Student questioning curriculum

This is my first year teaching AP CSP with the curriculum. I am following it very closely and believe in it 100% as sound and exciting curriculum. I have a student who asked in front of the class, “what is the point of all this, I don’t see how this is helping me. We’ve been problem solving since elementary school and none of this is useful”. Not only was I discouraged as a teacher who has spent the better part of the year learning it but wanted to be sure to answer him in a way that would be convincing partly because other students were listening. I did the best I could but wonder if there is any reading material or point I could have made to share with students. I’ve stressed the importance of CS from the beginning of the year. The vast majority of my kids LOVE it. Advice? PS He wants to share with administration his lack of respect for the course. :frowning: This at a time when I’m the only teacher in the school who teaches it and am doing everything I can to continue to grow this program. Help!

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There are two things that stuck out for me when I was reading your post. 1) You are an enthusiastic pioneer at your school and in your classroom who cares about the quality and usefulness of the course. 2) The vast majority of your students LOVE what they are learning. Success already achieved.

Even though I teach CS Discoveries, I can certainly empathize with your situation and the feelings you have after this encounter. It sounds like you have done a great job making sure your classes know the importance of CS. You may need to enlist the help of industry folks or guest speakers to help convince a student like this. With my middle school students, I have been showing some of the videos to give them an idea of how CS is a part of anything they might do in the future. Here is Code Stars:

and CS Changes Everything:

I also have some “Lunch and Learns” planned with people who have jobs that involve some aspect of CS/problem solving.

My thought with my own students is that I can tell them all I want about how important CS is, but hearing from others shows them the reality.

I wouldn’t worry too much about the student going to an administrator. That might even turn out to work in your favor especially if your admin is supportive of the class and has seen what you are doing.

Keep your chin up and know that you are a rock star!! :smiley:


@margaret.birch To build on what @renee_coley said, I totally agree - you took on a challenge because it was what was best for students, and when a student decides to get vocal like this, it can be rough. I, too, faced that a bit in my CSP class.

I find that this sentiment ebbs and flows in my classroom.

Some context: I teach at a large, rather affluent, public high school where most of my students have already taken other AP courses, but for most of my students, it is their first CS course. There are a few students who have self-taught themselves CS (and honestly, have a lot more experience than me in the content).

I also get push back from two different groups of students: 1) Students who have experienced AP courses as lecture, reading, notes, testing, and feel like this does not meet their expectations of an AP courses, and 2) Students who have previous experience and need to be validated in their intelligence and experience (sometimes this comes out as making others feel inferior or insufficient).

I am not sure if this student meets one or both of these criteria but for me, for my students with previous programming experience (especially already in JavaScript) I empathize with them that this might feel a little too slow (having 4 commands is tedious to them to start). I have created a track that uses python or C for them and they do those tasks. If it is a self-motivated student, I will even have them create their own learning plan for what they will learn each week - sometimes those students have ideas that they just haven’t had time to implement those ideas. Usually they are grateful for the extra time and they still learn a lot. For the most part, these students have been ok with our other units.

If the student is unaccustomed to inquiry or discovery learning, that usually comes out in the non-programming units. For those students, often they have been highly successful in traditional (lecture based classes). When I change the “rules”’ of school on them, they don’t like it. Now, sitting in class and taking notes no longer makes them a “good student” and that stresses them out and perhaps makes them struggle with identity a bit.

For admin resources, I would share with them page 4 of the CSP CurriculumGuide:

For student facing resources, you could have them read this article from MindShift about inquiry based learning. PLEASE read it first yourself because it does talk about potential challenges of a discovery based approach. It is interesting because he specifically talks about AP classes as “ending in a test” which is a nice connection since CSP ends with two projects (and a test :slight_smile:). On the other hand, if this is just to meet the concerns of one student, it is probably unnecessary to have the whole class read this. Perhaps a private meeting with the student and the counselor would be better - that way the student can voice his/her concerns, you can talk it out, without it being a power struggle in class. You can always offer up Blown To Bits for the student to read as supplemental material if the student feels like they need additional resources.

Otherwise, be strong! Those days where students say the wrong thing at the wrong time are tough for me too - it is hard not to take it personally. I just remember, these are kids, trying on adult thinking, and sometimes, they get it wrong. You are the professional in the room. The fact that the vast majority love it means that you are doing a lot of things right! I hope the weekend is restful and restorative!


@margaret.birch I agree with what Renee & Katie have shared. I have experienced something similar, particularly with students transferring from other schools and it’s hard not to feel frustrated and intimidated.

Could you share which Unit/Lessons you are currently working on? Have you begun the programming units? Is the student questioning the importance of CS in general or the content being taught?

