Last week, Brewster’s two AP Capstone Seminar classes came together to learn and apply their skills at Brewster’s Field Term site, a stunning and unique off-campus mountain setting where director Ben Rendall ’07 and a small group of adventurous AP Capstone students have been living and learning together for the fall trimester. Mr. Rendall and History Department Chair Dr. Marta Filip-Fouser, who teaches the on-campus AP Seminar course, wanted to give the two groups of students an opportunity to interact and hear different voices in this first-ever summit of sorts.
“While Field Term’s Capstone focuses on humans’ relationships with the natural world and emphasizes ways to appreciate and protect the environment, my class, The Self and the World, explores the relationship between the self and others, be it family, friends, local communities, nations, or the larger world,” said Dr. Filip-Fouser. “Mr. Rendall suggested that perhaps we could bring our two AP Seminar groups together. With the end of the first trimester and the conclusion of the Field Term in sight, the timing felt right.”
The classes gathered at the pavilion at Gilmanton, N.H.’s Camp Bell, one of the many spaces students at Field Term have used for outdoor learning. Dr. Filip-Fouser started off the afternoon by pulling out a deck of I Dissent game debate topics, referencing the importance of argument in AP Seminar. Students then paired up with someone from the other class and engaged in friendly debates.
Once the ice-breaker activity ended, the classes divided up into small groups to read and discuss the poem, Another Planet, by an Iraqi-American writer Dunya Mikhail. Afterward, they engaged in a whole-class analysis of the 19th-century artwork, Rain, Steam, and Speed by W.M. Turner. The students then shifted to writing down and sharing their observations, inferences, and questions about Turner’s artwork and the growing tensions in our impact on the natural world.
Abeer ’22, a student in Dr. Filip-Fouser’s class, commented how this conversation was the highlight of her trip. “I believe that the picture discussion really showed how the two different seminar classes operated,” she reflected. “We all had similar thinking processes but while our seminar class looked at the picture for deeper meaning and symbolism, the other class analyzed the picture from the environmental angle and when we combined both those ideas we all saw the picture in a new light.”
After a full afternoon of discussion, the group returned to the main lodge to cook together and eat their meal how Field Term students always do: family-style. The conversation, laughter, and community-building continued as students discussed their different languages, upcoming plans, and respective school experiences.
“I really enjoyed the Camp Bell visit,” said Mac ’22. “I was able to meet new friends as I got to think and argue with them. I also enjoyed preparing the meal with others, because I felt like I could contribute to others and enjoy doing something together outside of the classroom. The atmosphere was very welcoming and it felt like we were all a part of the same home.”
“It was a lot of fun,” Lila ’22 reflected on the day. “I really enjoyed hearing from different perspectives other than the people at Field Term. Plus, we made new friends.”
AP Capstone Seminar courses are designed to present students with opportunities to engage in an in-depth study of real-world problems and academic issues. Grounded in critical reading, writing, and research skills, the course invites students to consider multiple perspectives and form evidence-based arguments. The AP program’s term for its instructional foundation is “QUEST,” the acronym for question, understand, evaluate, synthesize, and transform.
Because the course is based on skills, it allows teachers flexibility in themes and content for their classes–which is part of the reason it was so fun for the AP Seminar classes to merge.
The overarching theme of Dr. Filip-Fouser’s course, The Self and the World, focuses on exploring the complexities of the self, one’s multiple and evolving identities, and global citizenship in the 21st century. Students are regularly engaging with this theme in their readings, debates, lessons, and discussions.
“The Self and the World follows the different elements of our allegiance: self and our families and friends, local communities and national governments, and humanity as a whole,” says Dr. Filip-Fouser. “Of course, they always intersect, but the awareness of their existence gives students the opportunities to consider their different personal and social identities in different contexts. Given this year’s students’ experiences of coming from multiple places (e.g., the United States, Oman, Thailand) and yet sharing the current locality (Wolfeboro, N.H.), this arrangement offers a wonderful opportunity to present, understand, and discuss different perspectives and make multiple connections to the course topics—but also to students’ interests.”
The connections have certainly been bountiful in the course thus far, and many students commented on how lively their class discussions become.
“I really enjoy our class discussions, because we all have different opinions. We might not all agree with certain things, but we still find a way to talk and lighten up the atmosphere,” says Abber ’22, a student from Oman in Dr. Filip-Fouser’s class.
Meanwhile, over at Field Term, the AP Seminar course is nested within the broader theme of the natural world. Students read, research, and explore issues related to the environment, regularly making connections with their other Field Term lessons.
Dr. Craig Gemmell, President of Brewster Academy International, travels to Field Term once a week to teach AP Seminar—often outside. Students have analyzed poetry on top of a mountain, shared their thoughts around a campfire, and traveled to see the natural elements that they’re researching.
“Through all of their work with each other in this class, I believe that students came to understand quite intuitively a number of truths about themselves: They are individually and collectively far more capable than they perhaps imagined when they started this course, they all see the world in a different way, and each benefits from the perspectives of the other,” said Dr. Gemmell. “I’ve been immensely grateful to share in this experience and watch each student’s inner scholar stirring within them.”
Ben Rendall ’07, Director of Field Term, carries on the AP Seminar work when Dr. Gemmell isn’t there. He will also continue to teach the course when the students return to campus for the winter and spring trimesters.
Despite the different content themes and teachers, there’s one huge commonality that both classes revolve around: challenge.
“This course has been challenging, because it’s a way of thinking I’ve never done before,” Zak ’23 said. “It’s real-world problem solving. You have to look at all sides of something, and not just the side that you see.”
Many students acknowledged that it’s one of the more challenging courses they’ve taken, but also one of the most beneficial. They understand that the skills they’re learning will extend well beyond the classroom. Whether they’re researching a real-world problem, dissecting a writer’s stance on a current issue, or crafting their own argument, they’re building a powerful skillset to take with them for the future.
“This class has definitely taught me how to properly speak and develop an argument,” says Abeer ’22. “I can also analyze things a lot more.”
It’s this perspective-taking that inspires the students the most. Even when asked questions about the class, the students light up excitedly about their favorite discussions and activities.
“We’re researching issues and putting together proposals for real-world problems,” Zak ’23 said. “It’s so interesting to learn what goes into creating solutions.”
In our ever-evolving world, these skills won’t just be helpful for students–they’ll be necessary. Fortunately, if the AP Seminar students’ reflections are any indication, they’re well on their way to being the future problem-solvers we need.
To see more photos from the day, check out our Flickr album.
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