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Computer Science: Not Just for Math and Science Students Anymore
May 27, 2015 | Comments
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I have been teaching computer science (CS) at the Alabama School of Fine Arts (www.asfa.k12. al.us) for seven years. Students are admitted to the school in a chosen specialty: Creative Writing, Dance, Math and Science, Music, Theater, or Visual Arts. During my time here, I have almost exclusively taught Math and Science majors. However, the possibilities for the Arts students to use computing in their chosen fields are endless. Sadly, only a handful of Arts students have enrolled in CS courses in the past.
 
This year everything changed! There are now more Arts students wanting to take CS classes than there is room for them in the classroom. The state of Alabama has begun to grant math credit for either the AP CS A course or CS Principles (CSP) course. This policy change has had an enormous impact on the CSP class. These gifted artists and performers are not always interested in learning mathematics, especially when they don’t see it as applicable to their lives. They are, however, interested in creating something beautiful, interesting, and meaningful. And if they need mathematics to accomplish their artistic goal, it becomes okay.
 
For CS to be accessible and engaging for all students, it needs to be taught in new and interesting contexts. The language independence of the CSP course gives teachers the freedom to use any tool that their students relate to and it gives the students the freedom to explore and create something personally meaningful. Creativity can be incorporated into the course in so many ways: Scratch, Alice, App Inventor, designing and printing 3D models, and writing programs to make music are just a few examples.
 
The Arts students bring a unique and refreshing worldview to CS. When we work with LEGO NXT Mindstorms, they want to make sure they are aesthetically pleasing. They deco- rate the robots, give them names, and make sure everything looks just right. When we put sound and images into our App Inventor apps, they work to make it exactly as they envision. When we program the Finch robots to play songs, every note must be exact. We are beginning to work with the Arduino LilyPads and they are already planning interactive stuffed animals, wall hangings, and sweaters—on the first day! They enthusiastically embrace open-ended projects that tend to intimidate many of the Math and Science students. They get so invested in their projects that they don’t mind having to do the hard work that it takes to get it right.
 
Working with these creative “right-brainers” has given me new ways of looking at course content. It has also caused me to re-examine some of my pedagogy. Teaching methods that have worked for years with the more logically- focused students do not always work with the more artistically focused students. My existing strategies to teach Boolean logic, binary and hex number systems, or other more technical subjects, don’t always work with the Arts students. Likewise, the strategies that work well with the Arts students don’t always work with the Math and Science students. We have to spend more time on the mathematical concepts with the Arts students than I am accustomed to with others. However, concepts like design and aesthetics that have always been a struggle with the Math and Science students come naturally to the Arts students.

Not only has teaching CS to Arts students been fun, it has also been enlightening for both my students and me. Now that they are discovering the power of computing, they are beginning to see it as a new medium for their art, and as a discipline in which they can excel. The significance of creativity in CS Principles cannot be understated. Not only does this emphasis on creativity attract the non-traditional CS students to this course, but it also provides an opportunity for the traditional CS students to explore and express their creativity. 



This blog post originally appeared in the CSTA Voice, Volume 11, Issue 2. Carol Yarbrough is in her seventh year as a Computer Science Teacher after spending more than 20 year working at aerospace and telecommunications firms as a programmer/analyst. [permalink for this post]
 
 
A+ College Ready is Raising the Bar for Itself with Cohort VIII
May 19, 2015 | Comments
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Each year for the past seven years A+ College Ready (A+CR), in partnership with the State Department of Education (ALSDE), selects a group of Alabama high schools to participate in its program to advance college readiness. By applying to be a part of this program, these schools commit to implement highly rigorous Advanced Placement (AP) and pre-AP courses in math, science, and English to better prepare their students for success in college and careers. So whats special about Cohort VIII the gro... [continue reading]
 
 
A+ College Ready is Raising the Bar for Itself with Cohort VIII
May 19, 2015 | Comments
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Each year for the past seven years A+ College Ready (A+CR), in partnership with the State Department of Education (ALSDE), selects a group of Alabama high schools to participate in its program to advance college readiness. By applying to be a part of this program, these schools commit to implement highly rigorous Advanced Placement (AP) and pre-AP courses in math, science, and English to better prepare their students for success in college and careers. So whats special about Cohort VIII the gro... [continue reading]
 
 
AP Mock Exam Reading a Success!
April 15, 2015 | Comments
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The ALSDE/A+ College Ready Program facilitates mock AP exams each year as a means of test preparation for our students, and professional development for our teachers. Recently, math and science teachers came to Birmingham to read these exams under the direction of official AP exam readers. This post from our science content director Robert Summers explains why this event is so successful. [continue reading]
 
 
ALSDE/A+ College Ready Announces Cohort VIII Schools
April 7, 2015 | Comments
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Thirty additional high schools across the state have been selected to participate in a successful statewide initiative, which will increase the number of students prepared for the challenge of college courses. [continue reading]
 
 
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