This summer, I had the good fortune to take part in College Board’s weeklong training for their AP Capstone Research course. Like many of you, our school offers the Advanced Placement (AP) programme: we currently offer 15 courses in a variety of subjects. Thanks to the efforts of our very keen Director of Teaching and Learning, Myke Healy, our application to be part of the AP Capstone program was accepted, and we rolled out with the first course (Grade 11 AP Seminar) last year. This year, students from that course will move on to the second course (Grade 12 AP Research), and we’ll welcome new students into Seminar. Those wishing to earn a Capstone diploma take an additional 4 AP courses (in subjects of their choosing).
This programme focuses on allowing students time to develop skills critical to their post-secondary success – so it was no surprise to find that it completely supports so much of what we all aim to do in our libraries every day!
Building skills, not consuming content
- Time in and out of class is focused on learning and practicing research skills: while the skills aren’t new, the amount of time allotted to ‘playing’ with them was a revelation
- Sequencing/scaffolding/pacing is key: as time (or lack thereof) is a challenge for all of us, we were encouraged to think strategically about how and when we introduce specific skills
- The inquiry model (QUEST ) mirrors other models that I’ve used in library instruction (ie. OLA’s Process of Inquiry & Research and the Big6), reinforcing my long-standing belief that this stuff works
Focusing on an area of personal interest
We all know how important choice is to students: I’m still sad thinking about a student saying she would have loved Code Name Verity if it hadn’t been assigned for English…sigh. Capstone students may focus on any area of interest, within or outside of our academic curriculum. Thinking of what students chose to focus on in the Seminar course last year (one looked at the role of women in the history of hip-hop) makes me excited to think about what lies ahead. This also allows for interdisciplinary work, an opportunity for students to stretch themselves, and/or connect with divergent areas of interest.
Connecting with the university experience
While what we offer in all courses should help prepare our students for post-secondary success, there are two areas where I think Capstone will really help them prepare for what lies ahead:
- Students become thoroughly familiar with scholarly articles: many of our students are required to use scholarly works, but Capstone students will spend a good deal of time looking at the structure and content of scholarly articles (particularly research reports). This exposure should help make them more comfortable accessing and using these sources, in addition to becoming experienced in writing one themselves.
- The structure requires students to manage an open-ended time frame. College Board has only one deadline: students must submit their research paper and offer their presentation (including oral defense) by April 30th. While Capstone teachers may have ongoing due dates for individual components of this paper (both to ensure that all is on track, and to have grades available for reports), much of the time management is left up to the students.
In addition to allowing us to explore the research process as students will (like playing in a sandbox!), the workshop included time to work with colleagues to build a syllabus and prepare lessons – time very well spent. The experience stirred up my thinking about the student approach to research (being mindful; becoming knowledgeable by being knowledge-able), what it means to be a researcher, and learning to read for research (this last fire was initially lit by the AISL Tampa Board Book). I came out of the week ready and eager to work with our AP Research students, and adjusting my approach to the instruction I provide to other classes. And grateful for having this opportunity.