Shmoints. Shmerchandise. Shmore. These are words you might overhear students using upon entering my classroom at Jordan High School, which is one of the 84 public schools in California’s Long Beach Unified School District. As the AP Coordinator, I work to develop programs and dedicated learning spaces that encourage students to prepare for their Advanced Placement (AP) exams. For the past three years, we have partnered with Shmoop to provide more equitable access to high-quality AP test prep and culturally responsive resources for our students enrolled in AP courses.
The “AP Cafe” is a dedicated learning space on campus where students go for additional tutoring and study groups outside their scheduled class time. Furnished with whiteboards, computer carts, and small group tables, the cafe is an inviting space where students can access the diagnostic exams and online AP course content provided by Shmoop, which pinpoint testing strengths and weaknesses and provide students with engaging resources to improve their scores. We use the data from the diagnostic to create flexible small groups and assign practice drills and topic reviews within Shmoop based on students’ specific needs. This helps to adapt instruction and ensure that students get additional practice time on the concepts they find most difficult. In addition, we create individual Shmoop accounts for students so they can get as much practice as they need, in school or at home.
To motivate students, I worked with some of my top Shmoop users to develop the first-ever “Shmore,” or Shmoop store. Our first task was to create a currency. We decided to leverage Shmoop’s automated point system based on time spent on various tasks and exercises. The idea is that the more you learn, the more you earn! Our students can use their “shmoints” (Shmoop points, naturally) to buy “shmerchandise,” such as stress balls, pens, earbuds, and even a coveted windbreaker. The entire initiative was developed by students and those who participate have seen growth and positive outcomes.
Increasing enrollment in AP courses is one of many identified pathways to improving college readiness and enrollment at Jordan High School. Providing students access to test prep material that’s actually fun, in addition to being effective, has really helped motivate students to prepare for the exams outside of their classes. From 2013-2017, we made huge strides, with a 35 percent increase in the number of students in grades 11 and 12 enrolled in one or more AP course. We began in 2013 with 34 percent of students enrolled in an AP course and by 2017 it was all the way up to 46 percent!
Shmoop also packages materials into a variety of relatable learning resources – from comprehensive topic reviews to practice tests and hundreds of drills. By offering small-yet-meaningful rewards for completing these assignments, students feel more connected to each other and the learning materials. This has been crucial in helping our school develop a culture where students feel empowered to challenge themselves to take on AP-level coursework. Looking forward, we hope to build on the momentum we have started with the Shmore to increase AP participation and improve test scores.
Sondra McNair is the AP Coordinator for David Starr Jordan High School in Long Beach, CA. She is a nationally board certified teacher who has taught English for 20 years. You can connect with Sondra on Twitter @McNair_AP_Life.