I teach chemistry at an early college high school (Early College Alliance at Eastern Michigan University)(link), where students dual enroll in college classes as they earn their high school diploma. There are numerous benefits for early college students. For instance, they can earn up to 60 college credits at no cost to them; they are more likely to graduate high school and earn a 4-year degree at higher rates than students at a traditional high school (figure 1). Considering these advantages, It is no surprise that early college programs are growing nationwide (figure 2).
Figure 1: Early college benefits
Having taught in both a traditional high school and an early college high school, I’ve learned a few lessons from the early college model that may be adaptable to other high school settings.
Figure 2: Early college enrollment in Michigan.
Dedicated Soft Skills Curriculum
Many early college high schools teach a soft skills curriculum on top of the regular academic courses. Soft skills are personal qualities and interpersonal skills essential for success in a post-secondary program or career. Examples include communication skills, critical thinking, problem-solving, time management, teamwork, and study strategies.1 The soft skills lessons are designed to target skills that will increase future success in college classes. For instance, I teach students how to use office hours appropriately. High school students are sometimes entirely unfamiliar with the concept of office hours. Yet, they are often expected to understand the norms of office hours when they enter a college program. So, early colleges tend to teach students what problems are appropriate for office hours and how to prepare and ask questions when they get there.
Soft skills aren’t just for college; employers also prefer employees with advanced soft skills. Unfortunately, employers often complain that although recent graduates are academically skilled, they lack essential soft skills like communication and teamwork.1 So, even if students do not attend college, formal soft skills training would be of great value.
Curriculum Mapping with Intro and General Chemistry
Although the NGSS or State Benchmarks are the primary standards for an Early College High School Chemistry Course, they are also typically mapped to the subsequent college-level chemistry class. For instance, I review the syllabi and textbooks of general chemistry courses to make sure my students are well prepared when they move into those classes. I use excerpts from the college-level texts so they get practice reading at the college level. Finally, I try to mimic some of the college-level laboratory experiments and skills, helping to ease the transition into college chemistry labs.
Early college students are usually placed into small cohorts of 20-30 students and mentored by a faculty member. The faculty advisor frequently checks a student’s grades and progress in their courses and coaches the student in improvement strategies. The advisor also regularly communicates with the student’s parents and teachers building a solid support network around the student. I like this model because instead of traditional parent-teacher conferences, where I would meet with the parents of each chemistry student, I instead meet only with my mentee students and families each semester. I have fewer families to meet with, and since I’ve been working closely with the students and their teachers throughout the semester, conferences often result in a profound understanding of student strengths and weaknesses and a clear action plan for future success.2
The lessons presented here are not necessarily unique to early college; perhaps early college high schools are just more intentional in these areas than traditional ones. Do any traditional high school teachers incorporate some of these ideas? Please leave a comment; I’d love to learn how you do!
- Schulz, B. (2008). The importance of soft skills: Education beyond academic knowledge.
- Barnett, E., Maclutsky, E., & Wagonlander, C. (2015). Emerging early college models for traditionally underserved students. New Directions for Community Colleges, 2015 (169), 39-49.