When To Take Programming

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

When To Take Programming

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The AP CS mailing list has been having a discussion about letting sophomores take Advanced Placement Computer Science. Topics being discussed include “are sophomores ready?” Some are and some aren’t. Another issue was expressed well by someone who said “what happens to the sophomores if there aren't two years of viable classes to take afterward?” The big concern expressed by a few people is that if there are no formal courses for sophomores to take before college that they will forget a lot of what they learned. I think this is largely a valid concern. Well, for many students.

Some students will take off and continue to work, learn and develop software on their own. The Dreamspark program is just made for those kids. I sure hope a lot of high schools take advantage of it. IF they do students will have development software (Visual Studio, Robotics Studio, XNA Game Studio) and servers (Windows Server 2008 & SQL Server) as well as online training available to them. This will keep many of the motivated students learning and growing while they continue though high school.

But for many students time becomes a problem and for others learning on their own just doesn’t yet work for them. So finishing up their formal high school computer science education is going to be a problem. For some independent studies will be an answer. This also works for a lot of smart students. It’s a surprising amount of work for teacher but not as much as a full class. But for the student to have that adult guide and resource if a powerful support tool.

With the APCS AB exam going away I see a natural gap opening up. I hope that a lot of schools will look to create higher level courses for students to continue with. Not having that AP bonus for the GPA will be an issue for some – especially those with guidance counselors who are all about tailoring the transcript for college admissions. But honors credit at least will help. These courses will give teachers as well as students some opportunity to explore new areas like databases, robotics, artificial intelligence, game development, and media processing. And more. Hopefully good administrators with good teachers will be able to do some of this. In the long run I see courses after APCS as a great opportunity. So let’s let the sophomores (perhaps even the precocious freshmen) take AP CS early. Who knows how far they will go?

  • I agree with your conclusion - let them take it! I think especially with something like computer science, students should be allowed to take it when they want to, if it's available. The students who want to take CS as sophomores are more likely to be intellectually ready for it - otherwise they wouldn't want to take it.

    Certainly they are aware of the availability of post-AP courses. Perhaps they are looking forward to a full junior schedule and want to take it during an overall easier year. Perhaps they have an individual project they want to work on that APCS will prepare them for. Either way, I think putting them off discourages students and decreases their likelihood of signing up later. Will we discourage all of them? Of course not. But some of them won't be resilient enough to come back, for whatever reason.

    I know a boy who took APCS as an eighth grader. His parents understood the negatives, and encouraged his passion. He got a 5 on the exam. Now he programs in his spare time and has even written me a script to help my work. He's brilliant, but there are lots of smart kids around - we need to encourage them to love our discipline, not hold them back.

  • I totally agree -- if they're ready to ask for the challenge of APCS, then more often than not they're ready to take it.  The best students usually have more time in their schedules during frosh/soph years, and shouldn't be held back while we're working to figure out what directions they can pursue after APCS.

    Also agree that loss of APCS AB will create a very significant gap in high schools.  A number of motivated and driven teachers and administrators are stepping up to fill the gap with new and interesting opportunities for kids.  But I fear the "big picture" is that we're losing a nationally recognized CS program, which threatens the perceived "legitimacy" and "value" of CS courses.  We can argue endlessly about the industry value of CS and the educational value of CS, but it may not matter to an administrator whose world is judged by school report cards, standardized test scores, and AP enrollment and scores.

    People may disagree with some of the content in APCS A and AB courses, but the fact is that the College Board's endorsement of CS -- or lack of endorsement -- makes a real difference in the support many of us receive from administrators.

    So... what will it take to make CS a "critical" subject area?  Maybe not critical to each and every student (at least not at first), but critical that it be successful at every high school?  How do we get to a point where administrators and school boards recognize that "The success of our computer science program is key to the success of our high school!"  ??  How do we get CS on every administrator's radar?  ...on every school board's radar?

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