Gas station without pumps

2011 January 14

Shoehorning computer science into K–12

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 08:10
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In the comments A Joint Call for Research on Why Computer Science Education is Important for K-12 « Computing Education Blog a discussion has started on whether computer science should be required of all high school students.  It was pointed out by one commenter that you can’t add to the K–12 curriculum without taking something away as well.  He did not feel that computer science was central enough to justify this (particularly as a strong case can be made for students needing more writing instruction, which is even more central than computer programming).

He also said that he felt that if something were to be added to the required curriculum, he’d rather it were statistics than computer programming.

I want to amplify that. Though I have complained about my son’s high school having no computer programming classes, and I would dearly love to have more programming taught in the middle schools and high schools (and have done some afterschool and summer volunteer teaching to give at least a few students some exposure to programming), it is far more important to have statistics made a normal part of the curriculum. A lot of teachers around here even cut out the tiny amount of probability and statistics that is usually included in algebra classes.

The AP stats course should have 4 times as many students as AP calculus (311625) rather than about 0.4x (126983). Of course, AP CS at only 19390, is about a factor of 10 too small also. I think that a stronger case can be made for CS than for calculus as essential material—it’s just that the case for statistics and probability is stronger still. For that matter the case for stats is stronger than the case for trigonometry, algebra 2, or geometry.

A good case against the race to calculus even for those destined to be math majors is made in The Calculus Trap by Richard Ruscyk, a mathematician whose math textbooks are the best I’ve seen for bright middle school and high school students.

I would argue that the current math curriculum should be replaced with algebra 1, statistics, computer science, and algebra2+trig, cutting out geometry and calculus from the high school curriculum.

There, I’ve made a proposal that puts in stats and computer programming without requiring more high school courses, just removing some less effective ones that are currently there.

I have a previous post about what I think high school computer science should be, but I’ve not figured out how to get teachers competent and willing to teach it.  Statistics is in better shape, as the AP Stats curriculum is in good shape (unlike the disarray in AP CS), and there are over 6 times as many people teaching stats in high school.  Growing both by at least a factor of 10 in the next 5 years would be a daunting task, even if high school teachers and administrators were courageous enough to trade off calculus for statistics and computer science.


  1. I think one reason more students don’t take AP Statistics is because they feel that college admissions people think that AP Calculus BC is the more challenging curriculum. So, even if stats is more useful, they take Calculus because it looks better.

    The shame is that then a large number of the people who take AP Calculus repeat it in college for an easy A or because they’ve heard that it’s bad for engineering majors to place out of math & science stuff or because medical schools don’t accept AP Calculus as a math course taken in college (so pre-meds either have to repeat calculus or take something beyond calculus).

    One thing I like about the AP Computer Science course/exam is that it requires familiarity with an existing program/system. Much real programming work involves maintenance of existing programs and maintenance used to be ignored in classwork — students would hit the work environment and have no idea how to learn what existing code did or how to modify it or even the dangers encountered by doing so. It also gives the students the chance to work on something bigger than they (or even a small group) would typically write as an assignment until they were several years into computing curriculum.

    Comment by Jo in OKC — 2011 January 14 @ 08:39 | Reply

  2. […] One of my most-read posts is Computer languages for kids, because people are desperately looking for ways to teach computer programming to their kids (something the schools are not doing hardly at all, even at the high-school level: see Shoehorning computer science into K–12). […]

    Pingback by Computer programming for preschoolers « Gas station without pumps — 2012 March 2 @ 09:27 | Reply

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