Tuesday, October 15, 2013

AP Computer Science or AP Art History

The news came across my social media links that last year more students took the Advanced Placement Art History exam than took the AP Computer Science exam. Given how much better the job prospects are for computer scientists than for art historians this seems counter intuitive.

To those of us who are fans of computer science that more students take Art History than computer science just feels wrong somehow. It doesn’t quite seem logical.

There are several reasons why students take AP exams besides career interest of course. Several people have suggested that high school students take AP Art History in hopes of avoiding taking a similar course in university. Apparently AP US History is also one such course.  For others I am sure interest is a motivating factor. On the other hand I also suspect that a good Art History course can help build more interest in art. That makes taking art history a good thing beyond just avoiding one more general education requirement later on.

That building of interest is one reason I would like to see more students introduced to computer science at an earlier age. Not so that every student takes more computer science in university (though more should) but that they are at least able to develop a greater understanding of computer science and its role in their world.

Computer science is hard. We hear that a lot. That probably scares a lot of students away  from it. Especially in schools where AP CS is the first computer science course. that’s pretty understandable. Imagine taking AP Calculus without having any previous math courses!  APCS is a terrible first course in computer science. Terrible!

Computer science can and should be introduced to students long before we even suggest they take AP computer science. Computer science done right is fun, it’s exciting, it’s interesting, it’s full of WOW! But that’s not how we usually do it. I’ve written about the importance of the first CS course before of course. I feel strongly about it. I think we can do more than just whole courses though.

There are events that can at least start to build interest. Most of Microsoft’s Digigirlz events show off computer science well for girls. And they are fun! The upcoming Hour of Code program for Computer Science education week is designed to provide a fun successful exposure to computer science for a great many students all over the US.

We, for values of we that include people who want to see more students get involved in computer science, have to do more than just single events in a single week once a year though. There in lays the real challenge!

CS ED Week logo_text


Garth said...

We do not offer APCS simply because I would most likely only get a couple of students. These kinds of numbers would not justify the time or expense. The local public high school offers APCS. Last I heard he had 5 students, this is out of 3000! As far as AP courses go my school does pretty good number wise: AP English – 19, AP Chem – 11, AP Hist – 34, AP Calc – 14. This is out of a school of 180. No two ways about it, these courses are hard yet they get real good numbers. This makes me think it is not the “hard” that scares students away from CS; I think it is more the perception of what CS is. The perception is “boring”. The perception of sitting in front of a monitor for hours on end is a killer. The fact that that perception is pretty much true does not help.

This national promotion of getting kids to go outside and play games instead of sitting in front of a computer game 24/7 is not going to help the CS numbers. We need to promote more anti-athletics, pasty skin as a sign of beauty, near sightedness and rampant acne to reduce social activity with the opposite sex. If we promote sales of thick black glasses frames and advertise the excitement to be had with the chess club this might improve the numbers of kids taking CS. Without these measures I think we are stuck with what we got until we can get rid of the “boring” label. High school kids are really not too worried about the future income thing yet. AP Art History or APCS? Art History is more fun so Art History it is.

There are things happening to counteract the “boring” label; robotics, game programming, Arduino, changes in introductory languages, and changes in teaching methods to name a few. We just have to keep putting things out there to temp the kids from the Dark Side and into the light.

Anonymous said...

I like your idea of introducing CS much earlier. In my case, it was, as I was handed a LOGO prompt and a little essay on binary arithmetic titled "1,2,4,8" between school grades of 3 and 5. When, exactly, is a little fuzzy. Then again, I grew up in the same college town where Hofstadter lectured while writing Godel, Escher Bach...

How about starting CS off with The Little Schemer as text? It serves as a nice leveling factor and introduces a lot of concepts in a most succinct manner.