In my district AP Human Geography is the only AP course offered to freshmen and at my school about 45% of 9th graders take it.  I don’t want to debate the pros and cons of 9th graders taking an AP course, because it my district it is what it is.  Most freshmen taking the course at my school are ready for the rigor of AP, but some are not.  To help bridge this gap and to offer students an opportunity to see what an AP course entails, my school started offering an AP Human Geography Boot Camp to incoming 9th graders during the summer.  The second week of June, between 25-30 incoming 9th graders spend 3 hours a day with me preparing for their first Advanced Placement course.

I have several goals for my Boot Camp, so when designing it, I decided to focus on skills over content.  I wanted to work on reading and writing skills as well as  how to prepare for the huge vocabulary lists the course includes.  I wanted to model classroom activities so students will know exactly what to expect in the all.  Our campus is also very big and spread out, so I wanted to incorporate opportunities for incoming 9th graders to explore and learn more about where things are located and make them feel more comfortable on campus.

This summer I used the book Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World by Tim Marshall as the basis of our boot camp activities.  What I liked about this book for 9th graders was how it made connections between physical and human geography.  In our district the middle school curriculum places more emphasis on physical geography, so I felt this was a good way to transition students to looking at the world thematically.

I run each day of boot camp like a day in class.  We do the same types of activities and strategies I will use during the school year for instruction.  I make sure to give the students many, many opportunities to ask questions about the course and high school in general.  We’ve talked about everything from how to open lockers to where to buy football game tickets and where the Coke and snack machines are.

Our days are very full.  I’ve listed some of the content, skills and activities we worked on during the week are below.

  • Creating vocabulary flash cards
  • How to study with vocabulary cardsNote cards
  • Reading and annotating non-fiction — textbooks, books and news articles
  • Breaking down a Free Response Question
  • Answering and scoring Free Response Questions
  • Analyzing maps
  • Creating maps using data sets
  • Completing Inquiry Charts
  • Identifying concepts via a campus wide photo scavenger hunt
  • Mapping the school campus
  • Working in content specific groups

Our final activity of the week was a Socratic Seminar where the students showcased all the skills and content they had learned during the week.

While boot camp helps students be ready for the rigors of an AP class, it also helps me to be  better prepared for the beginning of the school year.  I get an idea of what students know coming into 9th grade.  I can get an idea of their strengths and weakness as well as their interests and can plan accordingly.   I use data I collect in June to help design my first week of instruction for the new school year.  For example, this year’s group is stronger in place geography than students in years past.  Knowing this I can skip some of the map skill activities I do early in the year and instead work in more writing activities. Knowing this helps me make better use of class time later on.

Finally, one of my favorite things about holding the boot camp every year is the chance to get to know some of my students and their parents before school even starts.  I can begin to build relationships that will continue to grow through out the year.

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