Exploring Computer Science is a yearlong course consisting of 6 units, approximately 6 weeks each. The course units draw on the curricular framework listed in Levels II and III of the ACM’s A Model Curriculum for K-12 Computer Science (2003). Assignments and instruction are contextualized to be socially relevant and meaningful for diverse students. Units utilize a variety of tools/platforms, and culminate with final projects around the following topics:
Human Computer Interaction Students are introduced to the major components of the computer, including: input, output, memory, storage, processing, software, and the operating system. Students consider how Internet elements (e.g. email, chat, WWW) are organized, engage in effective searching, and focus on productive use of email. Fundamental notions of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and ergonomics are introduced. Students learn that “intelligent” machine behavior is not “magic” but is based on algorithms applied to useful representations of information. Students learn the characteristics that make certain tasks easy or difficult for computers, and how these differ from those that humans characteristically find easy or difficult. Students gain an appreciation for the many ways (types of use) in which computers have had an impact across the range of human activity, as well as for the many different fields in which they are used. Examples illustrate the broad, interdisciplinary utility of computers and algorithmic problem solving in the modern world.
Problem Solving This unit covers the basic steps in algorithmic problem-solving, including the problem statement and exploration, examination of sample instances, design, program coding, testing, and verification. Tools for expressing design are used. This unit also includes selected topics in discrete mathematics including (but not limited to) Boolean logic, functions, sets, and graphs. Students are introduced to the binary number system. Students construct complex expressions based on fundamental Boolean operations and learn how to relate the mathematical notion of functions to its counterparts in computer programming. They learn basic set theory and its application in computer science. Students are introduced to graphs using puzzles. Suitable exercises are presented that illustrate the value of mathematical abstraction in solving programming problems.
Web Design This section prepares students to take the role of a developer by expanding their knowledge of programming and Web page design and applying it to the creation of Web pages, programs, and documentation for users and equipment. Students learn to create user-friendly manuals, Web sites, and program interfaces. Students apply fundamental notions of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and ergonomics. Code documentation and hardware and software limitations are also explored. The notions of hierarchy and abstraction are central to computing. They are crucial to the translation between machine code and a user-friendly interface, to creating reusable code, and to the design of software that is broadly applicable rather than solving only a narrowly defined problem. This unit makes these abstract ideas concrete by focusing first on real-life (non-computing) examples, and then on the specific uses of hierarchy and abstraction in computer science.
Programming Students are introduced to some basic issues associated with program design and development. Students design algorithms and programming solutions to a variety of computational problems, using Scratch. Programming problems should include control structures, functions, parameters, objects and classes, structured programming and event-driven programming techniques. This unit introduces data structures, including arrays, vectors, stacks, and queues, and their associated components, operations, and uses. Benefits and limitations of different data structures are presented. The concept that analysis and understanding of data structures can be used as a fundamental organizing principle in the design of solutions is explored.
Computing and Data Analysis In this unit students explore how computing has facilitated new methods of managing and interpreting data. Students will use computers to translate, process and visualize data in order to find patterns and test hypotheses. Students will work with a variety of large data sets that illustrate how widespread access to data and information facilitates identification of problems. Students will collect and generate their own data related to local community issues and discuss appropriate methods for data collection and aggregation of data necessary to support making a case or facilitating a discovery.
Robotics Students apply previously learned topics to the study of robotics and work in small groups to build and program a robot to perform a required task. Students make use of a programming language to control the behavior of these robots in dynamic environments. As a class (or a district) they will test out their robots under a specific set of circumstances in a robotics competition.
Ethical and social issues in computing, and careers in computing, are woven throughout the six units. The proliferation of computers and networks raises a number of ethical issues. Technology has had both positive and negative impacts on human culture. Students will be able to identify ethical behavior and articulate both sides of ethical topics. Students study the responsibilities of software users and software developers with respect to intellectual property rights, software failures, and the piracy of software and other digital media. They are introduced to the concept of open-source software development and explore its implications. Students identify and describe careers in computing and careers that employ computing. Information is provided about the required technical skill set, soft skills, educational pathways, and ongoing training required for computing careers. Students also explore how computers are used in other career choices. Finally, students are made aware of which additional secondary-level courses might be needed in preparation for various careers.
Joanna Goode and Gail Chapman are the authors of Exploring Computer Science and are the co-directors of the curriculum design team. High school teachers have been involved in contributing instructional materials and have provided important feedback that has been used to improve the materials. Furthermore, along with a design team, the authors have conferred with K-12 and higher education computer science educators around the country involved in computer science reform to inform the creation of these materials.
The members of the design team include:
Joanna Goode, University of Oregon
Gail Chapman, University of California, Los Angeles
Jane Margolis, University of California, Los Angeles
John Landa, Los Angeles Unified School District Computer Science teacher
Todd Ullah, Principal of Washington Preparatory High School
Diane Watkins, Director of Science, Los Angeles Unified School District
Chris Stephenson, Executive Director, Computer Science Teachers Association