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Best Practices for IOAPA Mentors

Mentors are a key component of the Iowa Online AP Academy model. These individuals may or may not have expertise in the content areas their students are studying, and in most of our courses, mentors are not expected to provide instruction on the course content. (The mentor’s role for AP Computer Science Principles is slightly different; future posts will address this, or you can contact IOAPA staff with questions.) Instead, IOAPA mentors provide support and encouragement for students, assist them in determining where and how to seek help, and monitor progress in course materials and intervene when necessary.

What should I do to be an effective mentor?

  • Build positive relationships with students. According to the University of Minnesota’s mentoring model, checking in with students frequently can promote strong relationships.
    • One study cited in a research synthesis found that “facilitators that are directly working with students day by day are key to the success of the program” and that the physical presence of mentors can motivate students to engage (cited in Borup & Drysdale, 2014).
  • Connect students with resources. Mentors are not expected to have all the answers for students’ questions, but helping them determine where to find support, or how to ask for help, can be beneficial. Check out our blog post on supporting struggling students for more info.
    • This may include serving as a “communication link” between students and their course instructors (Borup & Drysdale, 2014).
  • Communicate with other mentors. Whether for emotional support or professional guidance, your fellow IOAPA mentors are a great resource for new and veteran mentors alike. Check out the IOAPA mentor support network information in the IOAPA Handbook.
  • Encourage healthy work habits. We all need occasional reminders to take breaks and prioritize, and IOAPA students are no exception. Mentors can help students set priorities, schedule time for relaxation, and promote stress management. The University Counseling Service at the University of Iowa developed a list of stress management strategies that may be useful.


Do you have suggestions for other IOAPA mentors? Share them with us in the comments or on Twitter using #IOAPA. Also, look out for our mentor survey at the end of the semester to share your thoughts!

In Case You Missed It – Staying Motivated in IOAPA Courses

This post was previously published in September 2014. Enjoy!

There is no getting around it—online APTM courses can be difficult to complete.  This can be especially true for students whose drive dwindles during the semester.  With that in mind, how can IOAPA students boost their motivation?

Create a realistic schedule

Given that IOAPA students must structure study time more so than students who take classroom-based courses, it is crucial that they create realistic work schedules.  A mistake commonly made by teenagers and adults alike is to assume tasks take a shorter time to complete than they actually do.  Students should thus plan sufficient time for each course assignment.  Furthermore, they must recognize when to say no to activities that will not fit into their schedules.  Students who know their limits and create balanced work schedules are less likely to feel burnout and low motivation.

Work efficiently and take breaks

Learning to work efficiently allows students to set aside time for when they focus on assignments and in turn, time when they step away from work.  In other words, students should reserve a specified amount of time in which time they will focus all energy on the task at hand.  Some researchers suggest working in 90-minute intervals.  Once the work period is over, they take a break.  Incorporating fun and relaxing activities into each day allows for renewal.

Check that perfectionism

Some high-achieving students expect perfection and may be less than enthused to take courses in which they will not receive an A.  This expectation is unrealistic—especially for demanding activities like APTM courses—and may prevent students from engaging in rewarding yet challenging experiences.  At the same time, high perfectionism can be unhealthy in that being overly self-critical decreases well-being and increases the risk for depression.  That is not to say that striving for excellence is bad; in truth, this same desire is linked to positive outcomes like hope and school achievement.  Some students (and adults!) may simply benefit from acknowledging that perfection is rarely necessary for a job well done.

Review goals

Regularly reviewing personal goals reminds students why they chose to take online APTM courses.  Students who keep their long-term goals in mind remember that they are not just studying for exams but rather are preparing themselves for college.  Recalling goals may also allow students to reconnect with passion for course topics or the desire to prove to themselves that they can meet the challenge.

Selected Resources                                                                                                                       Stoeber, J., & Rambow, A. (2007). Perfectionism in adolescent school students: Relations with motivation, achievement, and well-being. Personality and Individual Differences42(7), 1379-1389.                                                                                                                                          Williams, K. C., & Williams, C. C. (2011). Five key ingredients for improving student motivation. Research in Higher Education Journal12, 1-23.

SSTP Mentor Studies Effects of Music on Dementia Patients

This is such a great example of the high-level work that students in the Secondary Student Training Program (SSTP) do over the summer! We’ll have information about applying to SSTP next month.

