Last week, Prosper High School teacher John Frensley visited the homes of several of his Advanced Placement Physics students.
Unlike some other teachers nationwide who have done the same in recent months - usually to boost the spirits of the kids who have been distance learning in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic - Frensley didn’t arrive as part of a spirited social-distancing parade or to hoist a sign with an uplifting message.
However, he did come bearing a gift, which he placed inside of their mailboxes: a piece of paper filled with facts, formulas and other information that could be useful to the students preparing to take their AP Physics exams.
Frensley is the only Prosper ISD educator who teaches AP Physics, which is an undergraduate college-level course.
This school year, there were 91 Prosper High School students enrolled within four AP Physics 1 classes. Another 20 students took the calculus-based AP Physics C class.
Advanced-placement courses are offered in a variety of subjects, including foreign languages, math, science, English and history, among others.
Each May, AP students pay a fee to take a timed exam in their respective subjects. The tests are offered through the College Board, a nonprofit organization that represents more than 6,000 schools and universities around the globe.
Depending on the exam score that a student receives, they may earn college-course credits for completing AP classes in high school.
Most years, students take AP exams in person on the same day, usually while surrounded by other students at a school gym or similar facility.
“You really only bring your brain and maybe a calculator if it’s a math-based exam,” Frensley said.
This year, the AP Physics exam and its testing protocols changed dramatically due to the pandemic.
Both the Physics 1 and Physics C exams were administered last week to students worldwide in an online format, which featured questions requiring written answers versus traditional hand-drawn diagrams and sketches.
Also, students were allowed to refer to any subject notes they had during the test.
There were “more parts to answer in the (same amount of) time than there would be in a normal exam (using) pencil and paper in the school gym,” Frensley explained.
He said it was fortunate that by mid-March, when Prosper ISD made the switch to remote learning, he had already covered the bulk of what students would likely need to know to take the AP Physics exam.
Nevertheless Frensley, who did not have access to the test questions in advance, spent about three hours compiling his own set of reference notes for his students to use during the exam.
“I said, `OK, I’m going to basically compress everything that you need to know onto one front-side page’” – from vocabulary terms to “some specific situations” that the teens may encounter on the test.
Frensley emailed the notes to the students in advance of test day so that they could study and reference them during the exam.
For the handful of students who didn’t have access to a printer, the teacher drove to their homes and hand-delivered the physics notes.
“I was trying to give them some sort of stopgap or something to help them with this different exam type, so that they can still be as successful on this take-home exam compared to what they would be if it was (administered) in a pink (exam) booklet in a gym on a Thursday afternoon,” he explained.
“These kids have worked really hard,” he said on May 14, shortly after his students completed their exams. “This is not something I’ve really prepared them for. I spent all year preparing (them) for what the traditional exam would be.”
Frensley said he and other AP teachers will be able to access their students’ answers next week and learn how they did.
He balked at the suggestion that he went above and beyond the call of duty to assist the teens.
“I want to give the students a quality experience,” he said. “To me, it’s not even (about) going the extra mile. It’s just part of what distance learning is in this scenario.”