Change the Gender Composition of High School Computing Courses (Case Study 2)

Attracting Female and Minority Students through Targeted Recruiting

High school computer science teachers who actively recruit girls and minority students report more students overall and more female students in their courses. The following examples are from reports submitted in 2009 and 2010 by teachers who participated in a 2-day summer workshop on attracting and engaging students.


A department head in a large high school where several CS courses are offered described the following results:

  • [W]e have enough students for the first time in four years to run an AP level Computer Science [course].
  • The numbers of female students who are enrolling in our [computing] courses [for next year] have increased by 50% from this current year.


Seth Reichelson is a highly effective teacher at Ocoee High School, which enrolls 65% free- and reduced-lunch students. By actively recruiting girls, he raised Advanced Placement Computer Science enrollment to its highest level ever — 65 students total over two classes. The class grew so large that he was forced to turn away several students due to classroom limitations. At the same time that overall enrollment increased, the gender composition of the classes improved from their typical 12% girls to 33% girls. Next year, Ocoee High School expects 96 students in AP Computer Science and hopes to increase the percentage of females even further.

Reichelson targeted girls in predominantly female-run school clubs such as student government, yearbook, and the National Honor Society. These extracurricular activities are populated with many high-achieving young women. Reichelson drew these girls to the class by connecting their existing interests with computer programming through two student-run projects described here.


Reichelson and his AP Computer Science students applied skills learned in his course to the yearbook. Using Picture Objects in the Java programming language, they blended and color-matched pictures. The project was directed by the yearbook staff, with pictures provided by the yearbook class. The pictures they created with Java were later used as title pages for the yearbook.

In a project done with the National Honor Society (NHS), Reichelson’s AP Computer Science students created a program to scan student identification numbers using a card scanner and then match student numbers with their names. This program decreased by 90% the time it took to record attendance at NHS meetings of more than 200 students.


Reichelson told the girls he was recruiting that taking his CS AP course would make them stand out among college applicants. They would stand out, he said, because although large numbers of girls take other AP exams, few take the CS exam. He then overcame their objections that they don’t know anything about computers by explaining that he prefers “a blank slate” and guarantees students in his classes an A if they work hard. Finally, Reichelson predicted that if they took his course, they would pass the AP test, because history shows that hard work in his class pays off — 70% of his students typically pass the CS AP test, in contrast to the school’s average AP pass rate of 15%.


  • Case Study Contributor: Seth Reichelson

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Authors: J. McGrath Cohoon