Secondary Student Training Program at the University of Iowa

Daniel Tranel, a professor of neurology and psychology at the University of Iowa, and Alaine Reschke-Hernandez, a graduate student, have been working to study the emotional effects of music on patients suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. By measuring patients’ moods before and after sessions, Tranel determines the type and magnitude of the effect.

dementiaPhoto: David Scrivner/Iowa City Press-Citizen

Jasmine Leahy, a member of the SSTP class of 2016, worked with Dr. Tranel and Reschke-Hernandez this summer. She reflected on the impact of the research conducted by Tranel’s team: “It was transformative for me to see how music can completely improve the demeanor of someone. Many of the patients we worked with became more engaged when we played music for them. Our patients with Alzheimer’s became more willing to share things and talk, participate in conversations, etc.”

Read more at the following links:

Local news article

Local news story

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Let the Games Begin…

Did you know the Belin-Blank Center is also the Iowa and Midwest Region-at-Large Affiliate for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards program? If you’re a budding artist or writer, don’t forget to submit your latest masterpiece!


Something fantastic happened today…we received our first submission for the Scholastic Art & Writing Competition!!


You’ll want to take the time to check out the new category updates, how to submit, and the scholarship opportunities available to you this year. We want you to win everything! BUT you have to get your submission in online and your submission forms to us by December 15th – the earlier the better though.

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The IOAPA website has a new look!

Have you visited the Iowa Online AP Academy website lately? Our site has undergone a re-design to make it easier to navigate and access from mobile platforms. Look for:

  • Easier step-by-step process for site coordinators when registering students for IOAPA courses and Exam Review
  • Support materials, FAQs, and the IOAPA handbook for guidance during the semester
  • A newly redesigned course catalog for high school and middle school courses offered by our course vendors
  • additional information on professional development through APTTI and links to above-level testing information (recommended for students considering middle school IOAPA courses)

We hope you’ll take some time to look around our new site. Make sure to check out our changes at!

Iowa Online AP Academy versus Iowa Learning Online: What’s the Difference?

Iowa students have a wide range of options when it comes to online learning, and it can be hard to distinguish between what the best options might be for students. One particular program, Iowa Learning Online, offers online programming like IOAPA, but what makes these two programs different?

Target Audience: The Iowa Learning Online program and Iowa Online AP Academy offer very different courses intended for specific student groups. Specifically, Iowa Learning Online courses aim to supplement student learning at their current grade level. IOAPA’s courses are geared towards providing above-level opportunities for high ability students in Iowa.

Advanced Curriculum: Likewise, because Iowa Learning Online seeks to serve all Iowa students, their class offerings do not include AP or other advanced learning options. The Iowa Online AP Academy’s primary goal is to offer above-level coursework to middle and high school students (through the use of AP courses for students in grades 9-12 and courses intended for high school students for students in grades 6-8).

Costs: Iowa Online AP Academy courses are offered at NO cost for Iowa students. IOAPA’s primary goal has always been (and continues to be) to provide access to AP and other advanced coursework for students whose schools do not offer these courses on-site. The Belin-Blank Center does not oversee the Iowa Learning Online program, and thus cannot provide information on their current or future associated costs.

To learn more about IOAPA, check out our website or follow us on Twitter (@kflanaryIOAPA)!

IOAPA: Connecting with AP and the Belin-Blank Center this Summer

Now that AP exams and IOAPA courses are wrapping up, what are the next steps for IOAPA mentors and AP teachers to take before fall? Here are a few suggestions for how to prepare for AP next year!

Right Now:

After AP exams are finished, the College Board ( releases free response items from this year’s exam. Discussion of these items and how students responded can be a great learning opportunity for your students, and can help them engage with how to prepare for future AP exams.

Some schools choose to celebrate AP success by hosting special lunches or receptions to recognize students for their hard work. Make sure your students know that they have worked hard!

AP exam scores will be released in July. Make sure that your students have their College Board account set up so that they can access their scores promptly!

Check in with students about their plans for Iowa Online AP Academy courses next year. Registration is open, and seats fill quickly! Making decisions about courses now can help students plan for the upcoming school year and how AP courses fit into their plans for after high school.

This summer:

A great way for teachers to continue to learn about AP course content and development is to participate in an AP Summer Institute ( These institutes are designed to give you information about your area of interest and to help teachers develop their syllabus in preparation for the AP course audit process. The Belin-Blank Center is hosting an AP institute on July 5-9—more information can be found on our website (

Summer is also a great time to ensure that all of your paperwork is completed for IOAPA courses for next year. This includes re-registering your school and submitting your IOAPA mentor form from the IOAPA handbook.

Educators might also be interested in attending the AP Annual Conference ( on July 13-17, 2016.

For students looking ahead to next year, this post ( provides some helpful suggestions for students looking to jump start their AP experiences.


Interested in learning more about IOAPA opportunities for students? Check out our website ( for more information about online learning for middle and high school students.