Classrooms: Computer science comes to life in new class at Granby High School

  • Granby High School senior Ben M’Sadoques works on a computer as part of the high school’s advanced placement mobile computer science principals class. GAZETTE STAFF / EMILY CUTTS

  • Students work on a computers as part of Granby High School’s advanced placement mobile computer science principals class. GAZETTE STAFF / EMILY CUTTS

Published: 3/14/2017 8:29:48 PM

GRANBY — Fingers on keyboards and tablets in hand, students at Granby High School are getting real experience making apps and learning about computer science with a new course.

The class, Advanced Placement Mobile Computer Science Principles, is in its first year at the school as well as schools around the country.

It is being taught in more than 230 schools in 39 states nationwide, including in over 30 schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

At Granby High last week, teacher Clay Hennessy spent time with the 11 students in his class going over an assignment that would be part of the college placement exam.

The class isn’t just for those with an aptitude for math and science.

“You don’t have to be a kid that is huge into science, huge into math,” Hennessy said. “If you can handle the concepts, you can handle the course.”

Already this school year, students have made apps on college readiness and medical emergency preparedness.

Using their own recent experiences, Ben Rokowski, 17, and Drew Wiesel, 17, designed a college planning app.

“It’s an app that keeps kids on track for what they should be doing,” Rokowski explained.

“It helps you with each step of the precollege process,” Wiesel added.

Within the app, Rokowski and Wiesel have included a series of checklists as well as information on how to get a high school transcript or how to apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

The class also doesn’t require students to learn new computer programming languages.

“You don’t need to know Java or C++,” Hennessy said, referring to common programming language. “It helps you get the theory rather than learn the languages.”

On the first day of class students are able to make apps using the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s App Inventor, a mobile programming language for Android devices.

The class is not all about building apps though. Students also learn how to use and analyze data and information, animation, simulation and modeling, and communication through the internet.

For Hennessy, he sees the class as a way to be a catalyst for getting people ready for jobs in the tech industry.

“There is such a lack of programmers out there,” Hennessy said. “The shortage of computer science literate people .... we can’t fill the jobs.”

Taking the end of the year advanced placement exam isn’t mandatory but those who take it and succeed can earn college credit.

Sitting at the back of the classroom one day last week, seniors Isabella Chehade, 18, and Tabitha Collins, 17, showed off the first aid app they made.

With numerous pages, users can input basic information and also find area hospitals. The app also gives information on first aid as well as pet care.

The pair said they got the inspiration for their app after doing research on app ideas. Online they found ones that addressed pet care or hiker first aid but not one where all the information could be found in one place.

Collins said she plans on studying graphic design at college in the fall but wanted to have some computer science knowledge before then.

Chehade said the class was “definitely a challenge” but would help her in the future.

She said she plans to study communications or digital media after graduating but would be open to switching to computer science.

“Last year, I didn’t even know what computer science was. I thought I would be learning about biology in computers,” Chehade said. “When I got to learn HTML, I loved it.”

Emily Cutts can be reached at

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