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Advanced Placement Computer Science class launches throughout PUSD

AP computer science

Chester Jr Sr High AP Computer Science teacher Hillary Edwards and students discuss the success of a project where each student wrote a set of instructions for another student to use to replicate a geometric design.

Advanced Placement Computer Science class launches throughout PUSD

Around the classroom, students are intently studying their laptop screens. Each student is creating a black and white image using binary code to turn the individual squares of a grid black or white. The numeral one encodes a black square, and a zero denotes a white square. Working row by row, the students type in strings of ones and zeros to create simple block images of castle towers, flowers, initials, and even football jersey numbers. 

These 10th graders at Portola Jr Sr High School, along with 10th graders at Chester, Greenville, and Quincy Jr Sr High Schools, are taking the inaugural Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science Principles class to be offered at Plumas Unified. AP classes let students pursue college level classes while still in high school, and give the opportunity for students to receive college credit and/or advanced placement in college classes after taking the concluding AP Exam, an assessment designed to measure a student’s mastery of the subject. PUSD offers AP courses in Environmental Science, English, Calculus, US History, and Government to 11th and 12th graders. “We’re really excited to be able to offer 10th graders an AP class experience,” said Trey Farris, who teaches the class at Greenville Jr Sr High. 

“When Trevor Packer (Senior Vice President of The College Board and head of Advanced Placement program) visited our district last year, he brought this course to our attention,” says PUSD Instructional Coach Susan Frediani. “Because AP classes are rigorous and rewarding for students, PUSD has been wanting to expand those opportunities. As a result of Mr. Packer’s visit, our district was able to participate in the limited roll out of a new Pre-AP program at Portola Jr Sr High for 9th graders, and also to bring this AP Computer Science class to 10th graders.” 

“An amazing part of the AP Computer Science curriculum is the support it provides for teachers as well as students,” says Portola Jr Sr High teacher Elisabeth Henson, who teaches art. “As a graphic designer, I’m familiar with some aspects of computer science, particularly with regard to how images are built, but I was really glad to be able to attend a week-long training with our PUSD teachers in Sacramento.” Code.org, an endorsed provider of AP content, hosted the free training, and will provide four more one-day sessions throughout the school year. Chester Jr Sr High’s Hillary Edwards is also an art teacher turned computer science teacher.

Students use an internet simulator to understand the complexities of delivering information through the internet’s routers and servers, and the realities of hacking. They get hands-on experience encoding data and images, and will use the JavaScript language to learn about algorithms and program design as they create a series of real working, shareable apps.

“Not all students who signed up for this course were necessarily interested in computers or programming,” says Quincy Jr Sr High math teacher Becky York. “Many took the class because it’s an AP course, but as we’ve gotten into the curriculum, I think students are finding it’s relevant to real life whether you’re pursuing computer science or not. For example, when they hear about a DDoS attack on the news, they know it means “Distributed Denial of Service” and understand how that overwhelms a network and shuts it down.”

Courses like AP Computer Science Principles can open doors for students to experience subjects they might not have considered before. QJSHS sophomore Kayla Thackeray says, “I wasn’t really into computers, but I’m learning about how the internet works, and that makes me interested to learn more about computer science.”