Teaching AP Capstone Through COVID-19

One of the unintended results of COVID-19 has been the online learning model which has impacted the whole SMUS community and indeed all educational institutions in Canada and beyond.

With this new normal, our AP Capstone students have continued their studies by finishing their research papers in a remote setting, but requiring frequent guidance and support through the online classes and many emails and meetings outside class time through Google Meet.

AP Research and Seminar

The last two months have seen the 15 AP Research students finish off their own research into a wide variety of topics which began last summer. The requirement was for them to choose any topic, read up on the academic literature surrounding the topic, find a gap in the literature, and then aim to fill the gap with their own research.

Normally, this type of research – their own research – is not conducted until fourth year or later at universities. Luckily the vast majority of students managed to conduct their research (surveys, in-person interviews, experiments, content analysis) before the pandemic shut everything down in mid-March.

Their final papers require a literature review, explanation about the gap in the academic literature, explanations and justifications of their research methodology, their findings, and their interpretation and analysis of these findings, along with implications and limitations. It is expected to be a high level scholarly piece of work of around 5,000 words.

The calibre of students this year was first class. The topics they chose were, as always, incredibly varied, including:

    • To what extent does Canadian high school curriculum promote racial equality for teenagers?
    • What are the barriers to telehealth adoption amongst family physicians in Victoria, BC, Canada?
    • To what extent do female teenagers’ attachment to Disney princess movies affect their evaluation of the movies’ accuracy and appropriateness?
    • When employed immediately prior to a standardized test, to what extent can music therapy decrease stress and anxiety and improve exam performance in senior high school students?
    • Given the global nature of the 21st century climate crisis, to what extent should supranational organizations infringe upon state sovereignty in seeking resolution of this issue?

In AP Seminar, the 33 students, almost all of whom are in Grade 11, had to base their final paper in an argumentative style on a theme originating in the set of stimulus materials released by the College Board earlier in the year. The theme this year was (ironically) “happiness.” These papers had to be scholarly produced with convincing, credible academic sources backing up their argument (and counter-argument), as well as using the stimulus materials in one way or another within their claims.

Rigours of Remote Learning

All of the Capstone papers were submitted on May 26, and, after that, a few students opted to present their findings in front of a virtual Oral Defence Panel, constituting some of the school directors and Head of School Mark Turner. Although somewhat nerve-racking for the presenters, the presentations were expertly put together and showcased the variety of topics and also the skill set of the students. It is instructive to see the high quality, particularly given the fact that the presentations were crafted in often only one week, as soon as the official papers were submitted.

As examples of some of the great presentations, above, you can watch Grade 12 student Kate O’Connor present her AP Research findings on “Gendered Language in Book Reviews of Female and Male Authors,” and below you can watch Grade 11 student Divyesh Nagarajan present “Life Satisfaction and Age” for AP Seminar.

All in all, the determination and tenacity of students to finish off their papers in a remote learning setting was so impressive. It is not easy to be writing high-quality research from home and also editing the work, and yet, to their credit, the Capstone students took this very independent-style of learning to heart and produced some outstanding papers.

Year after year we are so impressed by what the students in the AP Capstone program produce, and that rings even more true this year with the challenges that remote learning has presented. In addition to having to balance the rigour of these courses, working in a remote learning environment has meant that students in these courses had to really hone their organizational and time management skills. These university-level courses are always challenging, let alone during a pandemic, and we would like to commend the students for their professionalism and determination to finish the year so strongly with such a high standard of papers and presentations.

Also, for the Grade 12s in AP Research, we know that they will definitely be using these skills in their universities in the fall and beyond, and wish them all success in their future endeavours.

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