THOMASVILLE — Thomas County Central High School continues its mission to offer a variety of Advanced Placement courses that challenge students consistently. This year, it adds AP Research to the roster, the second course in the AP Capstone program the school began last year.
“Our coursework combines a rich and rigorous study of discipline and method with an extended student-led research project, inviting students to think and work at a level typically not experienced until upper-level undergraduate or even graduate study,” instructor Cole Donovan said. “Our discussions and readings explore modes of thought and knowledge across the humanities, social sciences, and hard sciences, while the independent research project can focus on any topic in which the student has (an) interest.”
While some may think AP Research — or research overall — belongs to STEM programs, Donovan hopes to challenge that perception with this course.
“It is hard sometimes for people to imagine what researching Classics might look like, or drama, or art, or literature,” he said. “Yes, STEM research is valuable. Look at our current global situation--STEM research is what is pulling us out of this pandemic. But there is a world of research beyond that, and one of my hopes for this course is to encourage students to begin to see that.”
AP Research fosters deep and critical thinking about topics on students’ terms of what interests them.
“In a single class, we might have one student doing a deep-dive into poetics alongside a classmate who is developing a prototype for use in the medical field,” Donovan said. “The breadth of possibilities is astounding.”
Senior Karsyn Bush, 17, appreciates how the course uses a presentation and paper over an exam, unlike most AP classes, and that she can research a topic that passionately interests her.
“I hope to learn valuable skills that will benefit me in college and the workforce, such as research, presentation, and writing skills,” she said. “I know that I will have to do many research-type projects in college that will be very similar to the ones we do in this class, so this experience will help me succeed with those.”
Senior Koda Copeland, 17, takes the class to gain research, data collection, and writing experience.
“I hope to learn how to formulate a research question and carry out my own investigation,” he said. “I also hope to learn new research methods to employ in future research projects. I hope this class will expand my repertoire of research strategies to increase the quality of my work in college ….”
Their teacher shares with his students the sense of excitement found by exploring information, gaining knowledge and academic inquiry.
“The same breadth that makes this course exciting to take also makes the course fascinating to teach,” Donovan said. “In helping these students approach research questions from across many disciplines, I have had to read and explore material that I simply wouldn’t have the opportunity to engage with in my literature classes. That aspect of always learning and expanding my own thinking really drew me to AP Research.”
Outside the research project, students work to develop comprehension of their chosen discipline. For one, they hold Socratic class discussions about epistemology and complete numerous reading and writing assignments.
“AP Research is a unique class in that it actively promotes discussion,” Copeland said. “The activities that we take part in build a holistic sense of community through peer editing and feedback and through group discussion of research genres, concepts, and techniques. The structure of the class encourages independence by actively motivating students to turn to their peers for assistance and feedback, rather than traditionally turning to a teacher.”
Donovan hopes his course gives students the confidence to seek more from their world and contribute to scholarly debates.
“My main hope for my students is that they feel empowered to ask big questions and seek big answers,” Donovan said. “AP Research is for many students their first opportunity to contribute not only to their own learning but to the scholarly community at large. The research that these students will produce isn’t just for them--the work they are doing is real work, important work, and I hope it can open doors and start conversations from which they otherwise would have been cut off.”
Furthermore, Donovan and his students encourage involvement in the program. For example, Bush said her participation greatly benefitted her through challenging content, lessons learned (like time and stress management), and helping her earn college credit while in high school. However, she adds, students must be serious about their work to succeed in AP courses.
“I would like to say that AP classes are a great idea for anyone who would like a challenge in high school, as there are many benefits to gain from them,” Bush said. “However, dedication and hard work are required for success. Even though these classes seem hard and stressful at times, they show true dedication from high school students who decide to take them, and the lessons learned are invaluable.”