Teaching CS50x AP Module 0: How Computers Work

Last week, I finally began teaching the CS50x AP material at my high school.  I trained for this last summer at Microsoft’s HQ, and have been anxiously awaiting the course start date.  After all the wait, the timing seems serendipitous as it aligns with President Obama’s Weekly Address about giving access to computer science to every student in this nation.

The first module of CS50x AP is new, as it is aligned to the College Board AP Computer Science Principles course.  The focus of the module is on how a computer works from a technical standpoint, and it is not something I have ever spent a lot of time on in my courses.  As such, I did a lot of reading and watching videos to prepare, and found myself fascinated by the ways in which computers have changed, as well as how they continue to be very much the same.  Here are some of the highlights of the week:

  • Students helped me attempt to completely take apart my old laptop and an old school computer.  They were able to identify parts and pieces within the machines based on the information that they learned from class.
  • Students and I took a field trip to visit the school’s Systems Administrator, Mr. Anderson.  In preparation for our visit, he took apart a few old servers and showed them the insides of each of the servers.  The students noted that they were just like the PC we had seen earlier in the week, but with duplicates of nearly everything inside.
  • Mr. Anderson impressed the students by discussing all of the processes that he has automated so that the school’s system never needed to shut-down.  He explained the importance of redundancy of both data and parts, and demonstrated how the servers were set-up with the ability to “hot swap” nearly every part in the middle of the school day.  All of this, he told us, was so that he didn’t get phone calls!  I was so grateful to him for helping them see the importance of automation and redundancy.  It was a great visit!
  • Students wrote about computers that they have in their homes using the following definition, “a device that accepts input and automatically produces an output.” I learned about toasters, microwaves, refrigerators, car GPS systems, and all sorts of other fun “computers” in my students homes.

This week, we start thinking about binary, abstraction and algorithms.  I am having so much fun, and from the smiles in class, I think they are too!

2 thoughts on “Teaching CS50x AP Module 0: How Computers Work

  1. Wow – i the comp sci class still in Baldwin Hall, 205?? – long, long time ago – I remember the swanky new Dells we put in there ,right after they completed Baldwin Renovations…..
    Great job on the post – Katie!



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