My Journey with AP Capstone Courses
By Lynn Knowles, Retired AP Teacher
Every teacher hopes to influence the future through her students, and we all have those students who we know will go on to do great things.
I found out about AP Capstone from my teaching partner. We had piloted a Humanities course that combined my Pre-AP English II class with my partner’s AP World History class. In a district whose high schools were on an accelerated block schedule, we taught the same students in one block all year long. I adapted my “regular” Pre-AP curriculum to support the AP World History curriculum. In early spring, she eased up on writing instruction so I could focus on our state English exam, then I changed gears to focus on her AP exam writing prep. After the AP World History exam, I worked on the specific writing skills my kids would need for AP English Language their junior year. Our team approach had been successful for several years, but we were looking for something new.
Then my partner learned through her AP grapevine about AP Capstone. We investigated and found that we were addressing most of the skills in our 10th grade Humanities block. We made a proposal to our campus, then our district, then to College Board. We were accepted for the second year of the Capstone program, offering AP Capstone Seminar to a select group of junior students.
We visited other programs and talked to everyone we could get in touch with who was connected with Capstone. Based on that feedback, we created an application that relied heavily on teacher recommendation and success in AP World History and Pre-AP English I and II, with extra consideration given to those students who had opted for AP Human Geography rather than Pre-AP World Geography during their freshman year.
We ended up with 12 students, most of whom we had had as sophomores, so we knew their skill levels coming into the class.
We guided them through the research process, letting them choose their topics, then grouping them based on interest for the group portion of the assessment. Then we turned them loose on EBSCO. My partner worked with them on content, and I focused on the writing process.
It was what teaching should be: a small class, co-taught by teachers who work well together, students who want to be there, working on subjects they care about.
Unfortunately, I ended up retiring before those students entered their senior year and AP Capstone Research. But I stayed with them, connecting via email, Google Docs, and Skype. I gave feedback on their research, their essays, their presentations. And I read their final essays with great interest in the topics: the viability of 3D printing of prosthetics, vaccine implementation in developing countries, the politics of tourism in developing countries, the preservation of cultures during globalization.
And I watched with pride as all were accepted to their first-choice colleges, many into honors programs.
And I continue to watch as they settle into college. All have reported that they find college research and writing easy, thanks to the groundwork laid in their 10th grade Humanities class, then honed in AP Capstone. The most common complaint I’ve heard is that the paper lengths required in college aren’t long enough to cover the topics assigned.
I hate that I had to leave before Capstone was fully instituted at my campus, but I am proud to have been part of its inception, and I’m tremendously proud of the students the program has produced: they are the young people who will make our world a better place. And isn’t that what every teacher hopes for?
Lynn Knowles recently retired from a 28-year teaching career, most of which was spent at Flower Mound High School in Texas, where she served as English department chair and taught English II preAP and Humanities, as well as AP Capstone. A lifelong student, she graduated from The University of Texas with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism, certified to teach English and Journalism. She received a master’s in Humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas and a PhD in Rhetoric from Texas Woman’s University. She has been a College Board consultant since 2003. Knowles and her husband now live in Alicante, Spain, where she blogs about their expat experiences at www.operationalicante.wordpress.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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