APSI offered the key to AP success for chemistry teacher

Esther Hines brought extensive teaching experience and deep knowledge of chemistry to the classroom when she began teaching Advanced Placement Chemistry at Billerica Memorial High School a few years ago. But something wasn’t clicking for students – they were struggling to pass the exam.

Part of the challenge was preparing kids to manage their time when taking the test. The students also needed to better understand the material through the lens of the exam.

Looking for help, Hines took the advice of a colleague and returned last year to the Advanced Placement Summer Institute at Bridgewater State University, an annual teacher training program administered by Mass Insight Education & Research. Her colleague had a specific recommendation: “You need to go and see Ms. Susan Biggs – she’s going to put you on the right path immediately.” It turned out to be great advice. “She is a genius! She loves chemistry. She’s all about the subject, but also about the exam. It’s the whole package,” Hines said.

The APSI session turned out to not only be a crash course in time management for AP Chemistry, but also very helpful for Hines in selling the concept to parents and her school’s administration, who had bridled at imposing time limits on the students as they took the course and prepared for the exam.

This past year’s class prepared with time limits. And it worked. Hines just learned that her students’ success rate – earning a score of at least a 3 on a scale of 1 to 5 – jumped from 35 percent last year to 87.5 percent receiving a passing grade this year. She had found a formula for success – the knowledge she had gained at APSI was “a blessing.”

Hines’ path to AP Chemistry started in Peru, where she was raised by her engineer father, who encouraged her scientific interests, and her mother, also a teacher. She came to the U.S. to study for a masters degree at the University of New Hampshire, and ultimately followed her husband, a member of the military, to a series of postings, including Italy, where she taught an online Chemistry course.

She just completed her 14th year at Billerica Memorial High School, and her experience at APSI demonstrates how teaching is an ongoing process of learning, especially when teaching rigorous coursework like AP.