Optional Lesson: Practice PT - Big Data and Cybersecurity Dilemmas


To conclude their study of big data and cryptography, students will complete a small research project related to a dilemma presented by Big Data or Cybersecurity, in the form of a Practice Performance Task. Students will pick one of two issues to research more deeply - either an issue related to big data, or one related to cybersecurity. Students will need to identify appropriate online resources to learn about the functionality, context, and impact of the technological innovation that gave rise to the dilemma they are investigating. After completing their research, students will present their findings both in a written summary and with an audio / visual artifact they found online. The written components students must complete are similar to those students will see in the AP Performance Tasks.

This project is an opportunity to practice many of the skills students will use when completing the Explore Performance Task on the AP® Exam at the end of the year. While an open-ended research project might be intimidating, students have built all the skills they need to complete this task.

Note: This is NOT the official AP® Performance Task that will be submitted as part of the Advanced Placement exam; it is a practice activity intended to prepare students for some portions of their individual performance at a later time.

Note for 2017-18 School Year: This Practice PT has NOT been updated to reflect changes to the Explore PT Scoring Guidelines released in Fall 2017. We recommend you review those guidelines to understand the similarities between this project and the actual Explore PT.


This lesson does not cover new CS content per se, though students might discover new and interesting things in their research. This lesson is an opportunity for students to synthesize their knowledge and understanding of Big Data, cybersecurity, cryptography, and computationally hard problems. The project asks students to tie their research into a topic in the news with vocabulary and concepts covered in this unit of study. For reference, vocabulary and topics from lessons in this unit include:

  • Big Data
  • Moore's Law
  • Encryption and Decryption
  • Symmetric v. Asymmetric Encryption
  • Computationally Hard Problems
  • Public Key Encryption


Getting Started



Extended Learning


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Students will be able to:

  • Identify reliable and authoritative sources of information about a computing information.
  • Synthesize information taken from multiple online sources to create a cohesive description of a computing innovation.
  • Identify an artifact that clarifies an aspect of a computing topic not easily captured in writing.
  • Explain both the beneficial and harmful effects related to a modern social dilemma in computing


  • Review the Practice PT


Heads Up! Please make a copy of any documents you plan to share with students.

For the Students

Teaching Guide

Getting Started

Teaching Tip

Consider Skipping: Depending on how much time you have remaining in the year, you may opt to skip this lesson and move on directly to completing the actual Explore PT, using the AP: Explore PT Prep unit as a guide. If students have demonstrated strong research and writing skills in the Rapid Research lessons (2 and 8) then you'll likely be fine to move on.

Caution - Not Updated to Match 2018 Scoring Guidelines: This Practice PT has NOT been updated to reflect changes to the Explore PT Scoring Guidelines released in Fall 2017. The differences are fairly subtle and the task description itself has not changed, just the guidelines used to score it. As such this lesson remains useful practice of the core skills needed to complete the Explore PT and can be a valuable exercise for classrooms that need more practice. You should review the guidelines or the resources in the AP: Explore PT Prep unit if you'd like to better understand the nuances of the task.


At the end of the year you will need to complete the Explore Performance Task. The project we’re about to do asks you to conduct research on a big data or cybersecurity dilemma and present your findings both visually and in writing.

Thus, to conclude our study of Big Data and Cybersecurity you will be completing a practice Performance Task on a topic of your choosing. Hopefully this will be an enjoyable opportunity to dig deeper on a topic that piqued your interest over the last few weeks, and it will of course be useful preparation for the Explore Performance Task, which you’ll do at the end of the year.

Distribute and Review the Project

Distribute: Big Data and Cybersecurity Dilemmas - Practice PT and as a class review the project guidelines and rubric. Respond to questions.


A proposed schedule of the steps of this project is included below, as well as more thorough explanations of how to conduct the various stages.

Day 1

  • Review Project Guidelines and Rubric
  • Select a big data or cybersecurity dilemma to research
  • Identify online sources of information using the Research Guide

Day 2

  • Continue to record findings in the Research Guide
  • Identify potential artifacts to include
  • Begin writing written responses

Day 3

  • Complete any remaining research to answer questions
  • Select and make any necessary edits to artifacts
  • Complete written responses

Teaching Tips

Difference from the actual Explore PT: The actual Explore Performance Task will be completed over 8 class hours. The fact that this schedule is significantly shorter reflects several differences in this Practice PT.

