Gas station without pumps

2011 March 5

Your school can pilot the new AP CS Principles course

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 09:42

The College Board is planning, in a couple of years, to have a new AP exam in computer science: CS Principles.  The intent is to be at a lower level than the current CS exam, which is not getting enough takers to be very profitable for the College Board.  Computer science departments are supporting this measure, because they think (without much evidence) that more high schools will teach computer science and feed more students into their courses.  The CS Principles course looks to me like the sort of course intended for non-majors (like Physics for Poets, Rocks for Jocks, or Stars ‘R Us).  As such, it looks like an decent high-school course, though probably not worthy of AP credit.  (We don’t give AP credit for algebra and trigonometry, nor for high-school freshman English courses, which are similarly taught at colleges.)

I have some philosophical objections to some of their learning objectives, which seem to favor particular pedagogical techniques.  For example,

Learning Objective 2: The student can work effectively in teams to create a new computational artifact.

makes group work primary.  I’ve previously posted on my objections to group work in low-level courses, and computer science class projects are almost always better done by individuals than by groups, until they get far too large for a first course.  Also, students with Asperger’s syndrome, who can do superb work alone but flounder dealing with group dynamics, often end up as computer programmers and engineers.  While it is very valuable to widen the pipeline to include people with other personality characteristics, shutting out one of the main current groups of students seems counter-productive.  The goal would have better been stated as “The student can create new computational artifacts,” leaving it to the teacher to decide whether group or individual projects are more productive with the students in their class.

Many of the learning objectives of the course are good, but few can be evaluated on an AP-style test, so I’m wondering how they plan to create a test for this course.

My main purpose in this post was not to critique the AP CS Principles course, but to let teachers (high-school, community college, and university) know that they can try out a pilot version of the course: CS Principles Pilot Interest.  I think that high schools already teaching computer science will see little to gain from stepping down to the CS Principles course, but high schools that have not managed to mount a CS course (due to the general unavailability of teachers who know anything about CS) may find the CS Principles course feasible, since it has so little CS in it.


  1. Interesting. I agree with you that it is problematic to force groupwork, especially if “creating a computational artifact” is not also assessed individually. If “work effectively in groups” is an objective, it also needs to be assessed individually. I think groupwork is an important skill, but I’m wondering why it is an objective in this specific course (is it an objective in any other AP course?).

    Comment by Mylene — 2011 March 5 @ 10:57 | Reply

    • So far as I know, this is the only AP course that mandates group work as a learning objective, but I’ve certainly not read all the course descriptions. This also seems to be the lowest level AP course, in terms of what they expect the students to do, and the vaguest. Even after reading the learning objectives, I have no idea how they plan to evaluate students in an AP test.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2011 March 5 @ 11:12 | Reply

  2. […] Your school can pilot the new AP CS Principles course ( […]

    Pingback by The More I Learn, The Less I Know | Lee's Rambling Blog — 2011 March 8 @ 09:13 | Reply

  3. […] than Java, or using a Scheme-based curriculum). I don’t think that the proposed lower-level AP CS Principles exam is going to fix this problem, as the problem is not that the CS content is too difficult, but […]

    Pingback by AP CS growing, but still tiny « Gas station without pumps — 2012 June 12 @ 11:52 | Reply

  4. […] supposed intent of AP courses and exams). I don’t know much more about the course than when I blogged about it in 2011, so my opinions in this article may reflect my own lack of knowledge about the course more than […]

    Pingback by Millions for a fairly useless new test | Gas station without pumps — 2013 June 19 @ 09:32 | Reply

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