Switching up traditional classes with ‘Seminar’

AP Capstone program comes to campus

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Switching up traditional classes with ‘Seminar’

AP Seminar students work together for a class assignment. Seminar is a new addition to campus this year.

AP Seminar students work together for a class assignment. Seminar is a new addition to campus this year.

Photo by Faith Fuller

AP Seminar students work together for a class assignment. Seminar is a new addition to campus this year.

Photo by Faith Fuller

Photo by Faith Fuller

AP Seminar students work together for a class assignment. Seminar is a new addition to campus this year.

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From shuffling desks in a group discussion to laughing along with peculiar presentations, young minds at work are an essential element of room 1324. For the self-dubbed ‘guinea pigs’ of AP Seminar, a lively and unpredictable classroom environment has become a normal part of the school day.

As part of a district-wide introduction of College Board’s AP Capstone diploma program, teacher Canita Lee began teaching the first two AP Seminar classes on campus this fall.

“Part of it is like you’re preparing for your own TED talk,” senior Sabrina Perez said. “Seminar is the best class I’ve ever taken.”

The Capstone program consists of two consecutive courses, AP Seminar and AP Research, with AP Research set to begin next school year. To earn the AP Capstone diploma, students must pass the Seminar and Research exams and earn a 3 or higher on four other AP tests.

Part of it is like you’re preparing for your own TED talk.”

— Senior Sabrina Perez

Rather than teach specific subject areas, the Capstone program aims to prepare students for collegiate work with skills in research, presentations, critical thinking and collaboration.

Though the course is brand new, Lee and her students have already explored what the class has to offer.

“So far the students are so supportive of each other,” Lee said. “They don’t know everything yet, but they’re learning together, and that’s really cool to see.”

AP Seminar focuses on diving deep into topics, such as current events, with an emphasis on research and critical thinking. The class differs from standard English classes with a much less ‘structured’ feel.

“It’s pretty open,” junior Zachary Daum said. “It gives you a lot of freedom, especially compared to a lot of other classes. The point is to not be as structured, so you have that freedom to pursue your interests.”

Photo by Faith Fuller
Seminar students junior Grace Yin, junior Katelyn Tang and senior Kelsey Taylor work on a group project.

So far, assignments in the class have varied greatly, with a focus on group work, research and analysis.

“In one assignment we were given a PowerPoint filled with random images,” Daum said. “Ms. Lee was like, ‘You guys have 15 minutes to write a speech and figure out how all of this links together’. Some people got PowerPoints where every slide just said ‘chicken’ on it, and all of my presentation was in Russian.”

Unlike other AP tests, students are scored on collaborative components for the Seminar exam. Students will work in teams beginning in December to research a specific question of their choosing.

“They’re kind of interviewing each other all the time and figuring out who’s going to be the best match,” Lee said. “A lot of what we’ve been doing right now is getting to know each other as far as how people work in a group, the kind of roles that people take on and if people are meshing or not. In November they’ll be able to provide me some feedback on who they would like to be grouped with.”

Even in its early stages, Seminar’s emphasis on presentation and speaking has pushed several students to expand their skill set.

Every day is a highlight. The classes are such an awesome mix of kids with such great attitudes and willingness to try things.”

— AP Seminar teacher Canita Lee

“The first three years of high school I was always really nervous to do presentations,” senior Danthy Nguyen said. “I’ve definitely liked going out of my comfort zone now.”

Though most have expressed positive sentiments toward the class, Seminar is not for every student. According to Lee, the course works best for intrinsically motivated and curious individuals, and Seminar students agree the class requires effort.

Nonetheless, Lee and her classes have endured many new experiences within a short period of time.

“Every day is a highlight,” Lee said. “The classes are such an awesome mix of kids with such great attitudes and willingness to try things.”

The class is open to sophomores, juniors and seniors. Students who complete Seminar may move on to the AP Research course, focused on independent research, next school year.

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