By Mia Speier ’18
This year, Immaculate Heart introduced the new AP Capstone course, a unique two-year program that begins with a seminar class and culminates with a research class. Currently, myself and a group of sophomores, juniors and seniors are enrolled in the first class, AP Seminar.
As a new class within the IHHS curriculum, there is an air of mystery surrounding what it is and how class time is usually conducted. While many students are eager to ask those currently taking the class about the content, course load and projects (due to their expressed interest in taking the class next year), some students are just plain curious.
The College Board states that AP Capstone is a “program that equips students with the independent research, collaborative teamwork, and communication skills that are increasingly valued by colleges… cultivat[ing] curious, independent, and collaborative scholars and prepar[ing] them to make logical, evidence-based decisions.”
While this statement may be true, it is also broad and ambiguous. Instead of robotically describing the purpose of the AP Capstone program, I have chosen to share my personal experiences and the experiences of my peers to shed light on some of the things we have learned and why AP Capstone is unlike any class we have ever taken.
My experience in AP Seminar so far has been rewarding.
For the class, Mr. van der Woude and Dr. Sievering collaborate together to lead discussions and lessons. Our theme for the year is war, which is a perfect theme given its relevance in today’s world.
The first few weeks of school were mainly devoted to learning about how to analyze a piece of information, whether it be a podcast, a news article, a movie, a documentary, a speech, or a piece of art. We learned about the different types of argumentation, what makes an argument effective, and the different types of reasoning people may use. We were also introduced to different lenses that may be used when analyzing arguments and claims, such as historical, scientific, futuristic and political perspectives. But perhaps the greatest parts of the class are when we are able to use the things we learn and apply them to actual assignments.
For example, recently we were asked to analyze several articles about China’s political strategies regarding territory and foreign policy. We were given two different authors, from two different sources, with two different arguments. The next day in class, we had a student-led discussion about the two articles (what we thought of their claims, credibility and argumentation). Another time, we were asked to listen to a Ted Talk and two podcasts that both dealt with the ethics and psychological factors of going to war. On another day, we participated in another student-led roundtable about the arguments that we heard, and then we shared our opinions on the subject matter.
These examples reflect my favorite aspect of the class: It is mainly discussion based. I learn most effectively when I am able to converse with my peers about what I am learning — as opposed to just absorbing information. In AP Seminar, all ideas, opinions and arguments are welcomed and respected in a discussion format. It is interesting to see how sometimes the takeaways from the articles or the podcasts can differ from person to person depending on how they saw the argument. The discussions are engaging because some students pose questions while others are eager to share their answers. As the year goes on, our understanding of what the author or host is trying to argue becomes stronger, just as our skills in relation to argumentation and persuasive writing grow stronger too.
When asked why AP Seminar is unique, senior Zoe Towne said, “AP Seminar is like no other course I have taken. Mr. van der Woude and Dr. Sievering are both engaging, wonderful teachers and they are both extremely skilled at leading discussions. It’s a class mainly taught with conversation and that’s why I love it.”
Town pointed out that she, too, learns best through discussion. “Being able to hear a wide range of opinions helps me form and improve my own, and it also helps me think from different perspectives and come to conclusions I can’t come to by myself,” she said.
“Right now, we are focusing on the subject of war, something unfortunately intertwined with humanity and its history. We explore this subject from an array of views, and in doing so, we learn the vast differences in thought from one subject,” she added.
I agree 100 percent! AP Seminar is a way to become more engaged in current events and become more aware of history. Since the start of the school year, I have learned so much about argumentation, foreign policy and past wars. As a debater, this new knowledge is invaluable. In addition to learning new things, I have also had my ideas challenged, something that doesn’t happen as often as it maybe should.
Similarly, sophomore Olivia Merlan shared this about the class: “AP Seminar is a course in which, rather than having to memorize material for a course, like the other classes I have taken at IH, your ideas and opinions of a subject and how you show those ideas and opinions are what matters. It is a course that challenges your ability to think and process information rather than your ability to memorize information long enough to take a test.”
Asked how the skills learned in AP Seminar will help both in and out of school, junior Juliann Freedman noted, “It will definitely help me with research papers that are different from the typical essay. We learn how to evaluate sources critically. We are going to be focusing on public speaking, which is very important for any sort of career in business, or just in general where it is important you speak clearly and confidently.”
Overall, AP Seminar is a class that challenges students to think critically and argue effectively.
To anyone interested in taking AP Capstone in the future, the workload isn’t overbearing, but it isn’t easy. For homework, we read a lot of articles, watch documentaries, or listen to podcasts; all things that are generally time consuming. However, the work you do is not only interesting, but it is also engaging. You are asked to evaluate the things you are reading, take notes, identify arguments, and come to class prepared to speak on the topic. AP Capstone also requires a lot of collaboration and group work for projects and presentations. It is a must that any student in AP Capstone is able to share her ideas and work well with others.
I recommend this class to anyone who seeks to learn more about argumentation, acquire more public speaking skills, and discuss materials within open, roundtable discussions.
This class will definitely be one of the most interesting classes you will take here at IH!