It is one thing to design a college course that can serve as the first semester of the major sequence in computer science. It is quite another endeavor to develop requirements for a computer elective course that can support a wide variety of majors, such as physical science, engineering, and the life sciences.
The College Board has had an Advance Placement® course that has served as a preliminary course in the computer science major sequence for many years. A project currently in the pilot test phase will provide the curriculum framework for a new course that the technology-inclined student population – or even entering freshmen taking core classes – could benefit from. This project, called Computer Science Principles and supported in large part by a grant from the National Science Foundation, has the commitment of the College Board to produce a new AP® computer science course.
Since the early days of electronic computing the programmable machines have been used to tally, aggregate, analyze, search, sort, solve, simulate, and summarize. In short, they have served as high-speed “data-crunching” resources in the various industries, agencies, and disciplines to which their high speed circuits have been applied. As the problems became more complex the field of computer science emerged, and the ways that computer scientists solved problems, managed complexity, visualized data sets, innovated, and created knowledge in these fields became more robust and relevant. The new AP® Computer Science Principles (CSP) course seeks to create the environment in which the technology-assisted problem-solvers of tomorrow can follow their interests, grappling with social, economic, and cultural issues. With 103 computer science department chairs and professors responding from major colleges and universities there is widespread support for a credit-bearing course with this type of content and approach. Given that position, such material can be offered to high school students in the form of an AP course with the customary expectation of college credit or placement for passing scores.
Jeannette M. Wing proposed that “Professors of computer science should teach a course called ‘Ways to Think Like a Computer Scientist’ to college freshmen, making it available to non-majors, not just to computer science majors.” She also called for “pre-college students to [be exposed to] computational methods and models.”
The new course framework is doing just that: it has nurtured a number of exemplar college courses that have been collectively structured as a CSP course and offered as an AP high school course. The initial framework for the courses was developed in 2009 by 10 computer science educators aided by an advisory group of 19 college faculty. This framework was broadly conceived as incorporating six computational thinking practices and seven big ideas. The computational thinking practices are: connecting computing, developing computational artifacts, abstracting, analyzing problems and artifacts, communicating, and collaborating. The big ideas are: creativity, abstraction, data, algorithms, programming, Internet, and impact.
Five professors implemented this framework, each in their own way, in new classes during the 2010-11 academic year. The participating Pilot I institutions were: Metropolitan State College of Denver; University of California, Berkley; University of California, San Diego; University of North Carolina at Charlotte; and University of Washington, Seattle.
In the 2011-12 school year, 8 collegiate institutions and 10 high schools constituted Pilot II participation, and in 2012-13, the final year of Phase I, the number of colleges was expanded to 10. During that year the early concept of portfolio tasks gave way to performance tasks, and these performance tasks were piloted at two universities and four high schools. A Draft Curriculum Framework listing enduring understandings, learning objectives, and essential knowledge for each “big idea” was completed. By December 2013 the Draft Performance Tasks document, specifying general requirements, specific requirements for the team and individual submissions and for the individual reflections, and learning objectives for each of the three broad performance tasks – investigate, explore, and create – was published in preliminary form.
This year, 2013-14, begins Phase II, a three year pilot test involving 12 collegiate institutions and 38 high schools. The College Board is funding the development of teacher support materials and professional development curricula, as well as an online system to deliver the digital portfolio assessment. Each pilot is responsible for designing and implementing a plan to recruit traditionally underrepresented segments of the population, including female and minority students.
At the conclusion of the Phase II pilot test period the College Board timeline calls for the course to be rolled out nationwide, which will be for the 2016-17 school year. The AP Computer Science Principles course is expected to be offered in “thousands” of high schools.
Astrachan, CS Principles: Development and evolution of a course and a community, SIGCSE 2013. http://db.grinnell.edu/sigcse/sigcse2013/Program/viewAcceptedProposal.pdf?sessionType=specialSession&sessionNumber=6
College Board AP Annual Conference. http://www.cs.duke.edu/csed/talks/csprinciples/apac2012.ppt