I wonder how the other students responded to this student’s accusation. Were they silent? Did they pipe up with their support of the class? Sometimes when I have students who question the curriculum responses from other students are far more impactful than anything I can say. It’s fantastic that so many students in your class are loving the curriculum and finding success. For too long CS education has favored a certain type of student at the expense of others. What’s so fantastic about this curriculum and this course is it truly makes CS accessible for all. Keep up the good fight - you are not alone and we are here to support you in any way we can!

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Thank you so much for your encouragement. I really needed that. I watched the videos and appreciate you taking the time to send me the links. I did reach out to a volunteer at a local college and a few others to come talk to my students and agree that it sure helps to hear how important CS is from someone else once in a while. I’ll continue to forge on and feel better knowing that others understand.


Thank you so much for taking the time to write. I don’t have anyone to really talk to about these issues and it’s good to know I’m not the only one with this type of experience. I like the idea of getting together with the student and his guidance counselor. That might be good for all of us since guidance is slowly learning about what it is we really do in class and it would be an opportunity to have that discussion. It would also let the student know that I am listening and interested in trying to get him to understand why this is a necessary course to take. Many of my other students who are really strong students can take the lessons and really explore and create and take it to the next level. This particular student doesn’t do that so maybe he just doesn’t understand the possibilities.

Thanks for responding. We just finished Unit 2 and are ready to go into Programming so I told him to reserve judgment until we get into this unit a bit.

As far as what he’s questioning, he started the conversation with, “Who wrote this curriculum?” I think it’s the curriculum he is having a problem with. I assured him that people with an incredible amount of experience and talent wrote it and that it is a strong curriculum that resulted in many students passing the AP test.

A few students stopped and listened to our conversation but most just were engrossed in what they were doing. I would have liked someone to speak up but it was at a time when they were trying to finish something up and I don’t think a lot of them were paying attention to what he was saying. When they all left, I felt like I could have had some magic words to convince him of the value of the course but I don’t think I accomplished that. It was very disheartening.

Thanks again for your support. When I saw these responses to my plea, it really helped to make me feel like it’s not just me who has experienced this.

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Is his complaint about the unplugged activities? I had some high-ability students questioning why they were “playing” battleship in an AP class but I quickly moved them onto the simulator and they were challenged.
I agree with Kaitie, I only have issues with the kids with strong coding background already - I pulled them aside and told them we debated letting them take the class at all. That kind of silenced them and they admitted that they didn’t know anything about the internet prior to this class.

I frame the entire year as an opportunity to step back and participate in the development process for the Internet. Student who have programming experience may know one or more languages but may not understand why they do certain things. My students who took AP CSA first discovered they had a lot to learn about the ‘principles’. I did allow them to do some extensions by using additional Javascript API after they did the activity with the limited set.

Happy computing,

I feel like we have had the same experience! I am also the only teacher in my school who teaches CSP and I am trying to grow our program as well. I have several students (mostly seniors) who are significantly more knowledgeable about coding than I am. They seem to have the same questions/comments as the one you heard from your student.

At the beginning of the course, I told them that they would not be coding for the entire year - we would be exploring other areas of computer programming. However, some of them still believe that computer science consists of only coding!

I think you have received some great advice about how to handle this situation. I would like to hear how you resolved this situation.

Keep up the good work - you are doing a great job!


@margaret.birch - do you mind providing us with an update?! I’d love to hear how it got resolved!

@margaret.birch just to chime in. My name is Baker, and I’m largely responsible for this curriculum and the “weird” stuff in it. I developed a lot of this stuff for my students during my career teaching a required CS course. And I can tell you, I met a lot of the same resistance, especially early on. Actually it was much worse (parents got involved). I was lucky that my principal supported me, but he probably had doubts at time, but it was still hard.

All I can say is, after a year of the course, the tide began to turn. Why? Because the 10% of students who think they are “above” the material of course began to get drowned out by the 90% who would otherwise have been left behind. The 10% are not “bad” students of course, they just have different goals than you do trying to bring CS education to those who have the most need.

For the 10%…

  1. first of all it’s pretty unlikely they knew anything about internet protocols or thought too deeply about the digital representation of information much before the class, right?

  2. once you start programming, things might change (esp. once you get to Unit 5). And this poses a different risk because the know-it-alls might blitz ahead making the 90% feel bad. So I’d say you could allow those students to go outside of the App Lab environment to write their own programs in some completely different environment if they want to. Ultimately, it’s about the Create Performance Task. So if they want to go an independent route and can demonstrate to you that they know what they’re doing then more power to them. You could also challenge them to “find the ceiling” on App Lab.

