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Inaugural Offering of AP Human Geography Sees Students Succeed

Last year, the Social Studies Department introduced the AP Human Geography course to its curriculum to offer students the opportunity to study the distribution, processes and effects of human population on the planet. During its inaugural year, 189 students took the course, which culminated with an AP Exam in May. Notably, 92 percent of students passed the exam with a score of 3, 4 or 5.
What makes this number even more impressive is that the new course, which replaced Honors World History in the lineup of social studies course offerings, is primarily taken by freshmen and sophomores—many of whom have never taken an AP-level course.

“Overall, our impression was that, even though the course was challenging, the students really enjoyed it because of the topics,” says Social Studies Department Chair Priya Amin.

“The title of ‘AP’ is intimidating, but as this past year demonstrated, many students are up to the task,” adds Social Studies teacher Christopher Masello. “Exposure to the rigorous pace and higher-level thinking skills involved in the course will put them in a stronger position for future academic success. It it more challenging, but also more rewarding.”

Through the use of historical and modern case studies, the interpretation of maps and the analysis of geospatial data, students explored cultural geography, political geography, agriculture, industry and urbanization.

“This course is unique in that it gives students exposure to nearly all the disciplines that we teach within the Social Studies Department,” explains Social Studies Teacher Rose Wysocki. “Students learn about politics, industry, culture, economics, among other topics, in terms that are relevant to the world around them. The course offers students the opportunity to expand their worldview far beyond what many have ever experienced.”

Instead of following the chronological development of the Honors World History class, AP Human Geography uses thematic and geographic approaches to cover the key events in the development of mankind. Students develop critical-thinking skills through the application and analysis of the fundamental concepts of geography and encounter questions such as where and why people migrate; how language, ethnicity and geography are interconnected; how political boundaries are decided and maintained; and how demographics are interconnect with urban development.

“This course is unique because it blends several social studies disciplines together and sets a great foundation for subsequent courses in our department,” says Masello. “It’s fun to teach because it’s largely conceptual, meaning that we have a lot of freedom to choose teaching strategies and mix up the real-world examples we examine.”

Sophomore Margaret Kolada ’21 took the course as a freshman. “My favorite unit was cultural patterns and processes,” she explains. “I was able to learn about cultures and languages around the world that differ from my own.” For her second semester project, which she and her group presented at the AP Human Geography Fair in May, Kolanda explored the question “Is the gender pay gap in the U.S. ethical?” and compared the pay gap in the United States to other countries and cultures and even across industries.
 
Social Studies teacher Andrew Waple explains that the accessibility of the course rests in its relevance to current events. “While it does touch on some major history, AP Human Geography mostly focuses on current aspects of the world, such as trends in urbanization, migration, population growth and agriculture,” he says.  “As a result, it covers a lot of ground so students can easily see the course in their everyday life.”

The course, led by Social Studies Department Chair Priya Amin and teachers Chris Masello, Andrew Waple and Rose Wysocki, meet one to two times a week to discuss pacing, formative and summative assessments, quarter projects, finals and preparation for the AP Exam. The team’s availability and willingness to work with students outside the classroom added to the course’s initial success.

“We consistently offered review sessions both before and after school and utilized free periods and flex time to meet with students,” says Amin.  

The results of the AP Exam in May show that the efforts of both students and teachers paid off, but the success is demonstrated by more than the numbers.

“Seeing students grow in their understanding of other cultures and people has been extremely rewarding,” says Wysocki.   
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