September 21, 2020

New course allows students to App-ly computer science skills

Alex Spielman '16 is one of the students taking part in the latest addition to the high school's computer science offerings. (Rachel Landau '16)

“I do believe that every student should see a little computer science before they graduate,” said Mathematics and Computer Science teacher Dr. Robert Cohen. His passion for Computer Science and belief that more students should be exposed to it is what inspired Cohen to create a new class being offered this year called Building Android Apps.

Previous to this year, the high school has offered two Computer Science classes, Intro to Computer Science and AP Computer Science. Due to growing interest in the subject, however, the school supported the creation of Cohen’s app class.

“The interest in computer science is growing really fast,” said Cohen. “Over the five years I’ve been teaching it here, we’ve gone from 11 students to 150. So the interest is there and the demand is there.”

The class is offered both semesters and is open to all grade and skill levels. It is geared mostly toward students who gained some knowledge of computer science either in middle school or in Intro to Computer Science at the high school, but are too young or don’t want to take AP Computer Science.

Cohen was surprised at the wide range of students who signed up for the class. “There are a few kids who took AP computer science last year as juniors who wanted to do more computer science,” he said. “For that group of students I am encouraging them to work ahead on their own, most of them will probably know more about android than I do by the end of the course.”

One of these students is Rudy Pikulik ’16. “I’ve been interested in computer science for a few years,” said Pikulik, “but my interest really grew when I took AP Computer Science at the high school last year… Since then I’ve done a few individual projects and started to teach coding to elementary school students.”

The class is very project based according to Cohen. First term, students will be working with “a tool called App Inventor which is an MIT product that makes developing apps easy,” said Cohen.

“You can’t do everything with it, but it’s good to establish a basis of the concepts of app building. Second term will be about the language used to build apps, called java, which is taught in the AP course. Then we’ll learn about the some of the tools that real app developers use like a program called Android Studio.”

Pikulik hopes to major in Computer Science in college, and so far is enjoying the work he’s doing in the app class. Using App Inventor, the class has “done projects like Whack-A-Mole and painting programs,” said Pikulik. “My most recent project was a two-player version of the arcade game ‘snake’. With the start of the second term we will move into java based programming, something I’m very excited for.”

Cohen looks forward to the work his students will be doing in this class. “I don’t know that they’ll learn enough skills to develop apps that will be sold in the app store, but who knows maybe they will,” he said. “I think they’ll have a good picture of what modern software development is about. I’m hoping that this will inspire them and that most of them will go on to take more courses on computer science in college and further their development.”

(Julia Hartnett ’16, Business and Managing Editor)

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