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Teaching the Revamped AP ® U.S. History

Greg Feldmeth poses with Polytechnic students.

Last spring, we shared stories from teachers and students of AP World, AP Human Geography, and AP Psychology and shared information about score reporting. This fall, we kick off our blog series with a member of the Learningpod AP community.

Something’s new in AP ® U.S. History: a revamped curriculum. To explore issues associated with the changes to this popular course, Learningpod consulted Greg Feldmeth, a veteran teacher of AP U.S. History at Polytechnic School in Pasadena, California. Greg also serves as Assistant Head of School at Polytechnic and co-chairs its history department.

What do you do during the first weeks of school? In what ways would that differ from previous years with the old curriculum?

Greg Feldmeth: The first weeks of AP U.S. History are used to help students get used to the level of expectations for them in the class. They read sections of the course text as well as primary sources, and class time is used to develop a pattern of discussion and group work. During these weeks, we make very little reference to the exam. I start each day with a bell-ringer, a multiple-choice question from the period we are studying that is on the LCD projector when the students come in the door. They can try to figure out the answer, and the question forms the basis of our first few minutes of class discussion.

What do your students do the previous summer, and how are they expected to maximize the effectiveness of their AP summer work?

Greg Feldmeth: Some AP U.S. History teachers assign several chapters over the summer to save class time. It is not uncommon for teachers at workshops to say they assign everything up to the new imperial policies of 1763 as summer work with a paper or test on it the first day. Others assign a book about American history to read from an approved list. While I’m in favor of lifelong learning, I personally feel summer is a time for other-than-school pursuits and I don’t give any summer assignments.

Is the term historical thinking skills (HST) new to you? Why or why not?

Greg Feldmeth: While the redesigned exam has emphasized HTS, good history courses have always stressed them. The new focus on analysis rather than factual coverage is intended to give teachers more freedom in what they choose to cover. Some of the HTS use new phrasing, but they are not radical changes in any way to good history teaching.

How will having seven thematic units be useful for lesson delivery and student preparation?

Greg Feldmeth: I don’t plan to refer to the themes very frequently with students. The phrases like “peopling” won’t mean much to them, particularly in the first several months when their focus is on skill development and content mastery. I see the thematic unit rubrics as being reminders to me of the threads that I as the teacher should be aware of us as we move through the chronology of the course.

What are your thoughts about the newly grouped multiple-choice questions?

Greg Feldmeth: The new format of the multiple-choice questions is the biggest difference with the redesign. Students will need to analyze a graphic or primary or secondary source, carefully read the question, and eliminate three distractors to determine the right question. And they need to do this quickly, which will be a challenge for students who are not fast readers. The grouping of the questions won’t make much of an impact. But I feel it is important to give the students lots of practice with the new-style question as they are not recall-type questions and thus may be challenging for some students.

What would you tell teachers new to AP U.S. History teaching?

Greg Feldmeth: Reach out for help from others, either at your school or elsewhere. Once you have your course audit approved by the College Board, join the U.S. History discussion board where teachers post all sorts of helpful resources for beginning teachers. If you haven’t yet attended a workshop, plan to do so at some point during your first year. Workshops are tailored for both beginning and experienced AP teachers and help build networks. Finally, I would say teaching AP US History is very hard work. Spend time creating your own multiple choice, short answer, essay, and document-based questions, as that process will help you think about topics in the way your students are being asked to do so.

What messages do you have to parents of AP U.S. History students?

Greg Feldmeth: Encourage your children to be accountable for their own learning. If they have questions, they should seek out their teachers for clarification or extra help. Encourage them to join a study group rather than trying to master all the material on their own.

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