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Changes in some AP exams coming in a couple of years.... Our AP Online courses will reflect these!
Susan Richman, 1/9/2011

Special thanks to homeschooler Sue Brownawell, who sent me a link to this excellent article from the New York Times from today (January 9, 2011), about the changes coming up for various AP exams. The first to be re-worked will be AP Biology and AP US History in the 2012-2013 school year. These particular exams have been criticized by some as relying too much on memorization of overwhelmingly vast amounts of material, and are being 'revamped' to be more in line with what actual college courses now require. In part the problem was that both courses kept having to 'add' more and more material as further scientific discoveries and key historical happenings have occurred since the exams' development back in the mid-1950's.

Know that our PA Homeschoolers AP Online classes will reflect all of these changes-- and that in many ways we've already been moving in this direction, especially in aiming to both help students really delve into certain topics in more depth and in helping them see the big themes involved in the field. Here's the article link:

 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/09/education/edlife/09ap-t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2 

For instance, here are some of the special projects that my own AP US History students enjoy doing each year, which do not relate directly to specific 'AP exam prep' of the 'memorize these facts' regime, but to my own larger goal of fostering a love for the field of history, are the following:

  • Doing at least one Historical Interview with an older adult who's lived through an era or an historical event (war service, the Great Depression, the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, etc) the student has not experienced. Many find this one of the most meaningful activities of their year. Over the years, I've had students interview an extraordinary range of people:  many servicemen from all wars from World II to Iraq, including one of the first Air Force women pilots, men who took part in D-Day, people working on code-breaking or the Manhattan Project; relatives who had escaped from North Korea in the Korean War, or from Vietnam in the aftermath of the US withdrawal; a woman who served as a court stenographer for the Nuremburg Trials; stories of immigration from many parts of the world, and much more. Often these interviews have been with grandparents or parents, strengthening family ties and understanding. Perhaps my favorite interview this year was a video interview with a veteran who survived the Batan Death March in the Philippines during World War II-- and who now works with veterans with PSTD. The editing was very professional, and the student even played the lovely and evocative background piano music -- I felt I was meeting the next 'Ken Burns' right in my class!
  • Doing two major Biography Projects on people of their choice, using some sort of 'creative format' (my hedge against plagiarism.... which can be a problem, even among very nice homeschool students, unfortunately). One project has to be done as a website or multi-media project. Kids have created simulated diaries, news articles, primary documents, eulogies, time-travel stories, TV game show spoofs, and more-- and learned immensely about the whole era when their person lived. These are kept in an archive on our class website, so all future students can also learn from these amazing projects.
  • History in the News: once a month, students respond with an informal essay to a news or magazine article that reflects on some way on the past. This could be a feature article from a history magazine such as American Heritage (all issues are free online now), or an article from the New York Times or some other current-events publication. This really helps kids see that the past isn't always 'past'-- it keeps coming up even in discussions of happenings today, as people compare and contrast incidents as they try to make meaning and sense of confusing times.
  • Taking part in simulated online 'Dinner Parties' with historical characters, where students take on the role of chosen participants in a certain era or theme in history. This is an incredibly fun and engaging activity, where students really learn to gain understanding of their particular character's views and how he or she might respond to others. And though I can imagine some AP US History teachers might feel such an activity would 'take away' valuable time from 'test prep', I hear every year from students after the AP exam that they were able to answer several questions because of things they had learned from the Dinner Parties.
  • December Film Review project: over the holiday break, students choose either a history documentary or a regular 'story-line' movie with historical significance, and write a review for the class reflecting on what they've learned from this film. Reviews generally truly demonstrate that kids have gained much from this 'other' way of learning about history, often doing quite extensive online research to try to see how historically accurate the film was. I'm always especially pleased when students report that their whole family enjoyed watching and discussing their chosen movie-- especially over the holidays I want students to keep learning, but not in a way that takes time away from good family togetherness.  
  • Document-Based Question Followup: this activity is done the week after all students have written an essay from a past AP US History exam question that gives students a set of documents to reflect on while answering the prompt. Students choose one of the given documents that they knew little about, and do some quick online research to learn more. Many are amazed at what they can discover and learn, gaining some good in-depth background understanding and really making the DBQ Essay into a positive learning activity.   

All these varied ways of learning help students feel engaged actively in their studies-- and help them see the fascinating connections among events and people and themes. Hopefully our AP Biology teacher, Dr. Teri Kanner, will be able to write an article in the coming months about the exciting changes in that course and exam.

If you are curious about any of our almost two dozen PA Homeschoolers AP Online preparation classes, see the link at the top of this website. You'll see there course descriptions for all of this year's current courses-- we hope to be able to offer all of these courses again next school year, and will have updated info posted online by April 1, 2011.  We look forward to incorporating these positive changes that the College Board is making to exam structure and format and course coverage. All of our courses are fully authorized via the College Board AP Audit program, and we can provide official transcripts of course grades.

  

 


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