–by Mr. Jeff Gepner and Ms. Elisia Brodeur–

RIS introduced a new class in high school this year: AP Seminar, the first year of the AP Capstone™ Diploma program from the College Board. Students typically take AP Seminar in grade 10 or 11, which provides the building blocks and is a prerequisite for the next year’s course, AP Research. 

According to the AP Capstone website, “Instead of teaching specific subject knowledge, AP Seminar and AP Research use an interdisciplinary approach to develop the critical-thinking, research, collaboration, time management, and presentation skills students need for college-level work.

The College Board developed the AP Capstone Diploma program at the request of higher education professionals, who saw a need for a systematic way for high school students to begin mastering these skills before college…. In both courses, students are required to: 

  • Analyze topics through multiple lenses to construct meaning or gain understanding.
  • Plan and conduct a study or investigation.
  • Propose solutions to real-world problems.
  • Plan and produce communication in various forms.
  • Collaborate to solve a problem.
  • Integrate, synthesize, and make cross-curricular connections.” 

I spoke with Mr. Jeff Gepner, the first teacher to be teaching the AP Seminar course at RIS. I asked him why RIS decided to offer this class. He explained that the students who currently take IB classes at RIS can choose to also take the IB Diploma Program, which incorporates a bigger research component and includes an extended essay. The students taking AP classes, although certainly challenged academically, didn’t have similar requirements. By introducing the AP Seminar class, RIS now offers a more thorough research program for our AP students. Running both programs at RIS results in better equivalency; now all high school students have the opportunity to learn the many aspects required to efficiently conduct research, which is an immensely useful skill when they get to university.  

If the students successfully pass the AP Seminar, AP Research, and four other AP courses and exams, they will earn the AP Capstone Diploma. If they take and pass just the AP Seminar and AP Research courses, they will earn an AP Research and Seminar Certificate. Both of these are impressive accomplishments that demonstrate a student’s ability to successfully manage college-level academic challenges. Research suggests that students who take the AP Capstone Diploma course do better in college and have generally higher college acceptance rates.  

I asked Mr. Jeff to elaborate on what the students are learning in the AP Seminar class. He explained that while the main goal is to help students develop analytical and research skills, the focus is on general topics. There is no specific required curriculum, so the class can be taught with whatever topic the teacher chooses. The point is to present different perspectives, so it helps to choose something controversial that is interesting to the students, allows them to do a lot of research, and supports debate. Mr. Jeff chose the topic of food for this year’s AP Seminar class. “Over the course of the first semester, we will explore many different aspects of food production and food consumption. We will look at the history of food production and some of the contemporary issues surrounding the global food industry through different lenses and perspectives. For example, we will explore the economics of the modern food industry along with the environmental effects and political power of agribusiness. We will look at food through a cultural and ethical lens to debate the case around controversial foods like whale meat or dog meat. We may also look at food as an art form through modern gastronomy.”  

For the first semester, Mr. Jeff leads the class. The focus is on learning and practicing the skills with readings and topics he provides. For the second semester, the students will choose their own topic, write two research papers (one as an individual and one as a group), and give a presentation. For the group presentation, the group decides on a central issue and each member explores some aspect of it. The group has 10 minutes to give its presentation, which must include a description of the issue and a proposed solution with its relative benefits and disadvantages.  

The students have to be able to summarize, critique, and analyze a wide variety of texts so they have been studying old historical sources, reading journal articles, and have watched a documentary. The goal is for them to become more critical thinkers so they are learning how to deconstruct or reverse engineer an argument as well as the importance of efficiency and clarity in their presentations. The students will also understand what style manuals are for and learn how to identify and apply different styles.   

The overall takeaway is that we want our students at RIS to value research skills and independent, lifelong learning. By offering this course, we know that when our students go to college they won’t have trouble doing research or producing 20-page research papers. 

I asked the students what they think of the class so far. Here’s what a couple of them shared:  

“I chose to take this class because I...like to challenge myself. This class also helps strengthen my reading, writing, and presenting skills, which I will be using in college and in the future.” — Kwankamon (Kwan) Meesomboon 

“I think this class will benefit me as a student as it will improve my presentation skills—now and for my future studies in college—as well as my confidence. I am learning how to choose and analyze sources correctly and how to build my credibility when advocating or debating. The teacher helps me to see texts and websites differently. And by differently I mean visualizing texts from many different perspectives and lenses. These techniques improve how I think and organize my thoughts more efficiently. I am learning how to identify which pieces of work are reliable or not, even if they are from usually credible sources. I would absolutely recommend this class to others, especially for students who are aiming to study abroad. I know it’s a new course for all of us but, in my opinion, and from what I’ve learned up until now, this is a great class to prepare you for your college years.” — Varin (Junn) Watunyuta