St. Xavier pioneers new AP course

St. Xavier High School is one of 40 high schools nationwide — and the only school in Kentucky — to be chosen to participate in a new AP computer science principles course.

St. Xavier is currently in the second year of the three-year pilot program, which is headed by Frank Hulsman, the chair of the business education and technology department.

Hulsman, a 1974 graduate of St. X, applied to be a part of the program in the spring of 2013. To prepare to implement and teach the new AP course, Hulsman attended a workshop at North Carolina State with other pilot teachers in the summer of 2013.

Hulsman noted that before the creation of this AP course, there was only one other AP computer science course, which focused primarily on computer programming.

The course, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, touches on aspects of computer programming, Hulsman noted, but it covers many other aspects of computer science including the Internet and how it works, the basics of Internet security and encryption and an introduction to data analysis.

“A big part of the program is helping students understand how computers use the concept of abstraction to simplify and automate processes, how computers use algorithms and how computers are impacting our world,” Hulsman said.

He explained that statistics show that only five percent of high schools nationwide offer the current AP computer science course and less than half of high schools offer any computer science curriculum at all.

Hulsman also noted that in addition to the current and new AP computer science courses, St. Xavier offers several other computer science courses, including one on robotics.

The Department of Labor estimates that there will be 1.4 million new jobs for computer science students, but that only 400,000 students will graduate with a computer science degree, Hulsman noted.

“By taking this course we hope students are less intimidated by computer science,” he said.

“We hope that they will be better prepared to major in computer science in college, and that even if they do not major in CS, that this course will help prepare them to use computers in any career they choose.”

At St. X, 26 students have enrolled in the course in the first two years. The course will become an official AP course for the 2016-17 academic year, Hulsman said. The first official exam will be administered by the College Board in May 2017.

Hulsman, who was recently one of 100 teachers invited to attend Computer Science Education Week held at the White House, said it was an honor for St. Xavier to be chosen to pilot the new AP course.

“We are proud of the accomplishments of our students in the AP Program. Last year, 290 students (at St. X) took AP tests and 119 of them received special recognition from the College Board as an AP Scholar,” he said.

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