Some students struggle with new APCS prerequisites

September 29, 2016 — by Frederick Kim and Vivien Zhang

APCS class requries new prerequisite knowledge.

Starting this year, the school’s AP Computer Science classes have required new prerequisites that have caused some students stress and increased their difficulty.

Because the school now offers an Introduction to Computer Programming class, APCS teachers Judi Heher and Debra Troxell are now assuming students know many of the basics of programming. If not, entering students can learn them through optional lecture videos and tutorials posted on Canvas.

Heher said the introductory class is the better class for students who have little or no coding experience.

The problem is that some students feel that taking an introductory class to prepare for the AP equivalent is too time consuming.

For APCS, the extra time from skipping the basic materials allows the students to go more in depth with difficult concepts such as data structures and complete more projects that will contribute to their understanding of coding, the teachers said.

Some students said they were taken aback by the new expectations.

“When I first signed up, I didn't think it was going be that difficult because I took a class before,” sophomore Veda Jammula said. “But even though I had already learned the basic concepts, I still felt that adjusting to the class was really hard because the class didn't re-teach certain topics.”

Senior Alex Kwon also said he wasn’t ready for the change.

“They should have outlined the prerequisites before school ended to give everybody a good chance,” Kwon said. “I didn’t know that there was a prerequisite in the beginning, so I found out on the first day of school.”

Despite the concerns from students without coding experience, Troxell said that over 70 percent of the students from past years had been self-taught in programming or took a summer course in preparation for the class. That meant many of them did not need the first few months of class.

Even with the new prerequisites, Troxell said she has still made some accommodations for the students who have struggled so far.

“I went slower than I would have normally,” Troxell said. “I talked about some topics in class more than I would have.”

In the future, Troxell plans to help incoming APCS students become better prepared by hosting a mandatory lunch meeting in February to make sure that these students know of the prerequisites ahead of time. She is also considering assigning summer homework.

The AP Computer Science class does not enforce whether students actually master the prerequisite requirements — it is up to them to do so. Packets and extra assignments are given out at the beginning of the year and include exercises that cover all of the knowledge students are assumed to have.

Troxell hopes that by introducing these prerequisites, APCS will be more enjoyable and worthwhile for those with enough experience.

“Every year, people came to me more and more able with a lot of computer programming skills, so I think the majority of the students are happy with the change,” Troxell said.

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