Riverside-Brookfield High School is one of just 35 high schools in the United States piloting a new Advanced Placement computer class for the College Board, the organization that administers the Advanced Placement program.
The new class, called AP Computer Science Principles, is designed to be a broader, more wide-ranging class than AP Computer Science A class, the College Board’s only other AP computer science offering.
AP Computer Science A is a programming class limited to the Java computer programming language. The Computer Science Principles class takes a broader perspective.
“We also have a programming focus in the Computer Sciences Principles course, but we don’t specify a programming language,” said Lien Diaz the senior director of AP Computer Science for College Board. “The Computer Science Principles class also examines the broader aspects of computer science, such as the social impacts of computing and the Internet. It is not strictly a programming class.”
RBHS is offering three sections of AP Computer Science Principles this year, two of which are taught by Sandy Czajka and one of which is taught by Dan Bonarigo. Seventy-six students, 55 boys and 21 girls, are taking the class this year at RBHS. Since computers are ubiquitous in daily life today, Czajka believes that all students should have some exposure to computer science.
“Computer science is part of everyone’s daily life and almost every career our students may pursue in their futures,” Czajka said in an email. “This class covers a wide breadth of computing topics and is accessible for a large variety of students.”
Next year AP Computer Science Principles will be a full-fledged AP class with its own AP exam and the possibility of earning college credit. This year the class at RBHS is being monitored by the College Board as it prepares for the course’s rollout next year.
College Board representatives have visited RBHS to observe the class in action. They discuss with Czajka and Bonarigo how things are going and get feedback as they fine-tune the class for next year.
RBHS was selected to be a pilot school for the class after Czajka submitted an application to the College Board. Being selected as a pilot school is no easy thing.
“It’s a rigorous process,” Diaz said.
One goal of the class was to increase enrollment in computer science classes among girls other underrepresented groups.
Czajka and RBHS had to present a plan on how to increase enrollment among those groups of students.
“We were also looking for teachers that were wanting to increase or expand participation in computer science participation in their schools,” Diaz said.
The presence of Czajka was critical in RBHS being selected to participate in the pilot, according to Diaz.
“She is the kind of teacher who is always looking to do things better in her classroom,” Diaz said. “I think that’s already in her internally, but she’s also expressed that this course has helped her become a better teacher, has helped her really think about how to make a difference and engage students in learning computer science.”
Czajka is incorporating a service component to the class, where students must help a nonprofit group, usually with its website.
In December, the two RBS teachers and a student in the class, sophomore Migle Medelis, were flown to Boston to participate in two-day conference about the new class sponsored by the College Board. They participated in panel discussions and met with teachers and a handful of other students of schools that were piloting the course.
“It was really fun,” Medelis said. “I could tell that they really cared about the students and how to improve the class.”
Medelis says that she loves the class.
“There is so much to do and I get to think, and there’s a lot of freedom,” Medelis said.