A couple of weeks ago in his Computing Education Blog, Mark Guzdial posted about the pilot versions of a new AP course CS: Principles. If I understand it correctly, this is intended to be a lower-level course than the current AP Computer Science class. You may remember that the College Board used to offer two computer science tests: A and AB. The more difficult AB test was discontinued after the May 2009 offering, because too few students were taking the test for the College Board to make a profit. Now they are planning to try again, but with a new test that is at a lower level than the current AP CS test, rather than higher.
Mark lists the 5 pilot versions of the courses:
- Jody Paul is running the trial at Metropolitan State College of Denver for 20 students, using Scratch and HTML/CSS. http://LivingInAComputingWorld.org
- Dan Garcia is leading a team (with Brian Harvey, Colleen Lewis, and George Wang) for 120 students at Berkeley, using their BYOB version of Scratch. http://inst.eecs.berkeley.edu/~cs10/
- Beth Simon is running the massive 750-900 student trial at UCSD with Alice and Excel. http://cseweb.ucsd.edu/~bsimon/
- Tiffany Barnes is teaching a class of 30 at U. North Carolina at Charlotte with Scratch. http://www.cs.uncc.edu/~tbarnes2/ComputingJoy
- Larry Snyder has a 20 person class at U. Washington (Seattle) using Python. http://www.cs.washington.edu/homes/snyder/
Note that three of these pilots are using Scratch (or BYOB), which would be my first choice for a first-programming language. Another uses Python, which is not a bad choice for a first text-based programming language. I’m less fond of Alice, though it is good for making a transition to Java later. I have no experience with Excel: I find spreadsheet programming “languages” to be cryptic and difficult to debug, so I stay away from them.
The CS: Principles class seems to be a good high-school level programming course, though less rigorous than the Dr. Scheme-based class that my son took in 8th grade. I’m not sure why AP is pushing it as an advanced-placement course, though, as that implies that it is a college-level course. Consider the outcry if they decided that AP Calculus was too tough, and eliminated AP Calculus BC in favor of AP Algebra.