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The Student News Site of Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy


The Student News Site of Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy


The Student News Site of Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy


HBHA A.P. U.S. History Students Mix It Up with Student-Led Discussions

joel guto
AP US History students discuss the horrors of World War I. Photo by Adena Goldberg.

It is Tuesday morning, fourth period, the bell rings, and the AP (Advanced Placement) United States History students are not stuck in their usual rows and lines. They are circled up, papers and documents are on their desks, and they are ready to go. It’s time to socrate. The APUSH class moves at a rapid pace. They are on a nationally set AP curriculum so that they make it through the conquering of the new world to present day America by May in order to take the national test. The class completes a chapter a week and takes tests every Thursday.

Teacher R. Gina Renee truly feels that the best way to learn history is through primary sources- hearing it directly from whomever experienced it.

Renee explains that she doesn’t feel her students should sit and have someone talk at them. “[I want to] give students a chance to feel their G-d-given individual, intellectual agency.” Renee continues, “I devise lessons that send us all to original source documents from American history or controversial secondary sources (i.e., famous historians), and I ask students to respond, react, interact, and pin their fact-gathering to their emotions.”

The assignment for the socrate is given to students once they complete a chapter exam. The assignment is in the form of a Document Based Question (DBQ) or You be the Judge, where they analyze the source and provide their own insights. The students are assigned several primary sources, literature and pictures, to analyze and respond to. Their response is written and prepared when the class begins. Renee refers to the response as the “ticket to the discussion.” Once Ms. Renee lets the students loose, the socrate begins.

Senior Joel Gutovitz loves “mixing things up in the classroom,” as he finds this method (of socrating) much more “enjoyable and exciting” than being lectured at. Students are eager to socrate as they find it to be an intellectual conversation. They are stimulated by other students who are interested and provide insight on an advanced subject.

joel guto
Senior Joel Gutovitz (left) shows his excitement for socrate while junior Aleck Bratt takes a moment to think about his counterpoint. Photo by Adena Goldberg.

Senior Anna Kaseff agreed with Gutovitz. “I like to hear what others got out of the reading.” She explains that even though they may express new ideas, the other view allows for a better understanding of the topic.

Senior Moriah Abrams looks forward to these socrates, as “they are a chance for me to express my opinion about certain aspects in history.” She explained, “I always find it interesting to hear my classmates take on the subject and their argument to the prompt.”

Renee’s method, while structured according to the Advanced Placement College Board, allows for her students to stimulate their thinking outside of just the classroom and into real life.

“Alongside all the tough gathering of history facts and practicing for exams,” Renee wants to “guide students to take charge of their own learning, [and] construct their own knowledge.”

Renee adds that she “see[s] this [their individual learning] happening in class discussions, and it gives me a rush of happiness.”

APUSH students get so engrossed in the material that Renee finds it challenging how students “talk at the same time.” Although the large presence of noise and voices in the class may seem overwhelming, the students are not talking about nonsense. Students eagerly trying to argue their point and continue the conversation to convey their understanding and to personally interact with history.

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