A year ago, Bay County’s Mosley High School looked at itself in the math and science mirror and didn’t like what it saw.
So Mosley teachers and administrators worked with guidance counselors in the MAPPS (Mosley Advanced Placement Program for Success) program to do something about it. Now, with the support of parents and district leaders, Mosley is rapidly improving how it prepares its students for college majors in STEM fields like engineering, the physical sciences and medicine.
As regular readers of this blog know, the key elements in preparing high school students for college majors in STEM fields are chemistry, physics, precalculus and calculus. The challenge is always to coax students (and their parents) into persevering through those sometimes daunting courses.
Last spring, Mosley – a medium-sized high school with about 1,700 students – had only 151 students taking chemistry. That meant that Mosley students were taking chemistry at a rate that was well below the statewide rate. This fall, 238 Mosley students are enrolled in chemistry classes – a staggering 58% increase. And enrollment in Honors Chemistry – the standard first rigorous chemistry course for the college-bound – has more than doubled. The rate at which Mosley students are taking chemistry is now beginning to approach the statewide rate.
And it’s not just chemistry where Mosley’s improvement is rapid. Enrollment in physics classes has increased from six students last spring to 35 this fall. Enrollments in precalculus and calculus classes have increased significantly as well. You can see all of this plotted below.
Mosley is well on its way to being a Panhandle leader in preparing its students for college majors in the lucrative and rewarding STEM fields.
What have the key elements been in Mosley’s math and science renaissance?
The first has been the determination of the MAPPS counselors, teachers and administrators to open new opportunities for students. These individuals decided to make chemistry-physics-precalculus-calculus the new normal for students in the MAPPS program, which includes more than half of Mosley’s students.
Second, and just as critical, has been outreach to parents. Counselors and teachers have some leverage over students. But without the support of parents, that leverage usually evaporates. Last spring, Mosley held two evening sessions for MAPPS parents to talk with them about the reasons for raising math and science expectations. I was the guest speaker, but more importantly the MAPPS guidance counselors and an Assistant Principal attended, showing the school’s commitment to upgrading student STEM preparation. It’s possible the presentations (I’ve linked a power point from one of the presentations below the graph) made a difference. But the one-on-one conversations that took place with parents and students after the presentations were almost certainly even more important.
In attempting a fundamental cultural change like the one being tried at Mosley, it’s important to remember that students are not the only ones experiencing reluctance or even fear at the prospect of taking math and science courses that can seem like journeys into the unknown. Many (or most) parents didn’t take the high level science and math courses their students are being challenged to take, and they often share (and reinforce) the students’ anxiety. Personal conversations are the best way to overcome these concerns.
Presentation to MAPPS parents, April 26, 2016: