More young women took an Advanced Placement Computer Science exam last year than in 2007 through 2013 combined, thanks largely to a new course designed with them in mind.
Last summer, College Board announced AP Computer Science Principles, a course that views computing through a creative and collaborative lens. It only requires curiosity — instead of previous knowledge of programming — with the hopes of attracting a more diverse group of students.
In its first year, the course was an overwhelming success. EdSurge reports that 29,708 girls and 22,199 underrepresented minorities took the exam, representing a 100 percent increase for both groups.
— Code.org (@codeorg) July 18, 2017
“Though computer science has seen sustained growth year after year, the introduction of AP CS Principles this past school year was the largest College Board AP exam launch in history, and has skyrocketed participation in CS especially among female students and minorities,” reads a Code.org blog post on the data.
Why a New Approach to Computer Science Works
With only 3,000 young women taking an AP CS exam a decade ago, clearly, the new course has done what the College Board intended it to do. By adopting an outside-of-the-box approach to computer science, the organization has taken some of the intimidation out of the subject.
The University of California at Berkeley saw an influx of female enrollees in an introductory CS course after they rebranded it as The Beauty and Joy of Computing. Simply changing the name can entice students who might be scared off by stereotypes and changing the approach (not always so simple) can engage them throughout the course. Teaching computational thinking, or using CS concepts to solve problems, is one entry point for the whole field.
“We are teaching computational thinking concepts as early as kindergarten when we teach students to process things with steps,” says sixth-grade computer science teacher Sheena Vaidyanathan in an EdTech article.
Code.org reports that more gains in recruiting underrepresented students into computer science through these kinds of classes is on the horizon.
“This summer alone we’re preparing almost 900 new teachers to begin teaching AP Computer Science Principles, expanding access to tens of thousands of students in urban or rural schools which previously had no computer science offering,” the organization reports.