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Programming Education Math Stats

Computational Thinking: AP Computer Science Vs AP Statistics? 155

Posted by Soulskill
from the literally-everyone-should-take-statistics dept.
theodp writes: "What if learning to code weren't actually the most important thing?" asks Mother Jones' Tasneem Raja. "Rather than increasing the number of kids who can crank out thousands of lines of JavaScript, we first need to boost the number who understand what code can do." Computational thinking, Raja explains, is what really matters. So, while Google is spending another $50 million (on top of an earlier $40 million) and pulling out all the stops in an effort to convince girls that code and AP Computer Science is a big deal, could AP Statistics actually be a better way to teach computational thinking to college credit-seeking high school students? Not only did AP Statistics enrollment surge as AP CS flat-lined, it was embraced equally by girls and boys. Statistics also offers plenty of coding opportunities to boot. And it teaches one how to correctly analyze AP CS enrollment data!
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Computational Thinking: AP Computer Science Vs AP Statistics?

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  • Statistics is indeed quite important, and whether AP CS or AP Statistics is a more useful use of a high-school student's time is a useful question (assuming they have to choose, which maybe they don't?). But AP Statistics is not teaching computational thinking; it's teaching statistical thinking, which is not the same!

    Computational thinking, or to use an older term, procedural literacy, is the idea that people should understand how to think in terms of processes, procedures, etc. Rather than teaching programming, which often (especially at introductory levels) focuses a lot on the mechanics of a programming language's syntax and other idiosyncracies, the idea is to teach people how to even think about the basic idea of a machine that can execute programs. Many people can't do that: even leaving aside that they don't know C or Java or Lisp, they also don't really understand what an algorithm or a computer program is conceptually, and have absolute no idea what kinds of things can be computed and what kinds can't, or which are easy or harder to compute. They lack the ability to interact meaningfully with non-code representations of computation and algorithms as well, like flow charts or (natural-language) instruction sequences.

    Statistical thinking is quite a bit different, more about proper use of data, quantification of evidence and uncertainty, etc. It can be complementary to computational thinking, but it isn't the same skill.

  • by alen (225700) on Sunday June 22, 2014 @08:55AM (#47292601)

    when everyone knows how to code expect it to be the factory work of this century. find some pictures of early 20th century offices where everyone sits at a desk in a huge room with no dividers. it's already here again

    the value is going to be figuring out algorithms to make sense of the huge amounts of data being collected. the code to implement the algorithm will be your average low wage job

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 22, 2014 @09:26AM (#47292719)

    I think stats SHOULD be taught at least at an intuitive level and have a good portion of it being how one can lie with stats.

    That way, we can start having an electorate that doesn't get so suckered by the stats in politics, advertising, and shitty articles.

  • by langelgjm (860756) on Sunday June 22, 2014 @09:40AM (#47292757) Journal

    It's not really a new debate, but the assumption that high school students will on average be better served by taking calculus instead of statistics could use some scrutiny.

    Practically speaking, basic familiarity with statistics is also a form of civics - teaching kids when to call BS on bogus claims, helping them to understand what statistical significance means and doesn't mean, etc.

  • by beelsebob (529313) on Sunday June 22, 2014 @09:48AM (#47292781)

    This whole article is based on a fallacy - that Computer Science is teaching people to code.

    This isn't what a Computer Science degree teaches you.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 22, 2014 @09:53AM (#47292805)

    What the fuck is "AP"?

  • Are you sure we're both talking about high-school CS courses, here? I'm not talking about a university CS degree. I have one of those, from a very theory/math-focused school, and yes, there was virtually no programming in it. But the AP Computer Science courses in high school are not like that, and should probably be renamed to AP Programming. That's also how Google and others are promoting them (as part of these "learn to code" initiatives), which was the jumping-off point for this article.

  • by jpellino (202698) on Sunday June 22, 2014 @10:57AM (#47293067)
    as governmental education agencies have pretty much said that anyone can now take an AP course and exam, whether they have demonstrated the needed aptitude or not. Pushing students not yet ready for these courses into them is the wrong way around. Building a system that can get them there has been pushed off to commercial pre companies, which is tough if your actual goal is to give traditionally disadvantaged students the needed guidance to get there (cost is the issue). In fact most of this is in order to promote a honorable but currently undeliverable system of egalitarianism. In my state, this solution was created in response to a lawsuit instead of by - oh, I dunno - actually implementing a sensible educational system and having local non-educational government agencies work on the life-in-hell part of urban living. Students spend 6 hours per day in school, 18 back in whatever else is going on in their lives, none of which the policy makers would put up with on their property for more than 5 minutes. It's like holding someone's head underwater for three minutes out of four, then being surprised that they spend that other minute gasping for air and clawing at your face.
  • by plopez (54068) on Sunday June 22, 2014 @12:06PM (#47293397) Journal

    If you do not understand statistics you do not understand Science and empiricism. The programmers I meet are great at Discrete Mathematics, but if you beyond that, on to some thing that requires more of an exploratory mind set and data gathering, they are way out of their depth. They do not seem to understand the difference in how you approach things. Since, IMO, most of the universe is better investigated imperically they are out of their depth with real world data. They do not know how to collect, analyze, QA, or interpret it. With the emphasis on data analytics and and "Big Data" I consider that to be dangerous.

  • by civilizedINTENSITY (45686) on Sunday June 22, 2014 @11:08PM (#47295801)
    Agreed. But I'd say that in relation to not just any, but indeed to all branches of Science, Statistics are very nearly priceless.

The meta-Turing test counts a thing as intelligent if it seeks to devise and apply Turing tests to objects of its own creation. -- Lew Mammel, Jr.

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