Posts tagged ‘AP CS’

Goals for CS Education include Getting Students In the Door and Supporting Alternative Endpoints

ACM Inroads has published an essay by Scott Portnoff “A New Pedagogy to Address the Unacknowledged Failure of American Secondary CS Education” (see link here). The Inroads editors made a mistake in labeling this an “article.” It’s an opinion or editorial (op-ed) piece. Portnoff presents a single perspective with little support for his sometimes derogatory claims. I have signed a letter to the editors making this argument.

Portnoff is disparaging towards a group of scholars that I admire and learn from: Joanna Goode, Jane Margolis, and Gail Chapman. He makes comments about them like “had CSEA educators been familiar with both CS education and the literature.” Obviously, they are familiar with the research literature. They are leading scholars in the field. Portnoff chides the CSEA educators for not knowing about the “Novice Programmer Failure problem” — which is a term that I believe he invented. It does not appear in the research literature that I can find.

In this blog, I want to try to get past his bluster and aggressive rhetoric. Let’s consider his argument seriously.

In the first part, he suggests that current approaches to secondary school CS education in the United States are failing. His measure of success is success rates on the Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles exam. He also talks about going on to succeed in other CS courses and about succeeding at industry internships, but he only offers data about AP CSP.

He sees the reason for the failure of US CS education in high school is that we have de-emphasized programming. He sees programming as being critical to success in the AP exams, in future CS classes, and in industry jobs. Without an emphasis on programming, we will likely continue to see low pass rates on the AP CS Principles exam among female and under-represented minority students.

In the second part, Portnoff lays out his vision for a curriculum that would address these failings and prepare students for success. He talks about using tools like CodingBat (see link here) so that students get enough practice to develop proficiency. He wants a return to a focus on programming.

What Portnoff misses that there is not consensus around a single point of failure or a set of goals about CS Education. In general, I agree with his approach for what he’s trying to do. I value the work of the CSEA educators because the problems that they’re addressing are harder ones that need more attention.

The biggest problem in US high school CS education is that almost nobody takes it. Less than 5% of US high school students attend any CS classes (see this blog post for numbers), and the students we currently have are overwhelmingly male, white/Asian, and from wealthier schools. Of course, we want students to succeed at the Advanced Placement exams, at further CS courses, and at industry jobs. But if we can’t get students in the door, the rest of that barely matters. It’s not hard to create high-quality education only for the most prepared students. Getting diverse students in the door is a different problem than preparing students for later success.

CSEA knows more about serving students in under-served communities than I do. They know more about how to frame CS in such a way that principals will accept it and teachers will teach it. That’s a critical need. We need more of that, and we probably need a wide range of approaches that achieve those goals.

A focus on programming is critical for later success in the areas that Portnoff describes. The latest research supporting that argument comes from Joanna Goode (as I described in this blog post), one of the educators Portnoff critiques. Joanna was co-author on a paper showing that AP CS A success is more likely to predict continuation in CS than AP CSP success. I’m also swayed by the Weston et al. article showing that learning to program led to greater retention among female students in the NCWIT Aspirations awards programs (see link here).

I also agree with Portnoff that learning to program requires getting enough practice to achieve some level of automaticity. CodingBat is one good way to achieve that. But that takes a lot of motivation to keep practicing that long and hard. We achieve reading literacy because there are so many cultural incentives to read. What will it take to achieve broad-based programming literacy, and not just among the most privileged? Portnoff tells us that his experience suggests that his approach will work. I’m not convinced — I think it might work with the most motivated students. He teaches in the same school district where the ExploringCS class was born. But Portnoff teaches in one of LAUSD’s premier magnet schools, which may mean that he is seeing a different set of students.

An important goal for CS Education is to get students in the door. I’m not sure that Portnoff agrees with that goal, but I think that many involved in CS education would. There is less consensus about the desired outcomes from CS education. I don’t think that CSEA has the same definition of success that Portnoff does. They care about getting diverse students to have their first experience with computer science. They care about students developing an interest, even an affinity for computing. They care more about creating a technically-informed citizenry than producing more software developers. Portnoff doesn’t speak to whether CSEA is achieving their desired outcomes. He only compares them to his goals which are about continuing on in CS.

There is a tension between preparing students for more CS (e.g., success in advanced classes and in jobs) and engaging and recruiting students. In a National Academy study group I’m working in, we talk about the tension between professional authenticity (being true to the industry) and personal authenticity (being personally motivating). The fact that so few students enroll in CS, even when it’s available in their school, is evidence that our current approaches aren’t attractive. They are not personally authentic. We need to make progress on both fronts, but considering how over-full undergraduate CS classes are today, figuring out the recruitment problem is the greater challenge to giving everyone equitable access to CS education.