  3. An option: get real, and go rouge. “get real”: many people with even a little prior knowledge could figure out everything they need to for this course on their own. To go completely rouge (and I’ve done this in one case) ask the “know-it-all student(s)” write their own curriculum. You say, “ok, if you’re at a point where you can figure all this out, then a good assignment would be for you to say how you would teach it to other people. Your assignment is to take these objectives: ________ and figure out how you would teach it to someone who doesn’t know any of this stuff. One caveat: you can’t just explain it. You need to invent a way for students to learn primarily through doing. If it’s good, I’ll let you use the lesson(s) in class.”

Only do that ^^^^ if you’re comfortable.

I’ve gone on a bit but…YOU GOT THIS! And we’ve got your back. If you need any support in the form of talking to your admin, or even talking to your students, I’m happy to oblige.


CSP Team


My first question to this student would be, “This is an elective course. You knew what it was about. Why did you sign up?” Then I’d tell him that, if he doesn’t think a broad and fairly deep understanding of computing, networking, data and programming isn’t relevant to his life, then he’s living in the wrong century. He sounds like a gadfly to me. I get those occasionally in my classes. I don’t have a lot of patience with them.


I’m so reassured by the posts from this forum. Just when I thought I was on my own, I discovered the power of the Teacher Forum. Thank you and all the respondents for that.

You made some really helpful points but one in particular that resonated with me the most was “Because the 10% of students who think they are “above” the material of course began to get drowned out by the 90% who would otherwise have been left behind.” This could also be said for enthusiasm kids have for the course.

Even though there are times when I feel a little in over my head, it is an exciting feeling too (if that makes sense). I believe that the job I’ve been given is incredibly important and comments such as “you got this” are so encouraging and motivating. Thanks again.


PS…asking a student to write the lesson would probably do the trick! :slight_smile:

I tend to turn those comments inward and think I must do more to get them to “buy in.” I’m beginning to realize that I’m not alone in having had this experience. Thanks so much for your post.

Welp, the next day he asked when the next computer science club meeting is so I think I might have said something right in my response. Thanks for checking in.

An idea that I’m going to try coming from two angles, first to make sure administration is listening to the right students. Second to give my students that love the material a chance to see the greatness of it on a larger level. During our next school professional development, I have asked our principal if I could have a student lead the staff through the password strength checker lesson. The student(s) I want to use are students eat this material up, so will see it in a little different context. Also, administration will experience the curriculum along with the staff, heck who knows some probably have passwords that could be figured out in less than a day per the password checker…

Just an idea I’m trying


The forum and others sharing similar hardships really helps to keep me motivated. It’s easy to get a little discouraged when you are isolated from other teachers who share similar experiences. Thank you for your post. :slight_smile:

This is known amongst CS teachers as the “department of one” problem. We’ve all suffered from it at one point or another. It really does help to have a supportive community. Albeit a virtual one.

Carry on.


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Hang in there! I’m guessing we’ve probably all experienced this problem in any CS class – you know your students best, so it sounds like you’ve got a good handle on if this is just one student speaking for himself or a student voicing the concerns of the many. Don’t forget, there are a lot of reasons for students to make that type of outburst that aren’t a reflection on your teaching, choice of curriculum, or knowledge base at all.

As others have said, many of my students are multi-AP-ers and have a very difficult time with the inquiry/discovery based style of learning. They are very used to the lecture/test teaching model styles that seems more prevalent in other AP courses. I found it helpful to create some of my own scaffolding to help shift their thinking.

I also have a lot of students who are “self-taught” coders and have cobbled together a brief CS or coding education through the various short programs. I’m noticing that while they often don’t know what they don’t know, they are very proud of the hard work they’ve put into their learning. That pride makes it tough for them to hear that they might need to re-learn the basics or that they might have learned bad habits or misconceptions that need to be un-learned before they can progress. I’ve had success scaffolding activities from a self-identified Beginner/Intermediate/Expert tier. I include extra PowerPoint slides or spend one-on-one time for the group of 3-4 students who identified themselves as Experts. It acknowledges their self-learning efforts while giving them a place to challenge what they see in the curriculum versus what they think they know, and gives me a place where I can correct some of those misconceptions.

Last good story on this one: I had a student last year who completely lost it during the lesson on the IETF (called me a liar, stormed out, told an administrator that I was teaching false information about the internet, etc). Turns out that he lived in Egypt while the Egyptian government blocked access to the internet during the Arab Spring and he simply couldn’t believe that the internet was not controlled by the various governments around the world! Completely shook my confidence until we figured out what was going on!

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