High school adds AP Music Theory, AP Computer Science Principles, civil rights history elective

(Photo used by permission of Bruce-Romo)
Junior Carlos Nunez, seniors Marigot Fackenthal and Isabelle Leavy, junior Esme Bruce-Romo and seniors Alexa Mathisen, Zane Jakobs, Fred Xu and Adam Dean demonstrate an insertion sort in AP Computer Science A.

Two new APs and a new history elective open to seniors and juniors will join the ever-growing list of classes in 2017-18. 

Bob Ratcliff, current middle- and high-school band teacher, will teach the new “straight-up academic” AP Music Theory course; current AP Computer Science teacher Elissa Thomas will teach the new AP Computer Science Principles class; and incoming history teacher Damany Fisher will offer The Long Civil Rights Movement elective.

AP Music Theory

In AP Music Theory (which fulfills the Visual and Performing Arts requirement for the UCs and CSUs), students will be taught written theory, sight-singing, ear-training (dictation) and keyboard (playing music) – all skills typical of a first-year college theory class.

Written theory includes composing as well as music history, Ratcliff said.

For instance, he said, if students are learning four-part choral harmony (perfected by Bach), they must also learn a little about Bach’s time period.

Ratcliff said that he will prepare students for the sight-singing section using “solfège” (do-re-mi) or a number system. This, as well as ear-training, is to train students to hear intervals and sing them by ear.

But according to Ratcliff, although there is definitely theory in the course, there is more of a focus on global music than there was in the courses he taught at Washington State University, from 1994-97.

“What I read (on the College Board’s description of AP Music Theory) is like a first-year college theory class, but seems more like a Structures of Music class,” Ratcliff said.

For example, the AP exam tests on musicology and historical context, subjects not traditionally taught in college music-theory courses.

“There were all these little bends that were not just straight-up music theory,” Ratcliff said.

Some of these adjustments allow for more performing and thus the ability for students to get a full VPA requirement.

Yet the course will not start students from scratch, as Ratcliff stressed that students must already be able to read music.

“The bare minimum (requirement) is that you have to read music, and it helps if you play a musical instrument or have been in a band or orchestra,” Ratcliff said.

“If you’ve studied written music, you’re good; that’s the symbols and the vocabulary we will be using.

“But if you can’t do that, I’d say don’t do (AP Music Theory).”

According to Ratcliff, this course is a good fit for those curious about “how music functions” and “what its building blocks are.”

“If you enjoy playing music and like music, (with AP Music Theory) you can learn why certain sounds work and why certain sounds sound dissonant (and) how you can (go) from hearing a song to writing it down,” Ratcliff said.

AP Computer Science Principles     

According to Elissa Thomas, AP Computer Science Principles will tackle the topics “how to code” and “why you should code.”

The class has been available nationwide for only one year and is thus the College Board’s newest AP course.

Thomas said that in Principles there is a wider “breadth of content” than in AP Computer Science A.

“There’ll be more applications of computer service in more fields, like robotics (and the) medical field, and we’ll use multiple programming languages,” Thomas said.

This is in contrast to the other, more Java-centered AP class, AP Computer Science A.

Thomas said Principles will also be “open-ended,” with fewer tests.

“It’s a project-based AP course,” Thomas said.

Consequently, she said, the written exam is only 30 percent of the AP test. The other 70 percent is comprised of student-created games or apps.

According to Thomas, no coding experience is needed; the only prerequisite is Algebra II.

Thomas will choose her textbooks after she looks at what other teachers use, she said.

(Photo used by permission of Fisher)
Incoming history teacher Damany Fisher poses with his family in a holiday photo. Fisher plans to introduce local social justice issues in his SCDS civil rights elective next year.

The Long Civil Rights Movement

The Long Civil Rights Movement class will impart greater knowledge about African-Americans’ trials during the 20th century, according to incoming history teacher Damany Fisher, who has been teaching a civil rights elective at Andover High School for three years.

“The idea of the course is to challenge the traditional narrative of the civil rights movement,” Fisher said.

Traditionally, he explained, that movement begins with the Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education and ends with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

But Fisher starts his class in the Reconstruction Era and does not focus on the civil rights movement in only the South.

“We look at the situation in the urban north and urban west, and we treat those (areas) with equal importance,” Fisher said.

“The civil rights movement was a national one, and there needs to be (a) greater emphasis placed on the struggles outside of the South.”

These struggles include police brutality, race-based employment discrimination and housing issues, Fisher said.

In fact, according to Fisher, housing issues have been a “colossal struggle” for African-Americans in Sacramento for decades.

Consequently, he said he hopes to focus on civil rights and social justice problems on a local level.

“We’re going to spend time studying the local movements in Sacramento, (namely) housing, discrimination and the FHA (Federal Housing Program),” Fisher said.

The most recent Sacramento issue that Fisher aims to look into occurred during the subprime meltdown in 2008.

“Many African-Americans and nonwhites were pushed into subprime mortgages instead of conditional loans, leading to a tremendous loss of wealth in black families,” Fisher explained.

“It’s discrimination because rather than giving them tools to access the market, they excluded them.”

To learn about these issues, students will be reading mostly secondary sources and readings.

Fisher said he plans to use “We Ain’t What We Ought to Be” by Justin Turk, “Freedom on my Mind” by Deborah Gray White, “The Rebellious Life of Ms. Rosa Parks” by Jewel Harris, and “Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour” by Daniel Joseph as textbooks.

Assessments will be writing assignments, inside and outside of class, reflections and a research paper.

Thus, this course is a good fit for seniors hoping to improve researching and writing skills.

“I march (students) through the researching and writing process,” Fisher said.

“Many have, in fact, come to thank me (for) how they used these skills in their respective universities.”

He said anyone interested in social justice issues or doing in-depth research will love this class.

By Chardonnay Needler

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