Tag Archives: Teaching Materials

Good luck on the 2017 AP Computer Science Exams!

Good luck to all on the 2017 AP Computer Science exams!

Here are my predictions for this year’s 4 AP CS A Free Response Questions.  DISCLAIMER :: I have no idea what the questions will be, but I have fun each year trying to guess the topics before the exam.   I have gotten pretty good at predicting the free response topics as I do spend considerable time working with the released free response questions.

1.  ArrayList of Classes / References –  You gots to know how to write code to manipulate an ArrayList<NeverSeenThisClassBefore> as it is on the exam every single year going all of the way back to 2006.  This question type involves lots of drilling down to get to the various pieces.  You must be comfortable with abstraction to handle this type of question.  2010 had the CookieOrder question and 2012 had ClimbInfo.  Sparse Array from 2015 was another cool List of classes question.  I think making something like Sparse Array but with a list of lists is quite possible.

2.  Make a Class from scratch – Every student should know how to make a class, implement an interface, and extend an abstract class.  In 2014, the Trio question marked the return of the interface FR which means an abstract class Free Response can’t be too far behind.   Be prepared create an interface / abstract class in part A and then use Part A to make a new class in Part B as was the case in 2015.  Be prepared to override some methods and make something new from something old.  You know you will have to create a complete class or create something really similar and it will be super!   Look at the 2005, 2006, and 2007 AP FR questions if you want some past FR examples.

3.  Processing an Array or String – String – String –  I missed the boat on the Strings last year as there were a whopping 3 questions that did something with Strings.  They will not get me this year as I am including both arrays and Strings here.  I know it is kinda like cheating, but I am covering my behind this year.  I predict a basic algorithmic array or string question.  Look back at BatteryCharger from 2009 or the Sound question from 2011.  Those questions are pretty good algorithm questions.  Find a particular something in an array or string.  I am also betting part A must be called by part B and / or part B must be called by part C.

4.  Matrices – Be on the lookout for another matrix of classes question.  I predicted this in 2013 and was wrong, but I went with it again in 2014 and hit pay dirt as the there was a Student[ ][ ] question on the exam.  Finally!  There will certainly be a matrix question again this year and with PictureLab being one of the AP CS A Labs, I am thinking a matrix of references is again a distinct possibility.

I will post follow-up comments after I see the 2017 Free Response questions.  Hopefully, my predictions will be right on this year.  I have been pretty close in the past, but this year is a new year.

A few review points to emphasize before the exam.

Multiple Choice [ 90 minutes ] –   Manage time and get through the 40 questions more than once.  Skip the longer questions the first time through.

Free Response [ 90 minutes ] – Answer the easiest question first and do not leave any questions blank.  Make sure to return and to call part A from B if the question says you MUST do that.

If you want some great reviews the AP Computer Science A Exam,  I have quite a review slides posted   AP Exam review slides   with Java code projects ready for students to complete.  The Java code projects have runner files and everything students need to test student hand-written free response code.  Feel free to use them to help your students.  It is very beneficial for students to write the free response code on paper and then type it up.

Do you need great AP Computer Science Curriculum that covers all of the topics I have listed above?  Do you need labs, slides, tests, quizzes, and worksheets that cover arrays, arrays of references, ArrayList, ArrayList of References, Matrices, Matrices of References, Interfaces, and Abstract Classes? Take a look at the A+ Computer Science Curriculum.

The A+ Computer Science Curriculum was designed to provide students with multiple opportunities to master the core concepts covered on the AP Computer Science A Exam.

If you like my humor and want to spend a few days hearing more about how to get students ready to ROCK the AP exam, check out my workshops going on over the summer or email me about setting up a custom training at your school or for several schools.  I will show you how to get any student ready to make a 5!

2015 AP Computer Science A Scores Posted

2015 AP Computer Science A scores are now posted.
Login at College Board website to get your scores.

 “Can’t wait to see the new A+ Computer Science Materials! Your materials work – happy again with the recent AP scores!”    DK from Ohio

The new A+ 2015-2016 curriculum materials are ready for download.   New samples are also posted.  Login and download when ready.

Email me at stacey.armstrong@apluscompsci.com if you want a login so you can check out A+ Computer Science Curriculum Materials.

AP Computer Science A exam numbers are growing big time!

The number of exams taken for AP Computer Science A has grown from roughly 20,000 just 5 years ago to almost 50,000 in 2015. That is incredible growth!  Teachers across the country are delivering great content in an interesting and relevant way. Keep rolling AP Computer Science A!

Looking for relevant Computer Science curriculum with real world projects?  Check out the A+ Computer Science materials.

Email me at stacey.armstrong@apluscompsci.com if you want to check out A+ Computer Science Curriculum Materials.

Summer 2014 Comp Sci Professional Development

If you are looking for a great summer professional development experience, check out the UT First Bytes teacher camp information below.

The First Bytes outreach program at The University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin) announces our 9th annual First Bytes Collaborative Workshop for Computer Science Teachers, July 9-11, 2014 at the UT-Austin campus.

The goals of the workshop include:
1. Improve Computer Science education in Texas,
2. Learn about new technologies in Computer Science,
3. Exchange effective teaching methods and best practices among colleagues,
4. Build relationships between Computer Science high school teachers and UT-Austin faculty.

The First Bytes Teacher’s Workshop is an opportunity to meet with peers from across the state to explore the challenges and opportunities for Computer Science education in Texas high schools and to invent ways to improve collaboration that will impact student learning and achievement.  Participants will earn AP CS Continuing Education credit for full participation.

If you are interested, contact Mary Esther Middleton  via email at mem@cs.utexas.edu .  This workshop is first come first serve so get your name in the hat as soon as possible if you are interested.

If you are looking for AP Computer Science Summer Institutes, check out my workshops page.  I will cover lots of cool comp sci topics and spend lots of time on the NEW AP CS A Labs!    Email me at stacey.armstrong@apluscompsci.com if you have questions.

2014 AP Computer Science A Summer Institutes – New AP CS A Labs

If you are looking for great AP Computer Science A Summer Institutes this summer, check out my workshops page.  I will spend lots of time with the new AP CS A Labs – Magpie, Elevens, and Picture Lab.  Join the fun for lots of hands-on activities.  I will make sure each participant is actively involved that each person gets their hands dirty every single day.

New AP CS A Labs – Magpie, Elevens, and PictureLab

2014 is the last run for GridWorld.  I for one am sorry to see it go.  I have had a fun time working with this case study and have found it to be the best case study of any of the AP CS Case Studies.  There are just so many things you can do with it. Rather than have case studies for the next few years and likely beyond that, there were will be new labs that will serve in the same capacity as case studies have in the past.  These labs will require that student rationalize about existing code and modify existing code.  This will help the students learn what is like to work with code created by someone else and likely work with projects bigger than what they would create on their own. Here are the basics of the 3 new labs.

  • Magpie – string lab where students work with a chatbot program
  • PictureLab – matrix lab that focuses on image manipulation
  • Elevens – card lab that uses lists of classes

Drafts of these new labs can be found at  http://www.cs.rit.edu/~ptt/apcs_labs/

A+ Computer Science Curriculum Materials will provide full support for these new labs.
I have an ap audit-approved syllabus posted that incorporates the new AP CS A Labs.

These labs will also be used at my AP Summer Institutes in the summer of 2014.

Good Luck to all on the AP CS A Exam

Good luck to all on the upcoming AP CS A Exam!

As I have taught the course for nearly twenty years and spent many years studying exam trends as a grading reader, a grading leader, and consultant, I am aware of the main topics to cover, but I really focused heavily on four main areas with my students in prep for this year’s Free Response section.

1.  ArrayList of Classes / References –  there is always a question that requires students to work with an ArrayList<NeverSeenThisClassBefore> that involves lots of drilling down to get to the various pieces.  You must be comfortable with abstraction to handle this type of question.  Working with GridWorld helps!  Working with lists of integers and doubles will not be enough.  Go all of the way back to 2006 and you can see where this whole question thread started.

2.  Make a Class from scratch – you may have to implement an interface or extend an abstract class, but probably not.  That type of question went away about 5 years ago.  More than likely, the students will have to extend Bug or Critter to make a new class that will involve method overriding and such.  Pretty simple, but requires some practice.  You could get an APLine question, but most likely, it will be a GridWorld question.

3.  Processing an Array – this could be an array of classes like last years Horse[] question, but who knows.  2012 was the first year the AP exam had an array of classes / references.  Most of the time the array question just involves some algorithmic stuff with numbers like finding smallest, largest, difference between smallest and largest, etc.

4.  Matrices – matrices are back and boy am I glad.  I love the matrix – what a great movie!  Last year was the hardest matrix question in the world – you had to count 255s!  This year will probably be more like the route cipher from 2011.  I have prepped my students on Matrix[SomeClassFromMars][SomeClassFromMars] as I assume that a matrix of classes would throw a serious curve ball at most students.  I also did some work with transposition ciphers as I really like ciphers.

I will post comments after I see the actual Free Response questions next week and let you know if I was close or not even in the ballpark.  I have been very accurate with my predictions in the past.

If you want to see slides I have used as AP Exam review slides in the past, I have some of those posted that you can download.

If you like my humor and want to spend a week hearing more about how I prep students to rock this exam, check out my workshops over the summer.

Finish Strong and Rock the AP Exam!

AP Summer Institute – Houston #2

AP Summer Institute #3 is history.
I had a huge group in Houston from all over the US.
The workshop started on July 18th and ran for four days.
The Region Center in Houston always has great food.

We covered tons of material, including Scratch, Jeroo, GridWorld, and lots of Java.
We discussed teaching with Codes and Ciphers, teaching List Processing using multiple environments, and using GridWorld games like Sliding Puzzle to teach Object-Oriented Programming.

Attendees came all of the way from Ohio, Arkansas, Texas, and Massachusetts. All sorts of folks attended, including an Astronomer, Fortran Programmer, and multiple former Disney employees. It was a great group of people and it was nice to get to know them all.

I am currently conducting an AP SI in Fayetteville, Arkansas at the University of Arkansas.
See all of my workshop dates and available materials.
Follow my travels across the US to my workshops via my son’s travel blog.

SIGCSE in Dallas – Vol. I

Sign up an attend SIGCE in Dallas, Texas in March of 2011 if you have not already done so.
Dallas is a great city and SIGCSE will be packed with great presentations and discussions for teachers at the high school and university level.    http://www.sigcse.org/sigcse2011/

Need a place to stay?  The Embassy Suites at Market Square is nearby and a great place.

Need a place to eat?  Babe’s Chicken House if Awesome!  The one in Roanoke is the Best!  If I ever steer you wrong on food, I will pay for your meal!

Check my blog later for more SIGCSE inside information.

Ciphers and Codes – Vol. II

Code and Ciphers and very interesting topics to discuss in a Computer Science.  There are many ciphers that can be used as Computer Science assignments.  I use Ciphers and Codes as a curricular thread throughout my AP A CS class to provide students with relevant reasons to learn more about Computer Science.   Ciphers and Codes have been around for a very long time and can be seen throughout history.

A very good book about Ciphers and Codes is “The Code Book” by Simon Singh.  Mike Scott, UT CS faculty member, discussed this book at the 2010 First Bytes Camp for CS Teachers.

I made an earlier post called Ciphers and Codes – Vol. I and provided some slides, a lab, and a lesson plan.  I include in the lesson plan a reference to a National Treasure special edition DVD that has a short video about Codes that has commentary by  Simon Singh.  It is a very good video to show students as it has some great cipher information although it can be a bit dull in a spot or two.

Timing out the cipher lessons in your class to correspond with the Social Studies classes is a great idea.  For example, find out when they are going to talk about the Zimmerman Telegram in U.S. History and teach a related Cipher lesson at the same time.  Everybody wins!

Cross-curricular projects work great to show students what they can do with Computer Skills and to provide relevance for why they need the skills.  These projects also provide a nice context for teaching Computer Science concepts.  Students tend to get a bit more excited about what they are learning if they realize what they will eventually do with it.


DreamSpark Software

Alfred Thompson has a great blog post up about the DreamSpark program Microsoft offers to students for FREE!  Yes, indeed – I did say FREE!  I am not plugging Microsoft or on the payroll ( yet ), but I do think the program is great and hope more people learn about it.  My students love all of the different tools provided.   We hope to do more with it this year.