I just learned about a new paper in Constructionism 2020 from David Weintrop, Nathan Holbert, and Mike Tissenbaum (see link here) that makes this point well, better than I can here. “Considering Alternative Endpoints: An Exploration in the Space of Computing Educations” suggests that we need to think about multiple goals for computing education, and we too often focus just on the software development role:

While many national efforts tend to deploy rhetoric elevating economic concerns alongside statements about creativity and human flourishing, the programs, software, curricula, and infrastructure being designed and implemented focus heavily on providing learners with the skills, practices, and mindset of the professional software developer. We contend that computing for all efforts must take the “for all” seriously and recognize that preparing every learner for a career as a software developer is neither realistic nor desirable. Instead, those working towards the goal of universal computing education should begin to consider alternative endpoints for learners after completing computing curricula that better reflect the plurality of ways the computing is impacting their current lives and their futures.

June 1, 2020 at 7:00 am 19 comments

Barbara Ericson’s AP CS Report for 2018 and her new blog cs4all.home.blog

Barb has written her blog post about the 2018 AP data (see 2017 report here and 2016 report here), and this year, she’s using it to launch her own blog!  Find it at https://cs4all.home.blog/

Every year I gather and report on the data for AP CS from the College Board which is at http://research.collegeboard.org/programs/ap/data/

There was a huge increase in Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science Principles (CSP) exam takers nationally (from 43,780 in 2017 to 70, 864 in 2018 – a 62% increase). The Computer Science A (CSA) exam also grew (from 56,088 in 2017 to 60,040 in 2018 – a 7% increase).

Source: AP CS Report for 2018

March 4, 2019 at 7:00 am 1 comment

Announcing Barbara Ericson’s Defense on Effectiveness and Efficiency of Parsons Problems and Dynamically Adaptive Parsons Problems: Next stop, University of Michigan

Today, Barbara Ericson defends her dissertation. I usually do a blog post talking about the defending student’s work as I’ve blogged about it in the past, but that’s really hard with Barb.  I’ve written over 90 blog posts referencing Barb in the last 9 years.  That happens when we have been married for 32 years and collaborators on CS education work for some 15 years.

Barb did her dissertation on adaptive Parsons problems, but she could have done it on Project Rise Up or some deeper analysis of her years of AP CS analyses. She chose well. Her results are fantastic, and summarized below. (Yes, she does have six committee members, including two external members.)

Starting September 1, Barbara and I will be faculty at the University of Michigan. Barb will be an assistant professor in the University of Michigan School of Information (UMSI). I will be a professor in the Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) Division of the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department, jointly with their new Engineering Education Research program. Moving from Georgia Tech and Atlanta will be hard — all three of our children will still be here as we leave. We are excited about the opportunities and new colleagues that we will have in Ann Arbor.

Title: Evaluating the Effectiveness and Efficiency of Parsons Problems and Dynamically Adaptive Parsons Problems as a Type of Low Cognitive Load Practice Problem

Barbara J. Ericson

Human-Centered Computing

School of Interactive Computing

College of Computing

Georgia Institute of Technology

Date: Monday, March 12, 2018

Time: 12pm – 3pm

Location: TSRB 222

Committee:

Dr. Jim Foley (Advisor, School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology)

Dr. Amy Bruckman (School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology)

Dr. Ashok K. Goel (School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology)

Dr. Richard Catrambone (School of Psychology, Georgia Institute of Technology)

Dr. Alan Kay (Computer Science Department, University of California, Los Angeles)

Dr. Mitchel Resnick (Media Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Abstract:

Learning to program can be difficult and time consuming.  Learners can spend hours trying to figure out why their program doesn’t compile or run correctly. Many countries, including the United States, want to train thousands of secondary teachers to teach programming.  However, busy in-service teachers do not have hours to waste on compiler errors or debugging.  They need a more efficient way to learn.

One way to reduce learning time is to use a completion task.  Parsons problems are a type of code completion problem in which the learner must place blocks of correct, but mixed up, code in the correct order. Parsons problems can also have distractor blocks, which are not needed in a correct solution.  Distractor blocks include common syntax errors like a missing colon on a for loop or semantic errors like the wrong condition on a loop.

In this dissertation, I conducted three studies to compare the efficiency and effectiveness of solving Parsons problems, fixing code, and writing code. (Editor’s note: I blogged on her first study here.) I also tested two forms of adaptation. For the second study, I added intra-problem adaptation, which dynamically makes the current problem easier.  For the last study, I added inter-problem adaptation which makes the next problem easier or harder depending on the learner’s performance.  The studies provided evidence that students can complete Parsons problems significantly faster than fixing or writing code while achieving the same learning gains from pretest to posttest.  The studies also provided evidence that adaptation helped more learners successfully solve Parsons problems.

