Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Why AP

Sometimes you miss something by reading a blog post too early. Such is the case with a recent post by Mark Guzdial - Python is the most popular intro language: But what about CS Principles? There have been some 37 comments worth of interesting discussion since I read the initial post. I wouldn’t have known about it if not for a post by Laura Blankenship. The comments discuss the future of the new CS Principles course as an AP course. A lot of the discussion is about why students take AP exams. There are two main reasons:

  • To get college/university credit
  • To improve their chances of getting into the college/university of their choice

A lot of the discussion on Mark’s blog post focuses on the possibilities for students getting credit at the university level. Most of the people commenting are in fact teaching at the university level and there is some skepticism as about the number of universities that will teach an equivalent course and give credit or placement for the AP CS Principles exam. If students can’t get credit will they take the course?

Some point to the perceived value of AP courses on high school transcripts towards college admissions. With additional weighting at many school and with admissions officers looking at AP courses as evidence of students being able to handle post secondary workloads this is a big incentive for many students to take these courses.

Are these what we really want in a high school course though? Should it be all about university credit or acceptance or something else? Do we worry too much about the post secondary aspect/goals and not enough about both shorter and longer term benefits?

I think we are looking at AP courses, at least in CS, as the only way or perhaps the best (for some definition of best) way to get CS into the curriculum. It may be true but it is also sad.


Laura Blankenship said...

On the positive side of having AP be the easiest way to get CS into the curriculum, at least it is seen as a challenging enough discipline to warrant that. But, yes, I think the goals of actually teaching what CS is and introducing it to everyone is lost when you start talking about whether something gets credit or not.

Garth said...

I, on the other hand, would say it is the hardest way to get CS into the curriculum. Public high school is a numbers game. Low numbers, no class. AP is almost by definition a low numbers course. We (CS teachers and promoters) have got to focus on freshman and sophomores first. Or even middle school. CS is like a drug, get the kids started early, get them hooked, then worry about keeping them so the numbers for AP or dual-credit courses are economically justifiable. APCS is sort of like calculus. If there is no Algebra I, there is no need for calculus. I think a high school should be able to offer a college level CS course, but only for those looking at a CS direction in college. We have to offer a low level, basic course that is attractive to all students and gets the numbers in the seats. APCSP is still too high for most of the average school population.

hutch said...

Garth you are on the right track I believe. Get students hooked earlier and worry about AP course offerings later.