Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

December, 2007

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Fixing the AP CS Curriculum


    So as you read this it is a day or two after Christmas. You may still be full from Christmas dinner and you just want to take it easy. Or it may be that you don't celebrate Christmas and you are struggling to find interesting content to read on the Internet. Well just for you I wrote this post a week in advance so you'd have something to think about.

    The CSTA has been asked for feedback about changes to the Advanced Placement Computer Science curriculum and they blogged about it recently. Honestly I'm rather amazed that there are not more comments there. To me this is one of the major issues of high school computer science today. Most of this I left as a comment but I'm not sure it was posted properly. But since I decided to expand on my thoughts here that's ok.

    My first thought would be to start with a list of the major/important concepts that people believe should/must be in a first course. These must then be prioritized. Then you can have  a discussion about how long it takes to each each and where teachers will run out of time. We'll probably wind up leaving out someone's pet concept but there is limited time available. I've long thought that there was may too much in the curriculum.

    Now here is something a lot of people don't know. I think that most people assume that to get a top score on the AP CS exam a student probably gets 90 percent of the questions right. In fact though a student who scores between 60-70 percent correct will usually get a top AP CS score. To me that screams there is too much in the curriculum.

    I also think we need to think about basic concepts in a different way. We need to focus on the ones that are most constant. I know that the only real constant in CS is change but to a real extent some things will always be with us - Boolean expressions and decision structures, loops, math operations and their order, and things like that. These are required for a solid base for future training. 

    We need to should lower the priority on the tricky, fun to have latest fad stuff. How much of object oriented  programing really can't wait until a later course? 

    One thing I struggle with is where does recursion fit in? I think we need a good discussion about that. I love it but is it really core? Arguments can be made either way. We haven't always had it in out mainstream languages.

    We also need to revisit the case study. While I love the idea of students reading and knowing a large piece of code is the first course really the place for it? I don't think so. I would rather they spend time reading a lot of shorter (but still well-written) pieces of code.

    I think we need to revisit the idea of a mandated language for the exam. Yes I know all the arguments for it. I've been listening to them for years. But at the same time it just seems like it fosters an attitude where we look at the language for things to test rather than looking for things to test and then look for what languages to use. Concepts first is what we should be doing but it easy to look at the tool (the language) and ask "how can we use this?"

    Now the really controversial suggestion. The AP team should involve industry in the discussion. Not to mandate things and not the create a test designed to make students into professional programmers. And certainly not to specify a language or a development environment. That would be wrong. But industry can talk about what the basic skills and concepts they see a need for. What are the basic white board questions they ask on interviews? What are the building blocks they need to start a new hires professional development? Sure let teachers and university faculty make the final decisions but at least give industry a seat at the table.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Merry Christmas


    Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

    Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon

    Boas Festas e Feliz Ano Novo

    Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva i s Novim Godom

    Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année!

    Froehliche Weihnachten und ein glückliches Neues Jahr!

    Kellemes Karacsonyiunnepeket & Boldog Új Évet

    Selamat Hari Natal

    Linksmu Kaledu ir laimingu Nauju metu

    Kung His Hsin Nien bing Chu Shen Tan


    Chuc Mung Giang Sinh - Chuc Mung Tan Nien


    Vesele Vianoce a stastny Novy rok

    Selamat Hari Natal dan Tahun Baru

    Feliz Navidad y Próspero Año Nuevo

    God Jul og Godt Nyttår

    If I missed anyone's language or got it wrong I apologize. I hope you all have a great day on December 25th whether or not you celebrate the birth of Christ in your own tradition or religion. And my strong wishes that you will all have a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Blogs By and For High School Computer Science Teachers


    Well the nominations for the Educational Blog awards are out again. I'm not nominated but some people I know and blogs I read are. Vicki Davis who writes a great blog called the Cool Cat Teacher blog is nominated for best teacher blog and I'm happy about that.  I hope she wins.

    This event got me thinking though about the state of computer science teacher blogs. On one hand one would think that if any teachers were blogging it would be computer science teachers. They are after all on the computer a lot and knowledgeable in all sorts of computer applications. But one truth I have found is that they are all at least as busy as other teachers. Often times they spend so much of their so-called free time (and a lot of not free time) solving technology problems for others that blogging is not often something that fits into their schedule.

    All that being said I have a few high school computer science teacher blogs in my blog role and a couple of blogs that I would recommend that computer science teachers read. It thought I would list s few (give them some link love) and give a line or two about each so you can decide if you want to check them out. They are listed in no particular order BTW.

    So here now the review.

    High School Computer Science Teacher Blogs

    • Brian Scarbeau - The typical extra busy teacher Brian does not post a lot but I always find a lot of value in what he does post. Brian is an innovator who has done and written about things he is doing in web development and game development. Brian is also the brain behind Computer Science Education day.
    • Tom Indelicato - Tom is an amazing teacher who does a lot of innovative things in his classes. He's done Pocket PC development, game development and runs his school's FIRST Robotics team. Having had the job he now has (I hired him - best hiring I ever did) I understand why he doesn't have time to post as often as I would like.
    • Mr. Higgins - Higgy teaches both math and computer science like a lot of people. He's young energetic and always has a lot of new ideas.
    • Kathleen Weaver - Kathleen teaches HS CS in Dallas TX. She writes about the joys and no so joys of teaching as well as sharing ideas and links for others to use.
    • Ben Chun - Titled "and yet it moves" Ben is another young teacher in his early years of teaching. Young teachers seem to be blogging more than older ones. Imagine that! Some reflections, some project ideas, like others in my list not a lot of posts but well written and interesting.
    • Christian Day - Nothing posted since last July. Most posts are links to resources for his students or for teachers taking his summer workshop for AP CS teachers.
    • Dustin Swanson - Computer Science 30 - Mostly class assignments and projects for a programming class using PHP and MySQL. Not updated very often.

    I have a few others in my RSS reader that have not been updated in a very long time and I think they are pretty much abandoned. My gut tells me there have to be more high school (and perhaps middle school) computer science teachers out there blogging and sharing ideas. If you know of any PLEASE leave me a comment.

    Blogs for High School Computer Science Teachers to Read

    • CSTA Blog - The official blog of the Computer Science Teachers Association. If you are a high school computer science teacher you should be a member and this is a blog you should read for interesting information, links and to stay current. Contributions are made by members of the CSTA board and their amazing executive director Chris Stephenson.
    • Leigh Ann Sudol - In Need Of A Base Case - Leigh Ann is hard to categorize. She is a very experienced high school teacher and a long time reader of the AP CS exam (Leigh Ann trained me the year I graded the AP exam and will forever call me her "acorn") but these days she is a lecturer at Carnegie Mellon University. Yes, she is that smart. She blogs about interesting topics in CS and CS education research.
    • Mark Guzdial - If you want to keep up with computer science education research this is the blog to follow. Mark Guzdial is on the faculty of Georgia Tech and the work he does there with CS1/CS2 type courses applies directly to AP CS and even earlier. He hardly ever writes a post that I don't want to link directly to.

    I subscribe to a lot of other technology blogs and blogs by professors and I do link to some of them from time to time. But these three above are the ones I would recommend to people with limited blog reading time because of the constant value.

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