  • We have provided topics to focus research
  • Several written responses have been eliminated
  • Students do not need to create their own artifacts (though they may if they so choose)

The primary goal of this Practice PT is to familiarize students with the format of the Explore PT and the thinking practices they will need to employ when completing it.

Complete the Practice PT

Read Requirements:

At the beginning of the project emphasize the importance of reviewing the rubric. Students may assume that more is required of them than is actually the case. In particular emphasize that they do not need to create their artifact themselves, but it must still meet the requirements of the project. Point out that the written component of the project is similiar to what students did for the Practice PT - The Internet and Society in Unit 1.

Choosing Topics:

It is recommended that you place a time limit on this process (e.g. 20 minutes). Students should not leave class after the first day without a topic in mind and ideally with some resources identified. Luckily, in choosing their topics students will likely have begun to identify resources they can use in completing their project.

Complete the Research Guide:

This document is intended to serve primarily as a guide to students. The skill students need to develop is identifying useful and credible resources on their own and then synthesizing this information. Being presented with a structured way of doing this means students will have a model for how to complete their research when completing the actual Explore PT.

Identify an Artifact:

This is perhaps the greatest deviation from the real AP Explore PT. For this, students do not need to create their own artifact. Instead they need to identify an audio or visual artifact (image, visualization, drawing, chart, video, interview, etc.) that highlights a harm or benefit caused by the innovation, or helps to explain it better. This may still be a challenging process. The goal is to help students think about what good audio / visual artifacts look like and how they present complex material. You can recall what students learned from the "Good and Bad Visualizations" lesson from Unit 2. In Unit 2 they also developed skills for developing good computational artifacts on their own.

Written Responses:

Students should find this aspect of their project most familiar. The prompts are similar in style and content to prompts students have already seen. Emphasize the need for clarity in their writing, and remind them that while the 300 word limit is a maximum -- they do not necessarily need to write 300 words for each prompt. If they have responded completely to each of the prompts it is fine to write less.


For the AP Explore Performance Task students are asked to compile all of their written work into a single PDF. You will need to determine how best to collect this work in your class but you may optionally wish to practice this process when collecting submissions for this project.


Use the project rubric

Included in the Practice PT is a Rubric by which the project can be assessed.

Extended Learning

Ask students to look at the beneficial and harmful effects of cybersecurity issues like the NSA spying on emails. The more current and relevant the issue, the better.

The book Blown to Bits has several chapters that relate to personal security, privacy and liberty in face of big data and encryption.


Presentation (Optional): If time allows students may wish to have an opportunity to share their research with one another. Consider other options like creating a “Digital Museum” by posting links to all their projects to a single shared document.

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Unit 4: Lesson 9 - Practice PT - Big Data and Cybersecurity Dilemmas


Technological innovations bring about new dilemmas or tensions that people and society must face. Innovation is usually intended to bring some benefits or positive change, but something interpreted as a benefit for one person or group can negatively impact another person or group. For example, with the rapid growth of "big data" there is a lot of information out there about you which can make your life much more convenient and efficient, but potentially at the cost of losing some control over your privacy or even what information you can easily access. With strong encryption we can enable very secure communications to maintain privacy, but what happens when the data being encrypted is used to hide illegal activity or to enable dangerous activities that threaten the lives and security of others?

For this Practice PT you will pick one of two issues to research more deeply that reveal some of these tensions. This project is an opportunity to practice many of the skills you will use when completing the Explore Performance Task on the AP(r) Exam at the end of the year. While an open-ended research project might be intimidating, you have built all the skills you need to complete this task.


Standards Alignment

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CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards (2011)

CD - Computers & Communication Devices
  • CD.L3A:9 - Describe how the Internet facilitates global communication.
CI - Community, Global, and Ethical Impacts
  • CI.L2:2 - Demonstrate knowledge of changes in information technologies over time and the effects those changes have on education, the workplace and society.
  • CI.L2:3 - Analyze the positive and negative impacts of computing on human culture.
  • CI.L2:5 - Describe ethical issues that relate to computers and networks (e.g., security, privacy, ownership and information sharing).
  • CI.L3A:1 - Compare appropriate and inappropriate social networking behaviors.
  • CI.L3A:10 - Describe security and privacy issues that relate to computer networks.
  • CI.L3A:8 - Discuss the social and economic implications associated with hacking and software piracy.
  • CI.L3B:2 - Analyze the beneficial and harmful effects of computing innovations.
  • CI.L3B:6 - Analyze the impact of government regulation on privacy and security.
CL - Collaboration
  • CL.L2:2 - Collaboratively design, develop, publish and present products (e.g., videos, podcasts, websites) using technology resources that demonstrate and communicate curriculum. concepts.
CPP - Computing Practice & Programming
  • CPP.L2:6 - Demonstrate good practices in personal information security, using passwords, encryption and secure transactions.
  • CPP.L3A:9 - Explain the principles of security by examining encryption, cryptography, and authentication techniques.

