DBQ dinner, president rap aid students with extensive memorization
Though an Advanced Placement (AP) class may be painstaking for some, students in Jordana Siebert's AP U.S. History (APUSH) class have taken an eccentric approach to their studies with activities ranging from visiting reenactments, to writing a president rap.
Students who choose to take Advanced Placement (AP) classes are subjected to a rigorous schedule. FC currently offers five of these classes, which are dispersed amongst the many subjects the school provides.
One of these classes is the AP U.S. History (APUSH) class, which takes place during third period. The class offers an extensive curriculum on the early beginnings of American history and ends with the last presidential election in 2009. First-time teacher, Jordana Siebert wants the students to be prepared for the actual test in the spring.
In order to accomplish this, Siebert has devised a curriculum where students have a Document-Based Question (DBQ) and a Free-Response Question (FRQ) every two weeks. These writing assignments are timed, and test students' knowledge on certain historical time periods. DBQs involve outside documents that have been summarized; students have to use the documents as support to answer the prompt. For FRQs, students must use their own knowledge of the topic to write a structured, supported essay.
Judges rank these essays from one to nine, with nine being the highest number. To get this score, students' essays need to contain a fair amount of vocabulary words and, in the correct context, a concise opinion and a significant amount of factual information. To say the least, students rarely receive such a high mark. Siebert challenges her students by frequently having DBQs and FRQs, because she would rather they be over-prepared than under, she says.
"I really want to have a high pass-rate on the AP test," Siebert said. "This causes the class to be more rigorous, but I would rather they be over-prepared. I want the students to have a really good understanding of how to write DBQs and FRQs. I want them to be well-thought and so we end up having intense class sessions."
Sophomore Tyler Laird is taking the class to get out of taking a similar course in college.
"I took it [APUSH] so I won't have to take it in college and because you learn more in the class," Laird said. "I'm also trying to take as many advanced classes as I can so my senior year is easy."
Every month, the class also has a DBQ after-school practice. Because the assessment only allows students to spend about two hours on both pieces, class time could not sufficiently provide a real testing experience. Therefore, Siebert decided to hold nighttime practices. Whether pizza or Casa Corona, the class easily changes what could be a banal night into a creative social evening. Junior Katherine Bennett especially enjoys these events because of the camaraderie.
"I kind of like taking it at night because I get to study before taking it," Bennett said. "We generally eat before the DBQ or FRQ, and it's fun to socialize with my class because we aren't allowed to during the test. They're usually the same difficulty as a normal essay, but a little easier because it's after school and you don't have so much on your mind."
"I really want to have a high passing rate on the AP test. This causes the class to be more rigorous, but I would rather they be over-prepared." --Jordana Siebert, History teacher
Every two weeks, the class covers an entire unit that range in topics from the Civil War to the Industrial Revolution. Students are required to have read the unit the weekend before they start learning about the subject in class. Many times, these units can be up to a hundred pages long.
"The whole class is mapped out until the end of the year," Siebert said. "I'd like to be done by March, then we'll take chunks of the test at a time. Right now, they are learning to write a thesis with a partner; we are also writing a DBQ as a class."
Laird feels secure with Siebert as a teacher. He thinks that her method of teaching will help him to pass the AP test in May.
"I think I'll be able to pass," Laird said. "We don't focus as much on the workbook, but I think that we're better prepared for the test. She's a pretty good teacher and she focuses on what we need to learn."
From the outside view, the class does not seem very entertaining. However, the students often get hands-on experiences with the past. Many of them, with the urging of their teacher, visited the annual Civil War Reenactment at Kearney Park.
"What's good is that we started the Civil War unit around the same time," Siebert said. "They had to then write two page responses and a lot of students even stayed longer and learned how to line dance."
The class not only learns about the critical details of history, but also memorizes all the presidents' names and terms. Instead of spending countless hours using different techniques, the class unanimously decided to make a rap song about the accomplishments of each president.
"It started out as just a song, became a melody and now they're planning make a YouTube video," Siebert said. "We have looked up dances that are appropriate with the songs too. And we're going to have a president final at the end of the semester. So we aren't planning to do the video until after the actual test [in May]."
Seibert says she hopes that students will be able to take away mnemonic devices from the way they are studying their material. Here, students gather with Siebert to write their president rap. They meet every Wednesday and Friday.
Some songs that students have substituted lyrics for include "Hit Me Baby One More Time," by Brittany Spears, "Party Rock Anthem," by LFMAO, "Baby," by Justin Bieber and many more. Along with this, teacher aid Scott Jennings was the class servant and acted as an example of the slow movement towards abolition. As of the moment, he is a free citizen.
Bennett appreciates these type of activities because they become mnemonic techniques during tests. Compared to her other courses, the APUSH class tends to find helpful and fun ways of remembering significant facts.
"I especially like the rap because I think it gives us an opportunity to really know our class well," Bennett said. "It's really helpful on tests. It's just funny because we're taking songs we know so well and the things that we learn about the Presidents are really strange."
In the future, Siebert hopes to give students background information on the different decades. She thinks that this change in pace makes students more interested in history. To communicate with each other outside of the actual class time, students have made a Facebook page dedicated to getting accurate assignments.
Because Siebert has also planned the itinerary for the class since summer, she has already put in new, exciting teaching opportunities. She has also already estimated the amount of time students will have before the actual test and knows the window left for improvement.
"For the Roaring '20s we'll talk about the music to get a little bit more background," Siebert said. "It's a change of scenery when I get different teachers to visit. My friend from Willow International taught them how to write a thesis at a college level essay."
For more information on Siebert's classes, read the Nov. 21 article, Civics classes familiarized with local government at City Hall.