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CAPSTONE™ – AN EVOLUTION IN TEACHING
By Suzanne Forcese
Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute (DMCI) in Winnipeg Manitoba, bears the name of a 43–year-term Winnipeg School Division Superintendent who brought wisdom, imagination and innovation to the Winnipeg school system. Designed by architect Colonel John N. Semmons, and built in 1922 in the Gothic Revival Style, the school was viewed as the most important school in western Canada. The likes of Senator Ian Sinclair, Lieutenant Governor George Johnson, Guess Who guitarist Kurt Winter and a who’s who list of hockey player greats, singers, authors and scientists too long to list, call DMCI their Alma Mater. The building is a municipally designated historic site.
Today history is being made in Mr. Paul’s class.
Teacher Benjamin Paul, a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award For Teaching Excellence is bringing the founding values of Daniel McIntyre to a class of 32 Advanced Placement (AP) students with Capstone ™ -- a College Board Program.
DMCI is the only school in Manitoba to offer this program, and one of a handful of schools across Canada.
“It’s like AP on steroids,” Paul told WaterToday. A program based on academic research, “it’s really like a mini-Masters program for la crème de la crème”
AP Capstone™ is a College Board program that equips students with the independent research, collaborative teamwork, and communication skills that are increasingly valued by colleges. AP Capstone comprises two AP courses – AP Seminar and AP Research – and is designed to complement and enhance the discipline-specific study in other AP courses.
The AP Capstone™ Diploma program was launched in the fall of 2014 at the request of higher education faculties and administrations seeking incoming freshmen with proficiency in critical thinking and communication skills. Students are required to work in teams, work with mentors, and develop and deliver team and individual presentations with a goal to inform and create change.
Rather than teaching subject-specific content, these courses develop students’ skills in research, analysis, evidence-based arguments, collaboration, writing and presenting. Students who complete the two-year program can earn one of two different AP Capstone awards, which are valued by colleges across Canada, the United States and around the world.
Pauls, an AP Teacher, who took his Capstone™ training in a 5-day workshop last summer, is also expected to complete 10 hours of additional course specific training every winter. “My job is to teach the skills of research, evaluating sources, synthesizing information and creating solutions.” Then off they go. They are required to investigate real world issues and offer solutions.
The inter-disciplinary approach requires that students work in a team of five individuals, each with a specific role in the research. “Each student must examine the topic through a specified lens. For example, one student might do research on the psychology of a certain topic, another on the cultural aspects, another on the environmental aspects, one on the political ramifications and yet another on the practicality of implementing solutions.”
Teaming allows students to combine personal strengths and talents to reach a common goal. “They really learn how to become personally detached putting their personal biases aside.”
Students may choose to explore topics related to other AP courses they are taking. Paul guides the students through completing a research project, writing an academic paper, and making a presentation. “They are also required to be prepared for an impromptu oral defence of their work.”
Paul finds that the students are really committed to issues that matter to them. “One of the teams has chosen WaterToday’s Scholarship Challenge topic on the bottled water crisis. They were already very environmentally conscious to begin with and this Challenge is a perfect fit for our program.”
Capstone™ is a two-year program. “Students are with me both semesters of Grade 11 and both semesters of Grade 12.” Paul sees the Capstone ™ students once a day for an hour but is also teaching other classes. In total – as is typical of high school teachers – he is responsible for 150-200 students per school year. Students are also taking three other AP courses per semester.
“The rigor of the course is based on analyzing real-world problems through mult
iple lenses and producing solution-based communication in various forms that have been integrated, synthesized and been connected cross-curricularly.”
Paul is encouraged to see the transformation and growth in his students. “They are really learning to synthesize others’ ideas with their own and develop new understandings as they roll it all together in their final presentations.”
In Grade 12 the students will spend an entire year on a topic of their choice and produce a 5000-word academic paper with their own crafted qualitative and quantitative data generated with existing data. “Grade 11 is small “r” research, Grade 12 is big “R” Research.”
“I’m really lucky,” Paul adds. “These kids are so passionate about their work and so goal oriented. Ninety percent of them are new Canadians and they know the importance of hard work. Many of their parents are working at two or three jobs so that their kids can go on to higher education and make a contribution. Their dedication really gives me the energy to devote my time to them.”
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