Computer Science Principles

1.1 - Creative development can be an essential process for creating computational artifacts.
1.1.1 - Apply a creative development process when creating computational artifacts. [P2]
  • 1.1.1A - A creative process in the development of a computational artifact can include, but is not limited to, employing nontraditional, nonprescribed techniques; the use of novel combinations of artifacts, tools, and techniques; and the exploration of personal cu
  • 1.1.1B - Creating computational artifacts employs an iterative and often exploratory process to translate ideas into tangible form.
1.2 - Computing enables people to use creative development processes to create computational artifacts for creative expression or to solve a problem.
1.2.1 - Create a computational artifact for creative expression. [P2]
  • 1.2.1A - A computational artifact is anything created by a human using a computer and can be, but is not limited to, a program, an image, audio, video, a presentation, or a web page file.
  • 1.2.1B - Creating computational artifacts requires understanding and using software tools and services.
  • 1.2.1C - Computing tools and techniques are used to create computational artifacts and can include, but are not limited to, programming IDEs, spreadsheets, 3D printers, or text editors.
  • 1.2.1E - Creative expressions in a computational artifact can reflect personal expressions of ideas or interests.
1.2.2 - Create a computational artifact using computing tools and techniques to solve a problem. [P2]
  • 1.2.2A - Computing tools and techniques can enhance the process of finding a solution to a problem.
1.2.5 - Analyze the correctness, usability, functionality, and suitability of computational artifacts. [P4]
  • 1.2.5B - A computational artifact may have weaknesses, mistakes, or errors depending on the type of artifact.
6.3 - Cybersecurity is an important concern for the Internet and the systems built on it.
6.3.1 - Identify existing cybersecurity concerns and potential options to address these issues with the Internet and the systems built on it. [P1]
  • 6.3.1A - The trust model of the Internet involves tradeoffs.
  • 6.3.1B - The domain name system (DNS) was not designed to be completely secure.
  • 6.3.1C - Implementing cybersecurity has software, hardware, and human components.
  • 6.3.1D - Cyber warfare and cyber crime have widespread and potentially devastating effects.
  • 6.3.1E - Distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS) compromise a target by flooding it with requests from multiple systems.
  • 6.3.1F - Phishing, viruses, and other attacks have human and software components.
  • 6.3.1G - Antivirus software and firewalls can help prevent unauthorized access to private data.
  • 6.3.1H - Cryptography is essential to many models of cybersecurity.
  • 6.3.1I - Cryptography has a mathematical foundation.
  • 6.3.1J - Open standards help ensure cryptography is secure.
  • 6.3.1K - Symmetric encryption is a method of encryption involving one key for encryption and decryption.
  • 6.3.1L - Public key encryption, which is not symmetric, is an encryption method that is widely used because of the enhanced security associated with its use.
  • 6.3.1M - Certificate authorities (CAs) issue digital certificates that validate the ownership of encrypted keys used in secured communication and are based on a trust model.
7.3 - Computing has a global affect -- both beneficial and harmful -- on people and society.
7.3.1 - Analyze the beneficial and harmful effects of computing. [P4]
  • 7.3.1A - Innovations enabled by computing raise legal and ethical concerns.
  • 7.3.1D - Both authenticated and anonymous access to digital information raise legal and ethical concerns.
  • 7.3.1G - Privacy and security concerns arise in the development and use of computational systems and artifacts.
  • 7.3.1H - Aggregation of information, such as geolocation, cookies, and browsing history, raises privacy and security concerns.
  • 7.3.1L - Commercial and governmental curation of information may be exploited if privacy and other protections are ignored.
7.4 - Computing innovations influence and are influenced by the economic, social, and cultural contexts in which they are designed and used.
7.4.1 - Explain the connections between computing and economic, social, and cultural contexts. [P1]
  • 7.4.1A - The innovation and impact of social media and online access is different in different countries and in different socioeconomic groups.
  • 7.4.1B - Mobile, wireless, and networked computing have an impact on innovation throughout the world.
  • 7.4.1E - Networks and infrastructure are supported by both commercial and governmental initiatives.