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Mobile computer science class is breaking ground at BHS

Mobile computing is not the future. It’s the now, and thanks to teacher Cindy Drahos, students at Burnsville High School aren’t having to wait to dive in to mobile programming.

Alex Schatz shows some of the code behind the mobile app he is developing with his team.

Over the last year, Drahos took extensive training in order to bring a still-in-beta Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science Principles class to Burnsville. The school is one of only two in Minnesota offering the course.

Instead of focusing on one particular programming language – like Visual Basic or Java – students in this course work through seven big ideas of computer programming: creativity, abstraction, data information, algorithms, programming, internet and global impact. As the teacher, Drahos also gets to choose what platform her students will use to explore these big ideas, and she chose mobile, specifically the Android operating system.

“It’s interactive and students can absolutely relate, and often they’ll be working on something they can use on their own phones,” Drahos said.

Through the first semester, which covers the first four “big ideas,” students have developed as many as eight mobile apps on their own or as part of teams. Like a lot of class projects, most are creations with certain guidelines, but at least one has been completely open to the students’ imagination. Students have also started electronic portfolios that showcase their creative class work through their websites.

“Making our own custom app was the most challenging and the most satisfying,” said Alex Schatz, a 10th grader who created a translation app with teammates Mohamed Abdi and Conner Van Dorpe.

Matt Dorow, a senior who took AP Computer Science last year, says he was drawn to the class as a way to keep learning before college.

“Every program you do is like a puzzle that’s fun to solve,” he said.

Drahos says the class’s rigor, combination of independent and team work, and foundation in broad programming knowledge make it great preparation for students who want to pursue computer science beyond high school. The class will be in the 2015 School Registration Guide and the school may be able to offer college credit to students who take it.

“This is like taking an intro to programming class that colleges would offer,” she said. “These students want to challenge themselves and this is a great opportunity to do that.”

Posted: Thursday, January 22, 2015 - 11:09