AP students, teachers balance curriculum with hybrid learning limitations

Luka Turanjanin, Sectional Editor

With Elk Grove High School already about three months into the 2020-21 school year, the effects of remote learning — and now hybrid learning — have created a massive shift in learning for teachers and students. 

But with this transition to more students learning from home, students and teachers at Elk Grove are learning to make adjustments amidst certain difficulties, especially with those involved in Advanced Placement (AP) classes.

“There are several challenges presented by teaching remotely and with the hybrid model,” Steven Lesniak, a social studies teacher, said. 

Lesniak teaches AP Human Geography to freshmen at Elk Grove, and he’s been trying to stay up to speed with the curriculum ever since the sift time remote learning last spring.

“First and foremost, it is more challenging to build relationships with students in a virtual setting,” Lesniak said via email. He said the AP Human Geography curriculum is more rigorous, and with fewer days to interact with certain students, the situation has become more challenging for the freshmen in his class. 

“This year, we are teaching new content remotely and with less instructional time,” Lesniak said. 

On the flip side, Lesniak has found some advantages to being able to teach students in his class on the other hand. He and Kristen Gierman, another AP Human Geography teacher, have made lecture videos for students to watch as homework, so then they can spend more time teaching AP skills in class like writing free response questions. 

“Managing test integrity has been challenging in a remote setting,” Lesniak said. “We have decided to utilize Schoology and only assess free response question, while practicing multiple choice questions through formative quizzes.”

Despite figuring out some of the early challenges, Lesniak said he still is limited to an extent with helping students, as many teachers are struggling to find ways to assess students. 

“When we use breakout rooms on Zoom, I can only join one group at a time, and it is more difficult to assess if students are engaged or have questions,” Lesniak said. Lesniak added that more students have preferred to use the chat function on Zoom to build relationships and participate in class that way. 

“For example, we had a good debate in a few classes about the best breakfast cereals,” Lesniak said.

As AP teachers have their own difficulties to manage, students in AP classes have had fair share of things to manage with taking an AP class.

“I plan to take my teachers’ recommendations with respect to work and study habits, and hope they will be successful,” sophomore Seth Gore said via social media. 

Gore takes AP World History, and he has worked to make sure he treats remote learning as normally as if school was still happening in-person.

Gore said the environment has also caused him to delay work on certain occasions. 

“Procrastination is my biggest challenge,” said Gore. “Even though I have a very good grade in world history, I tend not to do my homework until the last moment, even if it takes 20 minutes on average.”

Even so, Gore said he has still learned to adapt to his new learning environment with remote learning.

“I had to adapt to the realization that I was still responsible for my actions in a school setting, even though I was still in my own home,” Gore said. “To put it simply, it took a long time to realize that even though I saw teachers and classmates through my monitor and not in front of me, I had to act the way I did in actual school and not the way I did on the internet.”

Aaron Zawislak, a junior, is currently taking AP English Language and Composition, AP U.S History and AP Physics. The combination of AP classes has put more pressure on him this year than ever before in high school.

“This new system is less structured than in-person classes,” Zawislak said in an interview via social media. 

Zawislak said he personally prefers a lot of structure on schoolwork, and remote learning was an obstacle to how he gets work done.

He also said he has an app that he uses to list all his schoolwork. It also serves to remind him for events in the clubs in teams he’s involved with at Elk Grove.

“Sometimes I’ll get distracted by my phone or get bored during class, and this hybrid model isn’t really helping with that,” Zawislak said when he was asked what were his personal difficulties with remote learning. 

AP tests are given in the spring, so students have time to prepare. They’re not really on the minds of students like Zawislak. 

“My biggest limitation is the constant distractions in my house and my room,” he said. “It’s really difficult to get into the zone if I’m not in an environment that’s specifically made for learning or doing work.”