forum once a week, she said, where she gives sample review problems to help them get ready for the test.

“We knew with the AP kids it was important to have contact with them to make sure they are ready for the test,” Weber said.

She said most of the material had already been covered in class, and students are currently spending time reviewing and on practice tests.

“I’ve been telling them all along there’s only so much I can do. Decide what you can do to prepare yourselves. They actually have more time if they can motivate themselves to do what they should be doing.”

Weber said students are eager.

“They want to be there and  hear what we have to say. We’re helping them move toward reaching their goal we started with.”

Weber said most of her students will take the online test, including an exchange student from Japan who returned home.

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Karen Gentry
Karen Gentry is from Evansville, Indiana and St. Joseph, Mich. and a graduate of Lake Michigan Catholic High School and Central Michigan University. She moved to the Grand Rapids area in the mid-1980s and has been a resident of Comstock Park since 2002. She understands the complexity, rewards and challenges of the teaching profession as she has five years experience as a high school teacher at River Valley High School in Three Oaks, Mich. and St. Stephen High School in Saginaw. As a reporter for the Advance Newspapers and Mlive she covered Sparta, Kent City and Northview schools. She is happy to be reunited with some of her journalism colleagues and writing about Comstock Park Public Schools for the School News Network. Read Karen's full bio or email Karen.

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