Surveying My AP Calculus Students

I just distributed the first online survey of the year for my AP Calculus students.  Others are to follow shortly.

Survey #1 Header

Why the survey and why now?  I sense that many students are not preparing adequately for class for a variety of reasons.  Student scores on a recent test covering the chain rule, implicit differentiation, inverse trigonometric differentiation, derivatives of exponential and logarithmic functions, and logarithmic differentiation as well as a quiz on related rates both concentrated at far below basic and below basic in terms of level of understanding; essentially, a significant part of the class received a D or an F on their assessments.  At the same time, it is not clear if student preparation is the primary cause, as the concepts are of increasing complexity, especially related rates.

Additionally, I only graded the past two assessments as free response, where it is readily clear whether a student understands a topic, concept, or procedure.  Unfortunately, I was unable to discern student understanding on all topics as clearly earlier as I needed to rely heavily upon multiple choice responses, which can mask true understanding; I did notice shifts in score distributions earlier when using multiple choice, and then re-taught and re-assessed, however the need to do so diminished so I felt students were on track.

Assessment Dilemma

The dilemma related to assessment type looms large for me, as there is insufficient time to use free response assessments more often given the amount of time it takes to score them, yet they offer the most clear evidence of student understanding and the highest potential for specific feedback to a student.  This is one of the many systemic dilemmas that exist in secondary education.

Further complicating the dilemma for this second-year teacher with three preps, each course requires me to develop new materials before each lesson or assessment.  I try to leverage what the great internet reveals, however, much of the time those items fall short, or miss the mark for my lesson’s needs.  So, I spend an inordinate amount of time each day outside of class planning and preparing for the next day’s three different lessons.

AP Calculus AB 2012-2013 Fall Survey #1: Student Preparation

With this student survey, I’m hoping to learn what impedes my students’ success, as well as how best to get them to invest more time outside of class on preparation.  The first few questions in the survey follow.

Preparation all classes

Preparation AP Calc 3

Preparation AP Calc 4

Preparation AP Calc 5

Subsequent surveys will focus on content mastery, teaching methods, student learning, supplemental resources, and other attributes.

Live, Online Survey

You can see the entire online survey here.  Please refrain from responding, as it will clutter up real student responses.  However, I am able to filter out errant responses if you inadvertently respond.

Please let me know your thoughts.

Background Context

As background context, I assign homework for each learning segment, which typically maps to a section in our text.  I do not collect, correct, or grade it with any regularity.  I do reserve the right to announce pop-collections of homework, although I have not done so often.  While I do not collect homework, students must keep completed homework in their notebook, which I collect and grade once per six-week marking period.  Notebook scores contribute to a “Notebook / Classwork” grade category, which counts 25% towards their grade.  Any homework missing from a student’s notebook prevents them from obtaining the maximum score.

About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Independent consultant and junior college adjunct instructor. Former secondary math teacher who taught math intervention, algebra 1, geometry, accelerated algebra 2, precalculus, honors precalculus, AP Calculus AB, and AP Statistics. Prior to teaching, I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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14 Responses to Surveying My AP Calculus Students

  1. Cal says:

    You are only asking them about homework?


  2. ruralteacher says:

    I wish my kids’ teachers would do something like this! Both my boys play sports all three seasons, and while they can maintain Honor Roll grades – it takes a toll on them physically. Because we are rural, many times during basketball season we are on the road until 11 PM or later. Homework from multiple classes doesn’t always get done as well as it would if they didn’t play sports. Yes, I know this is a choice they make – I’ve been told that many times by their teachers! I just wish that, especially in a school as small as ours, the teachers would communicate and not all assign major projects at the end of the quarter! It seems to me that it’s an adult’s problem to solve, not a 15 or 17 year old’s to solve!
    OK – enough of my rant about homework stress! I hope you get some good insight into your students’ lives with this survey!


    • Homework is a double-edged sword sadly. Too little and students do not have enough independent practice. Too much and it’s too stressful on them.

      FYI – I used to think the same re teachers coordinating assignments. But as one now, I see that it is almost impossible, definitely so in a large school with close to 100 teachers.


      • ruralteacher says:

        We are a small school …….my son’s graduating class will be about 35 – they COULD! The fact that they refuse to even communicate about the little things saddens me. Instead, when they have issues with one another – they send school wide emails…….


  3. LGray says:

    How could I set up my own survey like this? This would be good for my regular Algebra II class; they tend not to do homework, I don’t think they study or prepare for tests, and make low test grades. I did notice that it is powered by Google Docs; is it hard to create?


    • Its fairly straightforward if you’ve ever created a survey before. I use Google docs. Their spreadsheet application contains a “form” feature that let’s you create surveys. Put one together using it then just email out the url and watch the results arrive.


  4. LGray says:

    How do you make sure everyone takes the survey? I noticed a place for a student number. Is that how you tell who does and does not take the survey? Even though they give you a student number, you cannot tell what a particular student’s answers are unless they allow them to be attributed to them?


    • Students typically respond as it counts toward their grade, and its easy; yes, student ID let’s me know who responded. BTW, its all or nothing for the score on the survey.

      You see everyone’s responses; Goggle does not offer anonymized responses AFAIK. The attribution is whether I can name them when discussing results versus making the comment anonymous.


  5. LGray says:

    One more question: I went to Google Docs and found the form application. Do you have to email the link or just provide it to them?


  6. Dave ( also a career changer Math teacher ),a few years ahead of you. says:

    How do you know if they are being honest with their answers ? Do you check to see if HW is being copied verbatum ? Why can’t different subjects in the school have different time frames for major projects. And teachers in same grade could coordinate a bit too. Are there grade meetings ? Remember, just pick it up and put it down. LOL


  7. Michael Hayashida says:

    Hi Dave,

    Second career guy here as well – 7 years in engineering, going on 11 in teaching, 5 in AP Calc. My number one learning for teaching AP, BY FAR, has been that most AP Calc students’ success in math before Calc has NOT been a function of work ethic or study skills. They are often lame in both areas.

    I use up parts of our class time on multiple days teaching them how to study, and then letting them do that in class. It’s a waste content-wise, but it’s like classroom management stuff – if they learn how to do it early on it ends up saving time over the course of the year. Give it a shot if you like – in class have them develop the list of topics that will be on the test, and then problems from quizzes or the book that address those topics, and then have them DO (not “look over”) those problems. I’ve found this makes a difference if I do it a half-dozen times first semester.

    Good luck!



    • Hi Michael, fellow engineer. 🙂 I’m the EE type, comms theory and signal processing, specifically.

      I use a variant of this approach, Michael. Students frequently work in groups in class on assigned homework problems. They then present to the class. Dilemma is not all work all problems. In order to do so, in class, I believe we will not have adequate time to finish entire curriculum in enough time before the AP Exam to prep for it.


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