New High School Computing Course Launched at University of Arkansas' AP Summer Institute
Thanks to a nearly $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation and teacher training at the annual Advanced Placement Summer Institute hosted by the University of Arkansas Honors College, Arkansas high school students will be among the first in the nation to take a brand new computer class next year.
The course, AP Computer Science Principles, is designed to engage students in computer science – a top priority for Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Arkansas became the first state to mandate computer science education after Hutchinson signed Act 187 into law last year.
The NSF grant supports Training Arkansas Computing Teachers (TACT), which is charged with preparing 50 Arkansas teachers to teach the new AP computer science course in three years' time. The program is led by Dale R. Thompson, associate professor of computer engineering, and Bryan Hill, assistant dean for student recruitment and diversity, honors and international programs in the College of Engineering. They work closely with the Honors College and UAteach, a partnership between the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Education and Health Professions that addresses the shortage of secondary mathematics and science teachers in Arkansas.
Bradley Beth helped to develop the curriculum for AP Computer Science Principles, and spent last week training 20 Arkansas teachers at the Honors College's AP Summer Institute. The goal of the course is to draw more students, especially those from underrepresented populations, into the computer science field.
“In the 1980s, 37 percent of computer jobs were held by females – now, just 11 percent are,” Beth said. “This new course is designed to broaden participation in computer science by focusing on the big ideas that impact society, like digital cameras or self-driving cars. Then we teach the programming tools they need. There’s been a lot of thought and research on how to buck the trend and change things, because it is important.”
The new computer science course was one of 18 offered at the Honors College's AP Summer Institute, which drew 325 AP teachers from across Arkansas and beyond to the U of A campus to hone their teaching skills.
The four-day institute, now in its 18th year, brings master AP teachers from across the U.S. to campus, where they “teach the teachers,” emphasizing hands-on classroom activities that engage students. Courses range from pre-AP math, science and English to AP Calculus, Physics 2, Macroeconomics and World History.
“AP courses are one of the best ways to prepare students for the rigors of the Honors College, so training more teachers helps us grow our pool of applicants,” said Noah Pittman, an assistant dean of the Honors College who directs the AP Summer Institute. “The teachers who come here also see firsthand what we offer to top students.”
Lynn Knowles, an AP consultant from Flower Mound, Texas, who has taught at more than 20 AP Summer Institutes, affirmed the effectiveness of the institute as a recruiting tool.
“This is the best prepared, best-run AP Summer Institute I’ve ever done,” she said. “The Honors College staff feels like family. It’s the one I come back to, and it pays, because I go back and talk up the U of A and the Honors College to our counselors and our kids.”