Bring Back AP Computer Science

By Walt Leung

AP Computer Science.  AP Java.  APCS.  Whatever you call the class, a key problem remains at this campus: Piedmont Hills High School resides in the heart of Silicon Valley, but does not offer a computer science course.

The relationship of the 21st century will be defined by man and machine.  The binary system with its ones and zeros has already taken its place in society, and is continuing to expand its influence.  In medicine, researchers use Perl to sequence genomes.  In finance, investors implement HTML into online banking systems for clients.  In art, designers value Java to create a multitude of graphics.

Yet, computer science is an often misunderstood subject.  Ask the vast majority of the graduating senior class: many of us express a desire to major in some form of computer science in college, but only a handful have programming experience.  And once introduced in college, some find programming mundane and attempt to move into other subjects.  We are undoubtedly forced into this field, whether from parents in engineering fields or from industry leaders such as Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.  We learn subjects such as calculus and physics because we are told they resonate with computer science.  But if you stop and think, how can learning integration or special relativity be critical to writing C++?

By no means am I arguing that students cannot aimlessly walk into the world of computer science, find love for the subject, and succeed in their fields; many have done so in the past, and many will do so in the future.  But for the amount of preaching we receive on landing the ideal job that makes us happy, I find irony in the sheer amount that are willing to blindly pursue a path that they don’t even know the fundamentals of.  What if you had to spend the next four years of your life learning about Greek literature?  Or even worse, mathematics?  No offense to those whom actually love these subjects—I am merely expressing my interests.

Computing is a world built by the user, molded by the imagination.  It is the ultimate medium for expression, a platform free of limitation.  A computer science course will not just offer an opportunity to thousands of students at Piedmont Hills; it will also give college-bound students a chance to explore their interests.  Whether it’s Python, Java or MATLAB, computer science boasts an incredible range of versatility and practicality.  Fortunately, some teachers have begun to express interest in teaching a computer science class; Mr. Luc, for example, is willing to lead an AP Computer Science course as an experimental class for the 2016-2017 school year, and he needs at least 30 students to sign up.

Scheduling ends in a few days.  I strongly urge those whom wish to pursue an engineering-related field—and there are many—to sign up for computer science.  Thirty students may seem like a lot, but it’s only a fraction of the students that will check “Computer Science” on their UC applications.  Enroll in a class that will hopefully shed some light on your future, and it may turn into the most valuable choice of your high school career.

How to choose classes to prevent stress overload

By Quynh Luu

Academic studies are oftentimes an essential yet taxing component of a high school student’s life.  Along with keeping up with various extracurricular activities and maintaining social relationships, students also have to deal with the pressure of passing courses in order to graduate.  Picking which classes to take can greatly impact your future grades.  With that said, here are a few tips that will help ease the challenge of creating a schedule before a new school year begins.

In order to graduate high school, you need to earn at least 220 credits by the end of your senior year.  Before choosing classes that seem “fun and easy,” think about picking courses that will help you get all the credits you need to meet the A-G graduation requirements first.  The sooner you complete those classes, the sooner you can start to take more courses that appeal to your interests.

Seniors should consider taking five classes instead of the usual six.  The phrase “quality over quantity” matters here.  Concentrating and understanding information well from a few courses is better than getting through many of them without fully comprehending the material.

If you are still in your freshman year of high school, sign up for one or two AP classes next year.  It’s a good idea to get a small taste of college-level courses before entering the world of higher education.  If you perform well enough in them, consider taking more the following year.  If you don’t perform so well, don’t feel discouraged.  You’re not automatically unintelligent for getting low grades in an AP class, so just study harder and take only a couple more classes again when you feel prepared.

When a class feels way too challenging to handle after the first week, try to drop out as soon as you can.  Again, don’t believe that you are not smart for deciding to do so.  Many people face difficulties when it comes to coursework.  It’s a safer option to quit and prevent future stress than to struggle and carry on, in some cases.

Finally, talk with your counselor if you face any concerns regarding schedules.  Their job is to provide you with assistance when it comes to academic problems, so don’t feel shy about opening up about your frustrations with choosing classes.

Why you should join Journalism

By Kylie Cheng

Around this time last year, The Legend seemed close to death; scheduling for the year 2015-2016 showed that too few students had signed up for Journalism.  Eventually, enough willing people signed up and saved the class, and the school newspaper lives for its 50th year.

Perhaps the majority of students still think of Journalism as undesirable.  The class includes challenges not everyone may wish to face—but it also provides an environment to cultivate skills that few other classes exercise.

One of the most common objections to taking Journalism is the writing it requires.  The benefits from news writing, however, are different from those gained from an A-G English class.

“A lot of people don’t want to take Journalism because they don’t like writing, or they think they can’t write,” muses Copy Editor Michelle Fong.  “They think they can’t write good essays, which has nothing to do with Journalism.  It’s more like taking facts, putting them on a sheet of paper and then formatting it.”

News writing differs from the academic writing most high school students are used to, as well as from creative writing.  The majority of news stories fit an “Inverted Pyramid” that organizes facts from most to least important, while alternating between quotes from the people involved and paraphrases or additional information.  This structure relieves the journalist from having to come up with original content.  Furthermore, it focuses on accuracy and clarity, not on writing flowery sentences to impress the English teacher.

“It’s easier to get away with style anomalies because there’s a clear format, like the news story format, the multifeature format, even the opinion format,” says News Editor Tiffany Lee.

The editors appreciate a writer with above-average flair, but as long as students write with care and make the suggested edits, basic English skills work just fine in Journalism.  And with enough practice and effort, one’s writing skills can improve.

