APCS Students can do Media Comp (and Alice) and Succeed

July 18, 2010 at 4:54 pm 6 comments

In the five workshops (which feels like a larger number than it sounds) that I ran this summer, I included some of the Exploring Wonderland book that Wanda Dann, Steve Cooper, and Barb Ericson wrote about learning AP CS through Alice and Media Computation.  Over half of the attendees from my workshops this summer were high school computer science teachers.  Overwhelmingly, the response that I got from those teachers was, “This is nice stuff.  Maybe I could use it in my earlier class (like Computing in the Modern World).  But I wouldn’t use it in AP.  That would take too much time away from the important stuff in AP.”

Of course, this infuriated Barb.  They designed the book to motivate students to dig into the AP content!  It just so happened that she got her chance to try out her design this last year. A local high school asked the College of Computing for last-minute help with their AP CS course.  A teacher who didn’t know AP (or CS, or even Java) was tasked with running the course, and he was smart enough to know that he needed help.  The school called the College, and the College asked Barb. Barb came in twice a week, wrote the lessons, and generally oversaw the content of the course.  Since she had just finished Wonderland, that was the easiest thing for her to teach.

She just sent me her scores.

7 get a 5 (4 males and 3 females)
4 get a 4 (3 males and 1 female)
2 get a 3 (1 male and 1 female) (a 3, 4, or 5 is passing)
4 get a 2 (3 males and 1 female)
and 13 get a 1 (9 males and 4 females)

While the gender scores were quite strong (e.g., more girls passed than failed), the under-represented minority minorities weren’t quite as strong.  All of her African-American students got 1’s.  However, one of her Hispanic students took one of those 5’s.

Those are really good scores.  Yes, most kids who took the test didn’t pass — the AP is hard, and that is the way it goes. What it shows is that students can succeed at the AP, even if you “waste” time with all that Alice, and Media, and motivation stuff.  This isn’t a study, much less publishable. It’s only the results from one course.  But it’s an existence proof.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , .

There is no shortage of STEM students or graduates Doing with Images Makes Symbols, and from Action to Abstraction

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. WEILUNION  |  July 18, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    All this talk about testing remind me of the medical profession. You go to the doctor, he wants tests. Tests come back, more tests. This numerological thinking, this thinking tethered to mathematical outcomes and rational measureable data does nothing to help learning.

    Learning is an art. No one can teach anyone anything, all they can do is provide opportunities for learning. As long as we keep tying ourself to these syawning and destrcutive debates over whether Johny can pass this test or that, we losee sight not only of teaching and learning, but what it means to be a human being.


  • 2. Barb Ericson  |  July 18, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    The information for the course I taught (including the syllabus) is at http://coweb.cc.gatech.edu/ice-gt/1043.

  • 3. Alfred Thompson  |  July 18, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    Any thoughts on the lower scores for the minority students? That sort of thing always surprises me when all the students are in the same school.

  • 4. Stephen Gilbert  |  July 24, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    This is something I’ve been interested in since I heard you say that Beth Simon was using the media-computation approach in CS1 at UCSD. I wondered, like others, whether the students would be as well prepared as they would by a traditional CS1 course.

    I still kind of wonder about that. As you said, this is not a formal study at all, but your statistics show a 43% pass-rate, while the national pass-rate this year was a little more than 62%.

    A while back I remember you asking (maybe in the CACM?) what we expect students to learn in CS1. Don’t you think that the AP-A exam represents those minimal CS1 competencies?



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