Pilot testing the new AP CS definition

February 27, 2010 at 9:41 pm 11 comments

Here at the AP CS Advisory Group meeting this weekend, the first five curriculum developers, teachers, and pilot testers of the “Computer Science: Principles” course definition were named.

  • Beth Simon of University of California at San Diego will be teaching 900 students (!) in Fall 2010 using the new AP CS  definition.  She’ll use Alice with the book by Wanda Dann, Steve Cooper, and Randy Pausch. She’s also planning to use Excel. She’s planning to use a peer instruction model.
  • Jody Paul will be teaching this class at Metropolitan State College of Denver. His is an open-enrollment school, so he has no control on pre-requisites of students.  He’s planning to focus on connecting students’ life experiences with the learning objectives about computing.  He is going to use Scratch and visualization tools.
  • Larry Snyder of University of Washington, Seattle, is going to create a new course to parallel his successful fluency with information technology course. His new course will be in Python and will have a heavy emphasis on the Web, to relate computing concepts to a computational phenomenon that students care about.
  • Dan Garcia is going to continue develop his course on “Beauty, Joy, and Awe of Computer Science.” His course uses a new version of Scratch called “BYOB” for “Build Your Own Blocks.”  BYOB-Scratch uses a Lisp-like computational metaphor, e.g., where lists can contain blocks, and a “Run” block can execute a piece of block/data in a list.  Dan’s course already hits most of the items in the new AP CS requirements.
  • The fifth pilot tester is Tiffany Barnes of University of North Carolina at Charlotte who wasn’t able to attend the meeting, so I can’t report on her plans.  (She’s on leave this semester.)

It’s exciting that the five pilot-testers are going in such different directions, which in itself emphasizes the flexibility in the new requirements.  The overall curricular definition is up around 70 pages now — there’s a lot of definition to live up to.  What happens next with the AP CS depends a lot on these five.  God and the devil are both in the details.

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11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alan Kay  |  February 27, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    Where does one find the current definition?

    Cheers,

    Alan

    Reply
    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  February 28, 2010 at 8:37 am

      Hi Alan,

      As far as I know, it’s not available. The College Board is very careful with what information they release. (I asked permission two weeks ago to release the five names in this post, and was just given permission yesterday.) Here at this meeting, we’re given softcopy of some things and only hard copy of others. Few of us have the complete 70 page “Claims and Evidence” document. While the College Board’s careful protection of material sometimes seems stifling, I think it’s warranted right now. None of these documents is finished. There is a really nice summary of the course that we were revising yesterday, but we all agreed that it wouldn’t answer faculty questions about the course — faculty want to see the details, what students would do, to what depth are you covering that topic. It wouldn’t help the process to release materials, have the community get upset “But that’s not right” (when we don’t think it’s “right yet” either) but minds will have been made-up. So, no, nothing’s available yet.

      Cheers,
      Mark

      Reply
      • 3. Alan Kay  |  February 28, 2010 at 10:14 am

        Hi Mark

        Lack of information hasn’t stopped most people on the web from passing judgment on just about everything, but it’s a stopper for me.

        Cheers,

        Alan

        Reply
        • 4. Mark Guzdial  |  February 28, 2010 at 12:14 pm

          Point well taken, Alan! We’ve been discussing the former point here at the meeting, and found this comic from yesterday well timed and appropriate. We’re trying to avoid feeding this problem.

          Cheers,
          Mark

          Reply
          • 5. Alan Kay  |  February 28, 2010 at 12:19 pm

            The fact and form of the comments after this cartoon — as with so many others of similar negative substance — is disheartening to say the least.

            Cheers,

            Alan

            Reply
  • 6. Gary Litvin  |  February 28, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    What are the unifying “principles” behind these seemingly diverse pilots?

    Reply
    • 7. Mark Guzdial  |  February 28, 2010 at 2:04 pm

      Gary, the link above to the slideshow on AP CS is one of the few things released about the effort and the principles, so-far. I believe that more will be released before SIGCSE, and there will be a SIGCSE special session on this effort.

      Reply
      • 8. Gary Litvin  |  February 28, 2010 at 7:59 pm

        Mark,

        I’ve seen the slideshow earlier. The reason I asked is it seems to me the choice of the pilots reflects interest in innovative teaching practicies, and not so much in teaching fundamental CS principles. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just the name of the project seems to me not entirely appropriate. (I will have my agent at SIGCSE. 🙂

        Reply
        • 9. Mark Guzdial  |  March 1, 2010 at 1:48 pm

          Gary, I wrote a very brief description of each project. I am confident that there will be principles in the classes. My post was meant to identify the projects and highlight their diversity. I hope we can give the five pilot-testers the benefit of the doubt and hold off on finding them unprincipled yet.

          Reply
  • 10. Alfred Thompson  |  February 28, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    It is unfortunate that there isn’t more transparency in the process. I understand the reasoning behind it and given how emotional the topic is for many (language wars anyone?) I don’t have a good counter argument. But that doesn’t mean I’m completely comfortable with having things done all behind closed doors. The largest down side is that many people may assume that once a document is released there will be no opportunity for discussion that has a chance to make change or that a system is being forced upon them. I believe that many people are looking for some flexibility in the first CS course (AP or otherwise) and this set of pilots is encouraging from that point of view at least. So perhaps it will go fine. I hope so.

    I do appreciate that you are sharing with others what can be shared under the College Board rules and concerns though. I look forward to the special session at SIGCSE.

    Reply
  • 11. New APCS trial at UCSD « Computing Education Blog  |  September 4, 2010 at 10:55 am

    […] trial of the new AP course “Computer Science: Principles” at UCSD.  There are five trials total, and Beth’s is clearly the largest. This pilot poses some exciting challenges. First of all, […]

    Reply

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