A decrease in interest for computer science among high schoolers could not be more poorly timed. The world is relying increasingly on these masterminds behind the new technology churning out every year, and a drought of these computer geniuses would pose a significant drawback.
With AP exams for English and social studies classes soaring each above 1 million annually, what has happened to computer science courses?
AP Computer Science teacher Tom Clifford touches on the subject: “The number of [AP Exams] given in Computer Science has flatlined around 30,000 over the past few years.” There is a clear drop off from these major subjects, and despite the growing importance of computer science, interest in AP Computer Science has stalled.
An organization called the Association of Computing Machinists noticed this trend and took the issue to the College Board, concerned that schools are not producing enough computer science majors. Subsequently, the College Board designed a new class called AP Computer Science Principles in hopes that the “AP” label would attract more interest.
Clifford, who will be teaching the course next school year for the first time, explains a little about the content.
“An important aspect of AP Computer Science Principles is looking at major implications of…ubiquitous computing…and the social ramifications of everyone having a computer in their pocket. The Apple-Department of Justice debate going on right now dovetails perfectly with this course. In addition, our flavor of computer science principles is mobile. We will give kids a mobile android tablet and the code that they write is for apps that are on a mobile device.”
For students next year, the school will offer two computer courses: AP Computer Science and AP Computer Science Principles. This new class will replace the previously widely taken course, Intro to Computer Science. The pilot course, Intro to Computer Programming is now gone after running for one semester.
“It’s important to have a background before you start to learn Java and take AP Computer Science,” says junior Jeffrey Jiang, enrolled in the Intro to Computer Programming Class. “So this new course is a good thing to come a year before AP Computer Science.”
As this new course is AP level, an AP exam is offered for the class. However, as Clifford describes, the school is making the test optional for any students who would like to take it. The exam is structured differently than other AP exams as students must create a portfolio outside the exam with two artifacts. One of those artifacts is typically a digital artifact or program. The second is a video that examines the social impacts of computers on the world. In addition, there is a 50-point multiple-choice test.
Although students can receive college credit for earning a passing grade of a 3, 4 or 5 on the exam, there is no college course that high school students would be able to test out of.
Clifford also notes that a portion of his previous course, Intro to Computer Science, was largely based off of the curriculum in this new AP Class.
Next year will be the first administration of the course and the AP Exam. As a result, no one truly knows what the course will contain in regards to rigor and time commitment.
“I thought the jump from the Intro to Computer Science Class was really broad,” says junior Henry Kou, who currently takes AP Computer Science. “I would definitely be interested in the class.”
Clifford sums up the course as educating students about the digital world: “AP Computer Science Principles tries to look at both sides of those things. Here is what’s happening. Here are some rather significant issues. They’re not necessarily good. They’re not necessarily bad. But understanding the scope of the issue is important for people to make informed decisions.”