Conjugating Verbs on The Bleeding Edge: AP Computer Science Principles with Mr. Anderson

In another of those “quiet firsts” for which Kennedy Catholic has become famous, the school launched an Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles class this year. It’s the first time this course has been offered in the nation, and Kennedy is one of only 450 high schools in the country that are offering the class.

So… so far, so good…?

As with anything else, when you’re on the forefront of something you’re on the ‘bleeding edge,’ but we handle those hiccups,” Allan Anderson, Kennedy’s AP Computer Science teacher, laughed. “We’ve gotten excellent support to help us. I actually adopted the curriculum that was developed by Berkley University, it’s called the ‘Beauty and Joy of Computing,’ so everyday I get emails off a discussion board from Berkley folks who are using this across the country, so if we do run into a problem, we’ve got other people to collaborate with.”

Mr. Allan Anderson, in Classroom

Mr. Allan Anderson, teacher of AP Computer Science Principles at Kennedy Catholic High School

Mr. Anderson received his Masters in Computer Science in 1970 from Purdue University, at that time only one of three schools in the country to offer such a program (We’re sensing a pattern here…). After grad school he spent 23 years at IBM, later working as a network integration consultant in New York City, before moving into academia where he currently serves as Professor of Computer Science and Department Chair of Technologies at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, Connecticut, in addition to his work at Kennedy.

Last year Mr. Anderson taught a class at Kennedy in the popular computer language Python that was extremely well-received. But with AP Computer Science Principles, he is casting the net a bit wider.

This class is meant for everybody going to college,” he explained. “Computing innovations have impacted everything in the world, and they will continue to impact everything in the future. So it’s important for everybody to understand what computing innovations are all about.”

One thing they are not about, Mr. Anderson believes, is exclusivity. He feels his peers haven’t been very effective at involving everyone in Computer Science education.

Let’s face it, the Computer Science population has been predominantly white male individuals. We’re trying to get minorities as well as females involved in Computer Science. And that’s one of the things the Computer Science Principles course is focusing on. It’s not just for nerds.”

Most high school computer classes around the country are fighting a losing battle against their aging hardware, but the computers in Kennedy’s Computer Science Lab are all brand new as of last year. So what kind of obstacles does AP Computer Science Principles face? Are there networking issues, run-time errors, corrupted databases…?

“The obstacles have nothing to do with Computer Science,” Mr. Anderson explained. “They have to do with being able to write well, and to be able to research, to come up with appropriate credible references. It is reinforcing what students probably already learned in an English class.”

It seems that students really aren’t expecting their Computer Science teacher to be hammering them about their grammar. But then, this is Kennedy…

It’s like, ‘Well, I don’t have to use those techniques here, I can treat it more like a ‘texting’ environment,'” Mr. Anderson elaborated. “The answer is ‘No!’ The number one requirement for employers is that their employees be able to communicate: written, orally, and definitely electronically!”

Note to students: Complete your brackets AND conjugate your verbs properly in Mr. Anderson’s class. As Morpheus admonished Neo in The Matrix, “Welcome to the Real World.”

Grammar aside, Mr. Anderson believes the old canard about Computer Science being intimidating for any student to learn is now officially played out. He cites the marketing efforts of one of the country’s largest toy manufacturers as supporting evidence.

Three of my five grandchildren are 3 to 3 and a half years old,” he said. “Fisher Price has a ‘Code-a-Pillar™’ that teaches beginning algorithm development. To a 3 year old! It’s a forty dollar toy, and these grandchildren are going to get one as a Christmas present. The five year old will be getting an Osmo system but that’s another story.”

AP Computer Science Principles makes use of an array of online tools, including Blackboard and a collaborative discussion board. Perhaps surprisingly, many students are a little slow to wrap their minds around the virtual meeting rooms, “…but it’s important for them to learn that,” Mr. Anderson made clear, “because that is what they are going to encounter, not only in their education facilities, but in their future careers, wherever that may take them.”