AP Annual Conference: Learning with Exploring Computer Science

Learning with Exploring Computer Science (ECS): Connections to AP CS

I attended this session to get an overview of Exploring Computer Science and AP Computer Science Principles, determine how these courses may apply to my school’s computer science sequence, and learn how these efforts are able to increase enrollment of underrepresented groups.

Exploring Computer Science (ECS)

  • exploringcs.org
  • Goal: increase student enrollment, especially with females and underrepresented minorities.
  • ECS is a year-long course that includes six curricular units and daily lesson plans. Grew out of the book Stuck in the Shallow End. Funded by the NSF.
  • ECS computer science concepts
    • human-computer interaction
    • problem solving
    • web design
    • introduction to programming
    • computing and data analysis
    • robotics
  • ECS computational practices
    • analyze effects of computing
    • design creative solutions and artifacts
    • apply abstractions and models
    • analyze computational work and work of others
    • communication computational thought processes
    • collaborate with peers on computing activities
  • In the Los Angeles School District, ~2000 students are enrolled in ECS per year; 45% are girls; underrepresented minority enrollment mirrors (or exceeds) enrollment in the district.
  • ECS is also in Chicago Public Schools as well; data forthcoming.

AP Computer Science Principles

Jody Paul

  • involved in APCS, AP Computer Science Principles, and ECS
  • The context within which we teach Computer Science …
    • extreme variation in prior exposure and experience of students
    • misconception: computer science equals writing programs
    • cognitive shifts are associated with acquiring new thinking skills
      • require the passage of time (as well as mentored exercise) to acquire and internalize
      • limited set of skills successful in other domains not sufficient
      • frustration, confusion, bewilderment
  • Success in Computer Science is associated with being adept at:
    • discovery learning & inquiry-based learning
    • understanding when and how to seek assistance from peers, mentors, and references
    • working collaboratively
    • applying creative practices
    • appreciating larger context within which computation exists
    • accepting and working well with the juxtaposition of vagueness and precision
      • problems must be precisely specified
      • there are many correct ways to solve a problem
      • solutions must be creatively developed
      • a solution must be precisely and unambiguously specified
  • Three programs jointly facilitate success
    • leveling influences to accommodate diverse backgrounds
    • establishing meaningful context
    • correcting misconceptions and inappropriate stereotypes
    • initiating mental development processes that facilitate the cognitive shifts necessary for successful study in CS
    • preparing students for progressively increasing rigor and challenge in CS study
    • acquisition of key skills: inquiry, collaboration, algorithmic thinking, …


  • AP CS Principles is intended for all 21st Century Students. It is a computer science course; not a programming course.
  • Only 10 states count computer science as a math or science course. Some states have no certification for computer science.
  • ECS, AP CS Principles, and AP Computer Science A are not intended to be a course sequence. All three courses are potential entry points into computer science. The panel seemed to concur that the audience for AP Computer Science A is quite different, and smaller, than the audience for the other two courses. There was a bit of confusion about how ECS and AP Computer Science Principles differ. With my limited exposure, they seem very similar in principle. I wouldn’t envision a high school offering both. The fact that one is AP and one is not may lead a high school toward one over the other. In addition, since ECS is an entire course package (e.g., includes daily lesson plans) while AP CS Principles is a curriculum framework, may lead a high school towards one over the other. I don’t see either replacing our current Programming 1/2 courses, but I could see offering one or the other as an additional course targeted at a much wider audience.

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