APCSP MOOC again

I am going to try this again – https://csp-cs4hs.appspot.com/.  It is a MOOC for high school teachers on the Computer Science Principles course.  I tried it last year but things were just a bit too busy.  I also found it boring as heck which made everything else I needed to do much more important.  APCSP is a course that is working its way into the APCS curriculum.  It has the goal of widening the spectrum of students and topics covered in an APCS course.  I have looked through the course material and it definitely looks like a positive direction.  I only have two objections: 1. it is a MOOC, 2. it is AP.

MOOCs.  Not much to say there.  Having a teacher or someone to get immediate feedback from is a big plus for me but then I am old and stogy.  I like chatting about a topic face-to-face.  A chat room is just not the same thing.  When I go to a face-to-face class I make connections with people.  In a MOOC I make connections with avatars.  A bit too weird for me.  There are numerous studies on the completion rate of MOOCs and on-line courses.  The results are not good.  But still, knowledge is knowledge and if I can hang in there I expect to get something out of the course, ideas I can modify to suit my teaching style.  Since most CS teachers are teaching as a one-man-band things like this MOOC are a decent way of getting ideas.

AP. I am not a fan but then I do not teach one either. The concept of an accelerated course is OK.  The idea of regurgitating all that material on one test is not OK.  My high school offers AP and dual-credit courses.  The dual-credits are yearlong courses that include the complete contents of the equivalent semester long University of Montana course.  The kids are registered at U of M and get a U of M transcript.  They get the grade they get in the high school course.  The grade transfers to any college that accepts University of Montana credits.  No special tests, just a regular high school course but at the university level.  Being yearlong as opposed to a semester means more time on topics and more topics.  The courses also cost 25% of the regular U of M courses.  Win-win.   Right now our dual-credit courses are in CS and Math.  We offer AP English, AP US History, AP Chem, AP Art and AP Bio.  They are our advanced courses of course and I have no objection to the material or the methodology, just the test.  Measuring a student’s knowledge of a year’s learning on one test seems a bit counter to the very idea of how education should work.  The kids also have to look at the colleges they are applying for.  Many do not accept AP credits any more.  U of M accepts no APCS credits.

So with all that said why do it?  Teaching CS/programming can sometime be like teaching on a raft in the middle of the ocean.  You are out there all by yourself just hanging on hoping you are going in the correct direction.  With Math there are usually other teachers in the school, there are very active organizations like the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the State NCTM organization and there are lots and lots of textbooks, one of which is bound to be close to what you want to teach.  In CS not so much.  You are usually the only CS teacher and maybe the only CS teacher for many miles.  The Computer Science Teachers of America simply does not yet provide the pedagogical support of the NCTM.  As for textbooks, there is no money in it for the publishers because the numbers are too small therefore the selection of high school texts is extremely slim.  When you also consider no one has really decided on a “best” high school language it makes it a bit rough to decide what book to write.  Most high school subjects are very static, a twenty year old math or history textbook is not all that different from a brand new one.  CS is a bit more dynamic.  Last year’s CS textbook can sometimes easily be considered an antique.  I have some 10 year old CS “Education Programs” that I keep around for the kids to chuckle over.

The only solution, especially for teacher education, is to go with something like this MOOC.  APCSP is worth learning about and the only practical way is this thing.  But they are grinders.  This one has something like 500 people signed up.  It will be a bit much to carry on any kind of discussion with that many involved.

Besides, I need something to do in the summer to keep me off the streets at night.

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