These studies were the first to empirically test the efficiency and effectiveness of solving Parsons problems versus fixing and writing code.  They were also the first to explore the impact of both intra-problem and inter-problem adaptive Parsons problems.  Finding a more efficient and just as effective form of practice could reduce the frustration that many novices feel when learning programming and help prepare thousands of secondary teachers to teach introductory computing courses.

March 12, 2018 at 7:00 am 15 comments

Helping students succeed in AP CS: GT Computing Undergraduate Female Rising Up to Challenge in CS

There’s a common refrain heard at “CS for All” and BPC events in the US these days. “AP CS A is just terrible. AP CS Principles will fix everything.” The reality is that there are bad AP CS A classes, and there are good ones. There is evidence that just having good curricula doesn’t get you more and more diverse students. The more important reality is that AP CS A accurately matches most introductory computer science classes in the United States. If you want students to succeed at the CS classes that are in our Universities today, AP CS A is the game to play at high school.

That’s why Barbara’s Rise Up programs are so important. She’s helping female and African-American students succeed in the CS that’s in their schools and on University campuses today. And she’s having tremendous success, as seen in the story below about a female high school football player who is now a CS undergraduate.

Barbara’s work is smart, because she’s working with the existing CS infrastructure and curricula. She’s helping students to succeed at this game, through a process of tutoring and near-peer mentoring. This is a strategy to get more female CS undergraduates.

That’s when she discovered Sisters Rise Up 4 CS, a relatively new program developed in Fall 2014 at Georgia Tech by Barbara Ericson. The program was based on Project Rise Up 4 CS, which aims to help African-American students pass the AP Computer Science A exam. Sisters Rise Up does the same for females.The program offers extra help sessions in the form of webinars and in-person help sessions, near-peer role models, exposure to a college campus, and a community of learners.“The program helped me get hooked on computer science,” Seibel said. “I started to actually learn. Seeing that some of the girls in the program had interned at Google or other places like that, and that they really loved CS, it gets you excited about it. They were only a few years older than me, and I was like, ‘Oh. That could be me.’”

Source: GT Computing Undergraduate Sabrina Seibel Rising Up to Challenge in CS | College of Computing

July 26, 2017 at 9:00 am 1 comment

AP CS A Exam Data for 2016: Barb Ericson’s analysis, Hai Hong’s guest blog post #CSedWeek

As usual, Barbara Ericson went heads-down, focused on the AP CS A data when the 2016 results were released.  But now, I’m only one of many writing about it.  Education Week is covering her analysis (see article here), and Hai Hong of Google did a much nicer summary than the one I usually put together. Barb’s work with Project Rise Up 4 CS and Sisters Rise Up have received funding from the Google Rise program, which Hai is part of. I’m including it here with his permission — thanks, Hai!

Every year, I’m super thankful that Barb Ericson at Georgia Tech grabs the AP CS A data from the College Board and puts it all into a couple of spreadsheets to share with the world.  🙂
Here’s the 2016 data, downloadable as spreadsheets: Overall and By Race & Gender.  For reference, you can find 2015 data here and here.
Below is a round-up of the most salient findings, along with some comparison to last year’s.  More detailed info is in the links above.  Spoiler: Check out the 46% increase in Hispanic AP exam takers!
  • Overall: Continued increases in test-taking, but a dip in pass rates.
    • 54,379 test-takers in 2016.  This reflects a 17.3% increase from 2015 — which, while impressive, is a slower increase than 24.2% in 2015 and 26.3% in 2014.
    • Overall pass rate was 64% (same as last year; 61% in 2014)
  • Girls
    • Female exam takers: 23% (upward trend from 22% in 2015, 20% in 2014)
    • Female pass rate: 61% (same as last year; 57% in 2014)
    • In 8 states fewer than 10 females took the exam: Alaska (9/60), Nebraska (8/88), North Dakota (6/35 ), Kansas (4/57), Wyoming (2/6 ), South Dakota (1/26 ), Mississippi (0/16), Montana(0/9). Two states had no females take the exam: Mississippi and Montana.
  • Black
    • Black exam takers: 2,027 (Increase of 13% from 1,784 in 2015; last year’s increase was 21% from 1,469 in 2014)
    • Black pass rate: 33% (down from 38% in 2015, but close to 2014 pass rate of 33.4%).
    • Twenty-four states had fewer than 10 African American students take the AP CS A exam. Nine states had no African American students take the AP CS A exam: Maine (0/165), Rhode Island (0/94), New Mexico (0/79), Vermont (0/70), Kansas (0/57), North Dakota (0/35), Mississippi (0/16), Montana (0/9), Wyoming (0/6)
  • Hispanic
    • Hispanic exam takers: 6,256 (46% increase from 4,272 in 2015!)
    • Hispanic pass rate: 41.5% (up from 40.5% in 2015)
    • Fifteen states had fewer than 10 Hispanics take the exam: Delaware, Nebraska, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, Kansas, Idaho, West Virginia, Wyoming, Vermont, Mississippi, Alaska, North Dakota, Montana, and South Dakota. Three states had no Hispanics take the exam: North Dakota(0/35), Montana (0/9), South Dakota (0/26).
And as a hat-tip to Barb Ericson (whose programs we’ve partnered with and helped grow through the RISE Awards these last 3 years) and the state of Georgia:
  • 2,033 exam takers in 2016 (this represents something like a 410% increase in 12 years!)
  • New record number of African Americans and females pass the exam in Georgia again this year!
  • 47% increase (464 in 2016 vs. 315 in 2015) in girls taking the exam.
  • Nationally, the African American pass rate dropped from 37% to 33%.  In Georgia it increased from 32% to 34%.
  • The pass rate for female students also increased in Georgia from 48% to 51%.
  • Only one African American female scored a 5 on the AP CS A exam in Georgia in 2016 and she was in Sisters Rise Up 4 CS (RISE supported project).

