Rethinking Advanced Placement
The New York Times had an article a while back titled “Rethinking Advanced Placement.” The article describes ballooning topic lists that encourage teachers to lecture endlessly and leave students burned out after hours and hours of homework and memorization. Particular offenders are biology and U.S. history, both courses and exams that I took as a high school junior. I’ll agree that both had a lot of breadth without much depth and that they could benefit from some paring down with greater focus on applications rather than straight memorization. At the same time, a strong factual base is very important for application so I hope that won’t be entirely lost.
I think computer science needs to be careful in its own rethinking of AP courses not to go in exactly the opposite direction that these courses are going in. The current AP Computer Science A exam has a very tight focus around programming and allows teachers time to cover each concept in depth. Students leave the class with deep problem-solving skills and many hands-on projects to show off. After all, the only way to learn programming is by doing it. While there is memorization around the peculiarities of the Java OO model, APCS is a skill-oriented exam that gives students an opportunity to show off their algorithmic thinking abilities.
As we move away from a programming focus, there are thousands of different computer science related directions to go in. Both for students’ and teachers’ sakes, I hope we can avoid the breadth trap APUSHistory and APBio fell in.