“It’s helped my factual writing for sure,” asserts senior Seline Ting, former artist for The Legend.  “It’s helped me analyze what is fact.  It’s helped me on school reports as well: how to deduce, how to find right sources, how to report accurately.”

Granted, everyone does need to write.  The class is so small that everyone is a reporter on top of performing another job.  Anyone unwilling to write, even for the noble purpose of reporting, should not join Journalism; the consequences would go beyond a hurt grade.

Think of the newspaper as an entire-class group project.  If everyone does what they’re supposed to do, the process goes smoothly; but if enough people miss their deadlines or don’t do their work, the rest of the staff suffers.  As stories, photos and graphics come together, students get to experience teamwork in a context not unlike an actual job.

“You really understand how to work with other people,” states Layout Team member Michelle Lin.

“I really like how social it is,” mentions Artist Emilie Chau, “because in other classes, like English or math class, you don’t get to know everyone in your class.  But in Journalism, you really get to know every single person, because you’ve worked with them at least once.”

Aside from the collaboration within the classroom, Journalism also builds communication skills through interviews.  Often a reporter has to talk to strangers and learn to overcome the initial awkwardness.

“Sometimes when you’re reporting on a team or something like that, you don’t really know the players, so you have to really search for who you’re trying to interview or who you should be interviewing,” comments Sports Editor Sommer Fowler.

Senior Grace Cheung, a former Business Team member for The Legend, had the additional step of interacting with companies off-campus to secure advertisements in the paper.

“In Journalism, I definitely learned how to communicate with businesses a lot more efficiently,” she reflects.  “Just the way you write emails and things like that, and how you organize your information is important.”

The overall workload varies with the job.  Some people, such as the senior editorial staff, are frequently busy.  Most others find time to help out further after finishing their stories, or to simply relax.

“This class is better than most of my other classes because it’s fun,” remarks Layout Team member Angel Palomino.  “It’s not as exhausting as my other classes, it’s not as repetitive; there’s always something new every single month that we try to do.”

At the start of production for each issue, the class brainstorms for what to put in the newspaper.  An opinionated or creative mind will find an outlet for expression, be it writing the editorial, designing the centerspread or drawing a graphic to fill up that dreaded white space.  All sorts of talents mesh into something people all over the school want to read, and it’s hard not to feel a certain pride in seeing our ideas come to life in print.  AP classes can’t give that satisfaction.

“I’m pretty sure everyone’s tired of taking all these serious, hard classes, and I’m like, just take a class to have some fun,” says Design Editor Patrick Trieu.  “Take the class; have fun.  You learn a lot from it.”

And what have I personally learned from Journalism? I’ve learned to gather up the courage to talk to people, to take action shots with a fancy camera, to co-write an assigned-late article in one afternoon, to help and be available for helping others and to distinguish a single space from a double space in nine-point Times New Roman font.  Most of all, I’ve learned that, despite every challenge it presents, Journalism is worth saving.

Why choose an AP class?

By Tiffany Lee

As students advance through high school, they are expected to increasingly challenge themselves and pile on AP classes without a second thought.  But when future art majors take AP Calculus BC and future computer science majors take AP Literature/Composition, students must take a step back to consider the advantages and disadvantages of their demanding decisions.

Most, if not all, AP courses prepare students for higher education.  Reading a prompt and writing an essay in 40 minutes might seem intimidating, but fast analysis is a necessary skill, especially when considering the time constraints of college midterms and finals.  Creating group presentations, understanding complex mathematical equations, working in a lab—all contribute to college preparation in one way or another.  Even when only considering the heavy loads of homework, one learns to manage time wisely, or most likely suffer the consequences of procrastination.

AP courses not only provide preparation for college, but also further insight into certain subjects.  The variety of AP courses allows students to explore different topics like AP Chemistry, AP Psychology and AP Microeconomics, to narrow down their future major and career options.  Many aspire to be doctors, but a lack of interest in AP Biology would suggest a different career path.  Students can discover their true passions before they make crucial decisions about what they’re going to commit the rest of their lives to.

While the number of students taking AP classes has increased over the last few years, so have the failure rates on AP exams, which indicates that some students simply don’t belong in the AP’s they chose, according to Denise Pope, a Stanford education expert.  So while students may endeavor to take AP math classes, they probably shouldn’t if they have a history of mathematical ineptitude.  PHHS’s AP Night allows unsure students the opportunity to learn more about AP classes they’re interested in and understand what the classes have to offer.

College is expensive, so students take AP classes to get college credit. However, more and more colleges are offering fewer opportunities to cash in AP credit.  For example, Harvard requires a five on the AP Calculus BC exam, and students can only earn up to one credit in calculus.  Furthermore, some AP’s, like World History and U.S. History, offer no credit at all.  So before choosing AP classes, students should research their future or dream colleges’ AP credit guidelines so their hard work can literally pay off and result in financial benefits.

Dreams of Stanford swirl infinitely around campus, so it’s no wonder students take six AP classes in one year with hopes of impressing admissions officers.  However, high scores in AP exams hold a much lighter weight than high SAT and ACT scores.  Sure, admissions officers will be somewhat impressed by the academic rigor and the high weighted GPA, but only if students succeed.  The stress of many AP courses, clubs, athletics, volunteer work and other extracurriculars will accumulate into an unsurmountable time constraint, resulting in less than ideal grades, which certainly will not impress people reading admissions.  Getting into one’s dream college is great, but not worth absolute destruction of mental health.  Take time to weigh the pros and cons of each prospective class, and choose wisely.