Exploring the Computer Science Principles Class with Mr. Scutero
Mr. Scutero, a math and computer science teacher, recently introduced a new course at Edgemont called AP Computer Science Principles. This class was launched by the College Board in 2016 as a more foundational and broad approach to computer science. Unlike Edgemont’s other AP computer science class that focuses on the coding language Java, the Principles class concentrates on the rudimentary concepts of the subject instead of a specific language. This allows students to explore the relevance of computer science in everyday life, including how it can be applied beneficially to many fields and professions.
What excited you about the comp-sci principles class originally and how did you bring it to Edgemont?
Mr. Scutero: I had heard about it before it was even formulated in the AP world. It had been talked about for years. They mentioned an upcoming class that would be focused more on the concepts and the ideas of computer science and how to then apply those to real world applications. When it came out, I didn’t want to be in the first wave of teachers to implement it, but, then, after a few years of it being used successfully in schools around the country I thought it sounded great and I was ready to take it to Edgemont. To learn more about it, I visited Sleepy Hollow High School, where they had implemented the course in its first year of existence, and I watched the students making apps in the classroom. That was something I didn’t really know how to do prior to this class, so I thought the app-making and other real world applications of computer science could be really awesome for Edgemont students.
What distinguishes the Principles class from the other computer science classes in Edgemont?
Mr. Scutero: The biggest difference is that Comp-Sci A, right from the very beginning, introduces coding in Java, so the students are thrown right into complexities of a coding language. The Principles class starts out a little slower and we talk about the background of computing and design before working with apps and understanding the real coding behind them. Also, in Principles, each concept is introduced when it’s needed by the student, whereas in the Comp-Sci A class, I teach Java concepts because the students will need to know them later on. The other major difference is that in the Principles class, we use Code.org throughout the entire course, but in the other course, I teach from a textbook. The Comp-Sci A class also has real life applications. For example, we make a bank account and digitally enhance pictures. However, it’s more of a typical structured class in comparison to the Principles one.
Has it been hard to teach a new class that’s never been taught at Edgemont, and how have you tackled this?
Mr. Scutero: I brought the Intro to Comp-Sci class to Edgemont a few years ago, so for that class I wrote the whole curriculum and found articles and varied software. I was planning on doing a similar thing for the Principles class, but when I found out about Code.org in Sleepy Hollow, it seemed like the best resource to use both for me and for the students. For the intro class I’m constantly looking for new and updated materials, but Code.org finds those types of resources for me, so I have more time to plan projects, review days, and class lessons. The intro class was definitely harder to mold and format, but it’s still always a work-in-progress when first introducing a new class into the curriculum.
What’s your favorite part of the Comp-Sci Principles curriculum and why?
Mr. Scutero: There are a lot of parts to it that are really awesome. First, I love how in the first two units there are discussions, papers, and debates about the ways technology is used in everyday life and how it relates to each of us. However, I also like that for every unit the students either replicate an app that the program previews, or they’re doing a project where they design and create an app from scratch. It’s great that the class is more project based than test based, because the projects really show what each student is capable of in coding, along with their creativity through design and variation.
When students are making these apps and coming up with their own ideas, it shows that everyone is paying attention to the tutorials. They’re following along, and they’re understanding the material on a really high level. It’s different for the students because they’re not sitting in class taking notes and then reviewing those notes to then perform well on a test, they’re instead showing their knowledge through projects. Because of this, I get to have a different role and perspective as a teacher, where I’m facilitating the class instead of just lecturing in it.
What students do you recommend this course for? How should students choose between taking this class and Comp-Sci A?
Mr. Scutero: I had contemplated for a while the order in which students would take these courses, but I think Principles is a better beginner course because it introduces computer science in a broader context. The Comp-Sci A class tends to start at a much faster pace right from the start, and so for someone without prior knowledge, the Principles class eases you into the concepts and prepares you for future computer science courses. On the other hand, if students take the Comp-Sci A class and they love it, they would probably want to take the Principles course since they can still get a lot out of it. If a student is only interested in taking one course, they should go the Comp-Sci A route if they want to approach computer science in a more problem solving, analytical, mathematical way; however, Principles would allow a student to see more of the designing and creative aspects of computer science.
What are your overall goals for this course moving forward and will you modify it in any way?
Mr. Scutero: I’m really happy with the Code.org curriculum as of now, so I probably won’t modify it for at least another year, but I will supplement it with more of my own articles and projects. After experiencing the AP exam this year, I will also have an even better idea of what specifics are important to work on. In the future, I might try to explore other curriculum besides Code.org for this course, possibly from Harvard or Khan Academy.
What inspired you to teach computer science and do you think all students should experiment with it?
I think that computer science in general may soon become a requirement for high school students, as the CSTA (Computer Science Teachers Association) is pushing for that, but regardless, I think it’s a good thing for all students to take at least one computer science course. There’s computer science in pretty much every professional field, from teaching to architecture to the more obvious professions like engineering, and taking a course will introduce concepts that carry over into many parts of life. I believe that all Edgemont students should have some exposure to this topic, whether it’s through the 8th grade technology class, the 9th grade intro class, or one of the AP classes.
As for myself, I have always loved using computers, and I tried to take as many computer related courses as I could in high school and college. It was actually my father that taught me about Excel when I was younger, and learning basic functions and concepts like the “if statement” originally got me interested in the topic. In college, when I took my first computer science class, I fell in love with it and ended up minoring in computer science. After I graduated college I worked for a company coding directly, but since I always wanted to be a teacher, I ended up bringing computer science to the schools in which I taught math.