An Exploratory Computer Science Course

One of the great things I get to do these days is to participate in advisory boards for Programming and Web Development programs at some local career/technical high schools. The other night is was at Greater Lowell Tech and they were telling us about their new exploratory course. The way things work at their school is that freshmen attend a series of three week long exploratory at each of the “shops” or technical programs. The idea is for the students to have the opportunity to try a lot of different things before they decide on what area they will study for the next few years. Now of course many kids come with pre-conceived ideas. Maybe it is cosmetology or auto repair. Or health care or agriculture or any of the other fields. But most are there will an open mind. So each program or shop tries to promote their course of study while at the same time setting realistic expectations about the work and learning that is involved.

The Programing and Web development program is no exception. So there is a lot of career talk about to possibilities for jobs in these fields. They do explain that students will need college as well but that they can get a good start in high school. Then they teach some web development and some programming. This year they are using Microsoft Expression web for the web development part of the exploratory. They like that they can work with a split screen that shows the HTML code on the top and the way the page would look “for real” on the bottom. Explaining HTML is an important concept and they want students to learn it. Expression Web lets them do that easily.


The programming part of the exploratory is done using Visual Basic. This is not an in depth how to program but a basic step by step introduction. Three is only a week or so to do it in after all. But what happens is that students get to see what programming is like and achieve some basic success. And develop a taste for more. In fact many of the students from the first couple of sessions of the exploratory are now staying after school to learn more on their own and from their peers. And it looks like enrollment may be up for next year for the serious sessions.

One of the additional “selling points” is that students who enroll in the Programming and Web Development program of study get copies of the software  for use at home. Since the web development course uses Expression Web and the MSDN AA program, which the school is a member of, provides student home use licenses this is a great opportunity. Likewise the first real programming course also uses Visual Basic and students can install professional Visual Studio at home. For students who are motivated, and many of these students are very motivated, this is a great incentive.

BTW there is a full semester web development curriculum and a bunch of individual curriculum items at the Expression Education page. And the Visual Basic project book  that Greater Lowell has adapted for use in their exploratory course in available from Visual Basic .NET Projects

Comments (1)

  1. Jim P says:

    Another great post Alfred!     Our Exploratory for Freshmen is only 5 days (3 guaranteed) so we can't get as deep into any one topic, but I would like to add that Alice version 2 ( is our other main staple in shop.

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