Briarcliff Students Practice Debate and Research at a College-Level in New AP Capstone Class

In Briarcliff High School, the administration is always raising the bar and looking for new ways to challenge students.

This year the school is offering a new class: AP Capstone. AP Capstone is a two-year program that allows students to study at a college level and receive college credit. In the program students investigate topics from multiple perspectives, analyze and communicate information and evidence-based arguments and research independently, as well as with a team, to develop a written report and to create a presentation.

“This program has only been around for five or six years, so it is brand-new,” said English teacher Karen McCarthy. “It is the first time it is being offered at the school, so I am excited to teach it.”

Ms. McCarthy took professional development classes to prepare to teach the course. She is teaching the first part of the course, which is a seminar class. Next year the second part of the course will be offered.

“If you only complete the first part of the course you will still get high school credit, since it is an elective, but to get the college credit you need to complete the two parts of the course, which is two years,” she said.

According to Ms. McCarthy, it is a research and argument course, but also a public speaking course.

In class, students are asked to discuss topics from a variety of perspectives. Topics included were abortion rights, school start times, and the age-old debate: cats or dogs. Which is better?

Students discussed the topics in small groups, as well as together as a full class.

Students also watched a video describing search engine algorithms. Algorithms track online searches and filter content according to what people search for. As a result, people only see content they want, which creates a type of a filter bubble that can cause them to miss important information. Therefore, people are isolated from information and perspectives that they do not know about.

It is important for students to understand how to view different perspectives, so those views can be incorporated into their essays.

“Students are going to pick a topic, discuss it from many different perspectives, and conduct scholarly research to come up with solutions to the problem,” Ms. McCarthy said.

The course is not required and Ms. McCarthy cannot assist the students with grammar while they are writing their essays.

“I can guide the students, but I cannot give them writing lab advice. They have to be able to write essays on an AP level,” she said.

Ms. McCarthy is looking forward to preparing the students for their AP exam in the course this coming May.

“I am excited,” she said. “It is my first time teaching this course and it is becoming one of my favorite classes because it is just so different from the typical class. You never know the personalities of the students that you are going to get, and I feel that I got very lucky this year with the students and with the size of the class. Other teachers in similar classes in other schools have many more students, making debate difficult. But this group is just the right size.”






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