North Central High School senior Matt Henley describes the Advanced Placement class as the most beneficial he’s ever taken.
“It helps with breaking down things and analyzing them, and knowing where to find resources,” he said. “It’s helped me structure and write research papers better.”
Henley is one of the original 19 North Central students enrolled in AP Cambridge, a specialty course designed to develop independent research and collaborative teamwork skills, that’s available as part of a pilot project in just 17 schools worldwide. The course is taught in two yearlong sections: the seminar course and the research project.
The first year concluded with 100 percent of Henley’s class passing the first AP exam. It was one of just five classes in the world with that pass rate, according to the College Board, a national organization that prepares standardized tests, such as the SATs and AP course exams, that are used for college admission and placement.
Most of the 17 schools participating in the pilot project are public. The College Board invited North Central to participate because “we wanted to make sure this course was replicable in every sense, so each school represents different cross-sections in education,” said Deborah Davis, a College Board spokeswoman.
Some of the schools involved are elite private schools, some have large minority populations. North Central is a small urban school with a mix of students from different socioeconomic backgrounds. About half of its students get federally subsidized school lunches.
The students were not handpicked for North Central’s class, said Kelly Stromberg, North Central’s AP Cambridge lead teacher. They come to class “ready and willing every day to academically risk,” she said.
North Central senior Dalynn Blais has embraced the course. The class teaches students how to look deeper at sources of information, especially in history, she said. If you know the background of the person giving the information, you can determine if their information is biased.
“I am excited to see how it (the class’s lessons) helps in college,” the 17-year-old said.
During the first year, students learned the “the critical path”: evaluating conclusions, arguments and reasoning for claims; finding the evidence for the aforementioned; determining the impact research had on their original perspectives; and then communicating their views.
The students did individual and team projects. The AP final was an hour-and-a-half-long written exam that assessed how well they mastered the “skill of inquiry.”
This year, the students started their research project: a 30-page paper they need to write and defend. “It’s authentic, underground research,” Stromberg said.
A few of the topics: Do a person’s genetics factor into addiction? What’s the historical accuracy of movies, specifically in relation to World War II? Should NCAA athletes be paid?
“The process the kids go through is really valuable,” North Central Principal Steve Fisk said. “Colleges are looking for this. Colleges want kids to get beyond memorizing facts.”
He added, “I’m just so proud of the kids. To be first, and embrace it.”