“My students have hearts of gold. They have very rough backgrounds, but they still show up and give me their best. I want them to have the opportunity to encounter the same kind of curriculum, the same kind of content and the same tests as their peers. When they go to college, I want them to be ready.”
– Andrea Davis, AP Biology Teacher, Northside High School
At once pragmatic and optimistic, Andrea Davis is a dedicated teacher who is always looking for an edge in reaching her students. She teaches a class of 16 Advanced Placement (AP) biology students at Northside High School, where 94% of students are economically disadvantaged. Now in her ninth year of teaching, she is laser-focused on removing barriers and preparing her students academically and socially to succeed in college.
“We have so few students in our AP classes that can pass the exam,” Davis explains. “But I look at the national data, and I see that black and brown students are being successful. I want to see that happen in our district and on our campus.”
Davis’s challenge — to help her students overcome a long-standing achievement gap — would require more than typical classroom instruction, she knew. She needed new tools to better understand their strengths, weaknesses and learning styles. “I have students who learned to play the guitar on YouTube, and of course, that interests them. How can I tap into those same skills and motivations to teach them the things I need them to know?”
Last spring, Davis received an email from the Houston Independent School District (HISD) that seemed to read her mind. The Advanced Placement office was offering AP biology and physics teachers a spot in something called Project Equip, a pilot program offered by Rice University scientists and educators that offered a personalized learning experience for students, complemented by real-time, data-driven insights to teachers.
Project Equip officially kicked off in August 2019 with a three-day workshop to acquaint the 17 teacher-participants with OpenStax Tutor, an interactive learning platform that uses machine learning to adapt to the needs of individual students. The students read digital textbooks and then answer questions that change according to the student’s pace and performance. The teacher, in turn, gains new insights about her student’s needs and, with the support from the Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies, adjusts her teaching strategies. The idea is to provide the right kinds and the right level of questions to optimize each student’s learning experience.
A first-of-its-kind collaboration, Project Equip was launched by Rice’s Houston Education Research Consortium, a program that leverages sociology and data analysis to provide research-driven insights directly to decision makers, all aimed at creating a level playing field for disadvantaged students. By partnering with OpenStax, an innovative digital textbook and learning platform, and the Glasscock School of Continuing studies, HERC is tapping into an alliance between organizations at Rice that are committed to changing the future of education.
Now, almost a semester into the school year, Davis reports that the data produced by Project Equip is helping her to better identify the barriers students are facing. “The Tutor dashboard is a good indicator of why a student isn’t performing well. I can also compare student data and pinpoint the location of the breakdown. Is it in instruction? In the text? Is it a student misconception?”
Davis’s hopes for her students move well beyond passing a test. She wants them to improve academically, but she also wants them to feel capable, informed and ready for college. “I want to provide some comfort and confidence for them. I want them to walk into a college lab and to be oriented to the terminology and equipment. I don’t want them to feel less than. I want them to have the opportunity to learn from the same curriculum and the same tests as other kids.”
To learn more about supporting the Glasscock School, contact Courtney Tardy, director of development, at email@example.com or 713-348-4881.