First year of implementing the AP Capstone exams at THHS

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On May 8, many sophomores, juniors, and seniors took the AP Capstone exam. This is the first year the exam was offered in Townsend Harris High School. AP Capstone replaced Social Science Research, which followed the same curriculum, but excluded the AP exam. Mr. Hackney and Mr. Scardino taught the newly implemented AP Capstone course which consists of AP Capstone Seminar and AP Capstone Research. Students are required to take AP Capstone Seminar before taking AP Capstone Research.

Mr. Hackney first suggested this plan a couple years ago. He recalled, “I’ve been involved in social science research for close to 25 years at Townsend Harris and while working on it, I heard about this new AP class.” He added, “It sounded like we were doing a lot of the course already, not only in social science research, but in Townsend Harris as well, and so I thought they might be compatible.”

Because of this, a lot of students felt like they were well prepared for the AP Exam. Sophomore Nancy Lin said, “Mr. Scardino really helped us prepare by having us practice with previous exams. He encouraged us to memorize the guidelines of the rubric and reviewed top scoring student samples from previous years.”

Still, the AP Seminar exam itself accounted for only 45% of the overall AP grade. The other portions of the AP Seminar exam included online submissions of research papers, oral presentations, and oral defenses for individuals as well as teams. Junior Julia Pienkowska described these additional submissions as helpful preparation for the exam. She said, “Mr. Hackney spoke a lot about analyzing sources and broke down the exam step by step for us. I felt that it helped me respond to the different questions. A lot of the skills that I was taught to use when analyzing research for my own paper translated into answering questions on the exam.”

Even with student satisfaction, the set up for this year “was pretty much an experiment where we figured out what worked and what didn’t work,” explained Mr. Hackney. Based on this year, he realized, “I do not think it should be offered to seniors, and I think it’s a better class for younger students in terms of the skills. Seniors already know what to do and it doesn’t challenge them. It was hard for the juniors as well because they were juggling AP Capstone Seminar and their research. It should definitely be a freshman or sophomore class.”

Still, Mr. Hackney acknowledged that none of this is set in stone. “Townsend Harris is going to continue experimenting with this for a few years before getting it right because it’s a complex series of AP classes.”

Despite being an experiment year, AP Capstone is highly recommended by current students. Sophomore Nancy Lin explained, “When I first signed up for AP Seminar, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. There were many days when I questioned my life choices during this class but overall it was quite an experience. I’ve learned a lot about research, became more comfortable with public speaking, and not to mention, the National History Day Competition, which really helped me grow appreciation for teamwork and my group members in general.” Junior Joseph Zhao agreed as he said, “I would recommend this class because it truly teaches you how to properly and effectively research and prepares you for the future, such as college, where you will have to do similar tasks.”