December 5, 2016 at 7:13 am 4 comments

Call for AP CS Principles Readers

Guest blog post from Barbara Ericson, copying a message from Paul Tyman:

Please consider signing up to an an AP CS Level A or CS Principles reader. We will need lots of new readers for the CSP exam. I did the pilot reading last year and it was interesting to see what the students submitted for their paper about a computing innovation and their code for the create task. The readings are really a great professional development opportunity for you. There is always an invited speaker and demos in the evenings. You will meet lots of great people who care about computer science education, both in high school and higher education teaching. We have a social space in the evenings which is quite busy with lots of card games, board games, and music. There are also groups who walk, do yoga, run, etc. They pay for your travel, hotel, meals, and pay you a stipend as well.

Barb Ericson
Georgia Tech


From: Paul Tymann <pttics@rit.edu>

Sent: Saturday, October 1, 2016 9:54 AM
Subject: CSP Readers Needed!!

All,

Current estimates indicate that we will need more than 200 readers to score the AP CS Principles exam that will be administered in May 2017. I need your help recruiting new readers. Could you reach out to a couple of your colleagues and encourage them the apply to be readers? As former readers you are in an unique position to explain the reading process and the benefits of participating.

Potential readers can find out more information about becoming an AP CSP reader, and more importantly can sign up to become a reader, by pointing a browser to:

http://etscrs.submit4jobs.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=85332.viewjobdetail&CID=85332&JID=300364&notes_id=2

Please contact me if you have any questions. I hope to, no will, see you in Kansas City!!


Paul.

October 5, 2016 at 7:54 am 1 comment

Research Questions from CS Ed Research Class

CSEd-research-class

My CS Ed research class did lots of reading in the first half, and then are developing research plans in the second half.  In between, I asked the students to develop research questions (faces deliberately obscured in picture of the class above), and several colleagues asked me, “Please share what they came up with!”

  • Do we need to teach CS to everyone?
  • How do we make CS education ubiquitous, and what are the costs and benefits of doing so?
  • How effective is Media Computation (and like courses) in “tech” schools vs. liberal arts schools?
  • How do we make individualistic (contextualized, scaffolded, etc.) CS experiences for everyone?
  • What are equal vs just interventions?
  • What is the economic cost of not teaching computing to all?
  • How do we create a community of practice among non-practitioners?
  • How to make CS teachers adopt better teaching practices?
  • How we incorporate CS learning into existing engineering courses vs. create new courses for engineers?
  • How does teaching to all high school students differ from teaching undergraduates?
  • How do people learn CS? Define a CS learning progression.
  • Are those AP CS Principles skills transferable to college CS courses? Or anywhere else?
  • How does programming apply to everyone?
  • What are the enduring computer science/splinter areas?
  • How does the content and order of teaching computing concepts affect retention and transfer to other disciplines?
  • How do we scaffold from problem-based learning to culturally relevant computing projects?
  • What characteristics do successful CS teachers who transition from other disciplines exhibit?
  • Is metaphor useful in learning CS?  Which metaphors are useful?

 

November 20, 2015 at 8:30 am 16 comments


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