The AP CS mailing list has been having a discussion about letting sophomores take Advanced Placement Computer Science. Topics being discussed include “are sophomores ready?” Some are and some aren’t. Another issue was expressed well by someone who said “what happens to the sophomores if there aren't two years of viable classes to take afterward?” The big concern expressed by a few people is that if there are no formal courses for sophomores to take before college that they will forget a lot of what they learned. I think this is largely a valid concern. Well, for many students.
Some students will take off and continue to work, learn and develop software on their own. The Dreamspark program is just made for those kids. I sure hope a lot of high schools take advantage of it. IF they do students will have development software (Visual Studio, Robotics Studio, XNA Game Studio) and servers (Windows Server 2008 & SQL Server) as well as online training available to them. This will keep many of the motivated students learning and growing while they continue though high school.
But for many students time becomes a problem and for others learning on their own just doesn’t yet work for them. So finishing up their formal high school computer science education is going to be a problem. For some independent studies will be an answer. This also works for a lot of smart students. It’s a surprising amount of work for teacher but not as much as a full class. But for the student to have that adult guide and resource if a powerful support tool.
With the APCS AB exam going away I see a natural gap opening up. I hope that a lot of schools will look to create higher level courses for students to continue with. Not having that AP bonus for the GPA will be an issue for some – especially those with guidance counselors who are all about tailoring the transcript for college admissions. But honors credit at least will help. These courses will give teachers as well as students some opportunity to explore new areas like databases, robotics, artificial intelligence, game development, and media processing. And more. Hopefully good administrators with good teachers will be able to do some of this. In the long run I see courses after APCS as a great opportunity. So let’s let the sophomores (perhaps even the precocious freshmen) take AP CS early. Who knows how far they will go?