Lighthouse Initiative for Texas Classrooms


To launch the Lighthouse Initiative for Social Studies Classrooms, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) turned to teachers of the Advanced Placement Program* (AP*), International Baccalaureate (IB), and Pre-AP*/IB courses and charged them with the task of creating a resource that would assist teachers in preparing students for advanced high school courses. The charge then became a question for the committee itself: What does it take to prepare a student for AP and IB courses? For insight and answers, we turned to our own schools and ones throughout the state-schools large and small, urban, suburban, and rural, schools with growing AP/IB programs, and those whose programs are well established. We asked Pre-AP students: What did you learn in your Pre-AP course that most prepared you for AP? What concerns do you have about taking AP classes? We asked AP students: What skills did you learn in Pre-AP that are most helpful to you now? What do you wish you had mastered in Pre-AP that you need in AP? What advice would you give Pre-AP students? And we asked teachers: Has your school provided the time for Pre-AP and AP teachers to work together? Do you have a functional vertical team? What kinds of resources would be most useful to you?

We also recalled what it was like to be a beginning Pre-AP teacher charged with a seemingly impossible number of tasks to accomplish simultaneously: adapt a regular curriculum to elevate your class to Pre-AP level, figure out what skills students will need in their AP courses and make sure they develop them, engage students with high-interest activities, accommodate diverse learning styles, inject rigor that will challenge your best students, teach learning strategies that will help your lower-performing students catch up—and do it all while meeting your obligation to cover the TEKS thoroughly so as to ensure success on the TAKS. The teacher grappling to make all these things happen is the person we hope to help with this Web site. For convenience, in our early conversations we even assigned this teacher a name-Lucy, in tribute to the "I Love Lucy" episode in which Lucy must place toppings on desserts that whiz by on an ever-accelerating conveyor belt. This Lucy became a litmus test for us: if an idea was not going to be valuable to Lucy, we questioned whether it belonged here, and if materials were not organized and presented in a manner such that Lucy could pick it up in her crowded day and put it to work in her class right away, then we went back to the drawing board to try to develop a new format.

Our aim was to create a set of materials suitable for use in each of the five Pre-AP/IB courses (World Cultures, Texas History, U.S. History through Reconstruction, World Geography, and World History), which would meaningfully develop student skills needed for the eight AP/IB courses: AP U.S. History, AP Government (US and Comparative), AP Economics (Macro and Micro), AP Psychology, AP European History, AP World History, AP Human Geography, IB World Area Studies, SL and HL. Identifying the indispensable skills and methods most shared in our various social studies disciplines proved to be no easy task. We were constantly fighting the temptation to include all the ideas and "must haves" that we pursued at one time or another-an approach that would have filled multiple volumes and still ended up hopelessly incomplete and arbitrary. In the end, the responses we received from teachers and students, as well as our shared teaching and training experiences, pointed us toward three areas most critical for student success in AP/IB courses:

  • reading for comprehension;
  • processing information in ways that foster critical thinking and synthesis; and
  • writing effectively. (It should be noted that while some AP/IB courses do not require full essays, the essay process of developing logical argumentation supported by relevant facts remains an indispensable skill.)

We hope that the materials on this site offer some practical and effective approaches to these three areas of student achievement. The site is designed for ready cross-referencing of skills and subjects. Skills are first introduced in the Skills Matrix, developed in lessons at various grade levels, and demonstrated in several stand-alone skills lessons.

There is no recipe for good teaching, and we have not aspired to create a manual—only a collection of illustrative ideas to assist as you develop strategies suited to your teaching style and your students. Our hope is that this site will prove useful on several levels:

  • that it may offer a few things that will help save Lucy on a Sunday night when she needs a lesson for the next morning;
  • that seeing what her students do successfully (or less than successfully) with these strategies will prompt her to mine other sources of ideas, especially by comparing notes with the 20-year teacher at her school who may be a great store of wisdom about how to do these things; and
  • that when the conveyor belt slows a bit over the summer, and Lucy has a chance to reflect, the site may again prove useful as Lucy refines and develops her own lessons building on some of the more productive strategies.

The site will have served its purpose if it shows that the legion of responsibilities facing Lucy more often point in the same direction than in opposite ones: that the activities that challenge students also engage them; that the best learning strategies allow your top students to excel while closing the gap for other students; and that teaching the TEKS is a path to, rather than a distraction from, a rigorous Pre-AP curriculum.

It is my great good fortune that the committee that took up the challenge of designing this Lighthouse Web site comprises an array of expertise: each grade level and AP course is represented, as is IB History. Several of the committee members are long-time College Board consultants for AP and Pre-AP and have served as readers for the AP exams. Others have served as members of AP test development committees, and most have taught multiple AP and Pre-AP courses, as well as on-level ones. I am particularly grateful for the opportunity this project has given me to work with educators whom I consider to be the exemplars of the teaching profession: intelligent, dedicated, compassionate, and down-to-earth. Good luck and good teaching!

Kelly Gallagher Saenz
Austin, Texas