[Edu-sig] AP Computer Science

Helene Martin lognaturel at gmail.com
Sun Nov 7 00:49:19 CET 2010

I teach AP computer science and a course I call Creative Computing
that uses Python as the tool for exploring computing (see
http://garfieldcs.com for full course descriptions and daily

Java does have some ugly syntax but overall I love teaching the AP
course.  I aim to make my students into curious people with great
problem-solving skills and I hardly ever mention the AP test itself.
Though the test is heavily object-oriented, I teach procedural-style
Java first since I think strong mental models of computation are what
will benefit the majority of my students as they move on to whatever
it is they will be doing.  When I do introduce OO, students see it as
a useful form of abstraction and see the need for it as their programs
had been getting unwieldy.  Despite only covering object-oriented
programming in the tail end of my course and using the GridWorld case
study for a couple of projects, my students have so far done very well
on the AP test (disclaimer: I only had one section of 22 last year and
now have about 80 students so we'll see how things go this year).  I
think it's very possible to focus on producing great thinkers and to
see the test just as a validation of that process.

This may be an unpopular view around these parts but I feel that the
pedagogical philosophy guiding a course is far more important to look
at than the language it's taught in.  Yes, many AP CS courses seem to
take this rote plod-through-the-material-for-the-test approach but I
don't think that has anything to do with Java.  It would be possible
to teach a Python course in just that way, too.  All in all, Java and
Python are fairly similar tools and shouldn't be treated as ends but
just a means to explore computation, I think.  Just changing the
language of the AP test probably wouldn't change the courses teaching
related classes very much is my guess.  That is, of course, unless
there were a push for great professional development and more
continuous support for classroom teachers.

Hélène Martin

On Sat, Nov 6, 2010 at 4:24 PM, Zac Miller <zmiller at gsc.edu> wrote:
> Today I attended a meeting of the Georgia chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association.  Most of the focus was on how to better teach the AP Computer Science exam and Java but I did learn a few things at the meeting.  Are any of the K12 educators here that are using Python also teaching AP Computer Science?
> >From speaking with the people at the meeting I got the idea that the AP Computer Science test would eventually transition to Python.  Does anyone know more about this?
> Also, from their descriptions of teaching the AP class it seemed like the is focus is mainly on preparing for the test...do you think that the AP course using Python would be a good thing or a bad thing for educators using Python?  I think I prefer keeping my focus on producing great Python programmers instead of on an exam.
> Interested in any opinions out there.
> -Zac Miller
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