Promoting College Readiness Through Technology, Self-Pacing and Empathy
An AP chemistry teacher shares how he guides his students towards independent learning, no matter if they’re in the same room or not.
- By Parvinder Singh
through the 2020-2021 school year, our principal at Juan
Seguin High School in Arlington, TX,
sat the entire faculty down to discuss the topic of empathy and
student mental health. To drive home his point, he shared emails from
a handful of students highlighting the struggles of remote learning
and other stressors brought about by the pandemic.
don't want to be a disappointment to my teachers."
watching my GPA drop, and I'm worried going into the AP test."
list went on and on.
last 14 months have been challenging territory for even the best of
students and the most seasoned educators. As professionals, COVID-19
forced us to grapple with an important choice: Continue
doing things as we always have, or use the constraints of remote
learning as both a teachable moment and a tool to help foster college
preparedness. Here's how I deliberately structured my virtual
classroom to encourage success, empathy, autonomy, and preparedness
for the AP chemistry test and for post-graduation life — and how I
plan to apply that next year as well.
Parvinder Singh, Tien Hoang, Bao Duong, and Lam Phan
the Stage for Remote Learning
has a diverse student population. When I first arrived, the chemistry
teacher had quit suddenly, leaving nearly 90 students feeling
disenfranchised and devalued. The class population included kids from
very tough backgrounds where survival was prioritized over learning
and thriving. And I thought, "This is where I need to be. This
is how I make a difference." A year and a half after I took over
the AP Chemistry
class, COVID-19 hit. My students left for spring break, and they
sudden transition to remote learning was not an easy one, and it left
my AP students in a state of uncertainty leading into the AP test. It
wasn't until mid-April that information about the test's revised
format was made available to the district. As a result, 25% of the
class received a score of 2,
which falls below passing. One student scored a 5. Given the
circumstances, I counted it as a victory and turned my attention
toward the future.
Challenges of Remote AP Chemistry Instruction
learning seems like an easy proposition on paper. It effectively
leverages technology to the students' benefit. But in practice, it
comes with a laundry list of challenges attached.
was a godsend, but what I didn't anticipate was the human factor
involved. I quickly discovered that while my students were adept at
using social media, their core computer competencies were
significantly lacking. The first month of AP chemistry became
entirely based around tech support.
problem was engagement. I found that with a remote structure, you
only get about 20% of the class actively participating. By
participating, I mean speaking on the video conference rather than
using the chat or remaining silent.
a substitute method for hands-on labs was another challenge that I
had to deal with. Hands-on laboratory work is an essential component
of AP chemistry. All of this against the backdrop of failing student
mental health helped me craft a sound pedagogical approach that
translated to the remote format.
Tools and Methods
foundation of my remote and hybrid classroom methodology was a
software called Canvas,
which lets you set up your own modules with videos and other rich
media resources. Every day, I would use UWorld's
Learning Tools for AP
to provide students with practice questions related to that day’s
lesson. To augment the lessons found on UWorld, I made videos of
myself to supplement where necessary. We got into a rhythm of “Read
this, watch this, do this,” that helped students develop a
self-directed pace when completing assignments.
still needed direct instruction to help them through the modules,
though. At the beginning of the year, that involved answering
questions via Microsoft
Teams after school hours, a strategy that proved unsustainable.
Instead, I started setting up breakout rooms for each individual
student using Teams and an integrated virtual whiteboard. Not only
did I see student engagement skyrocket, but I was able to help
clarify difficult subject material, effectively keeping students on
pace for the AP exam. To address the issue of hands-on lab work, I
enlisted a resource from the Colorado
Department of Education
that allows students to simulate experiments.
the year wore on, a handful of students returned to the classroom. I
primarily employed synchronous instruction with both my remote and
in-person students so that everyone would receive the same
information simultaneously. There were asynchronous portions of our
class as well, but those were split between breakout rooms and
providing students dedicated time to work through the lessons at
their own pace.
for the Future
completed another school year here in Arlington. In the end, it went
better than expected. It took a mix of hard work and dedication,
appropriate use of technology, patience, and empathy to create a
successful virtual classroom.
an increased amount of the population finally vaccinated, the
2021-2022 school year promises to be a return to normalcy. I intend
to continue leveraging UWorld's Learning Tools for AP Courses to
foster a research-based environment in my classroom. My role is to be
a resource to the students. Learning should be at their pace, and
they should be given all the tools to help them find their own
answers. As I described it during the height of the pandemic, remote
learning, which relies heavily on technological proficiency, isn't
just an AP chemistry skill. It is a life skill. This method of
learning is in line with what students can expect in the higher
education setting. That's why I set my modules up to promote
self-paced learning. My mission isn't simply to teach chemistry. It's
to prepare my students to enter the next phase of their lives as
smoothly as possible.
About the Author
Singh is head of the science department at Juan Sequin High School in
the Arlington (TX) Independent School District, where he teaches
Advanced Placement Chemistry. He has been with Arlington ISD for six
years, is a graduate of UT Arlington, and has a passion for educating
and inspiring students through science. He can be reached at