Beyond Coding: AP Computer Science Course Helps Meet Modern Workforce Demands

AP Computer Science Principles students test recording equipment. Each student produces a video demonstrating an application they developed, which is one of three parts of the AP Exam. Forty percent of the AP exam is completed in class and uploaded to each students’ digital portfolio. Students take a 74 question exam in May. Submitted photo.

Marshfield, WI (OnFocus) A new AP course at Marshfield High School aims to help students meet a growing demand in the workforce.

Offered for the first time this past school year, AP Computer Science Principles teaches a variety of skills, from programming to app development.

“Computer Science jobs are in high demand in the Information Technology and Software Development fields,” said Charles Treankler, Business & Information Technology instructor. An estimated 9 million STEM jobs will be available within the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The skills learned during the course are beneficial for anyone regardless of career choice.

Computer Science students Will Peterson (Advanced Programming), Cody Donavan and Alejandro Mayagoitia (AP Computer Science Principles) share an introduction of what computer science looks like in the world and in the classroom at the high school level as part of an annual Career Explorers program with area 6th graders. Submitted photo.

“Sometimes as students, parents, and teachers, we miss the opportunity for personal and professional growth because we know in our hearts that information technology and computers just isn’t something we’re interested in,” Treankler said. “When we look around the world today, we see that there are very few career paths that aren’t connected to computing.”

Possible career choices in computer science fields include 3D animation, app development, visual design, entertainment, engineering, political analysis – or even some that might not exist yet. Filling these positions requires attracting students to computer science, which means debunking a few myths that might make them hesitant to enroll.

“I’ve learned that it’s so much more than just coding. There’s also big data, networking, security, self-expression, and collaboration,” said Nikita Gonugunta, senior. “I’m surprised because it’s not as hard as I thought it would be.”

Though she isn’t interested specifically in the computer science field, Gonugunta decided to enroll and learn the basics of programming and software to help her understand robotic surgery for her future career.

The AP Computer Science Principles curriculum focuses on soft skills attractive to employers, like problem-solving, and also dives into data, the internet, and cybersecurity. All of this is brought together into a larger study of how computing and technology influences the world.

In the process, students learn that computer science isn’t just about programming.

“Throughout the course I have learned how data is transmitted through the internet and how the internet works in the first place,” said Andrew Ujda, senior. “Also, I have learned how to set up basic code to create something new on my own. I was surprised at how much I enjoy doing work and projects in this class.”

“I feel that this course has opened my eyes to the everyday nature of computer science and how I can get involved,” said Joshua Grissman, freshman. “I look to combine science with programming in developing solutions to modern day problems.”

Students do not need previous computer science experience to take the AP course, which will be offered again next year.

“It’s rewarding for me to see enrollment growing and to see students that normally would not have taken a computer programming course,” said Treankler. “What’s awesome to see is those students who didn’t think they had an interest or the skills to succeed in computer science sign up for additional computer science courses. This would have never happened without the introduction of this course. I feel like we’re opening doors for so many students by providing this opportunity at the high school level.”

This June marks Treankler’s third year as an AP reader. He has scored thousands of exams from students across the nation, which also allows him to form connections with diverse contributors in the field, from software developers to college professors.

“The new perspectives and ideas I get from the AP reading experience inspire me and have made me a better teacher in all of my classes, not just those in computer science,” he said.

Industry connections are important as students graduate and move toward their chosen field.

“We try to make as many connections with local and regional industry leaders as possible,” said Treankler. “The relationships we maintain and develop within our community is the most important work we do for our students and local businesses. We’re always looking for local opportunities for education, internships and jobs.”

A key part of the course is the ability of students to work together to accomplish their ideas and turn to each other for advice throughout the process. Students develop apps that simulate the roll of a dice, create a Dungeons & Dragons character development app, and develop various gaming applications.

“It took some time to convince students that is was perfectly okay to collaborate on these projects. For many students, they’ve learned as much about working with people from all different backgrounds and skill sets as they did about computer science,” Treankler said.

“I feel that I learned that computer science is more about the cooperation of people in the workplace, rather than everyone has their own part that they alone focus on,” said Tiernan Meyer, senior.

“It doesn’t matter what type of business or industry we talk to, they all are looking for team players who know how to communicate in working toward a common goal,” Treankler said. “AP Computer Science Principles is proving to be a big win for our students as they prepare to enter the workforce or post-secondary education.”