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Get Your Creative Students Excited About Programming with CS First

Back on December 23rd of 2018, I published a blog post about teaching coding with Google. It was basically a bullet point list of things I saw as I was looking at the website for the first time. Now I have had the time to implement it with my classes for a week. Here's my thoughts.

First, this is a very well laid out platform. There are videos with screencasts showing you exactly what you need to do in order to get started. They frequently use starter projects in Scratch. The starter projects typically include code that is either too complicated for where the students are, or is trivial for their ability if they have made it that far. Often the starter projects will include sprites or backgrounds premade for those particular projects.

The videos are high quality. All videos have captions available (in English, I have not looked for other languages) and have the ability to play back at a faster speed, as well as a lower speed. The instructions were clear, and incredibly easy to follow. While they are talking about how to use certain blocks, they are showing a screencast of exactly where to click, what to drag, what to insert... you get the idea.

Google provided all of the materials needed for the students. I have six class sets of passports, stickers, posters, tracking sheets, the whole thing. When I say they provided them, I mean totally free. I didn't even pay shipping for any of it. The materials all came in nice looking blue Google branded boxes. The badges (stickers) are full color and pre-cut. All the materials seem high quality, and even if they weren't... did I mention I didn't even have to pay shipping?

My students seemed reluctant to get started on it, until the stickers came out. I gave them two days just to get used to the platform, then I introduced the badges. "Okay guys, you've been working on this for two days now, and I suspect some of you have at least finished activity one. Tell you what, bring up the activities you have finished, and if you completed the work... (pause for effect)... YOU'LL GET A STICKER!!!! I was not prepared for just how mental my students would go over these stickers. I figured if they were elementary school students, it would get them going, but I had no idea middle school kids would also go crazy for stickers.

Other than that, my three biggest thoughts after the first week of implementation are...

1. Make sure to stress that the students will get credit for the work they do in Scratch. Getting all the green check marks in CS First is great, but if you're not doing the work... you're not doing the work.

2. Plan far enough ahead that you can get the materials from Google, and use them. There is about a three week lead time to get the materials. When you set up your "Club" (class) in the CS First platform, they will ask you for the start date of your club. If you want to, you can print your own materials, but if you set everything up about a month before you plan to start, Google will have the stuff delivered to your school. This is one of the best parts of the program. Really. Who else is setting you up with websites, curriculum, and materials completely for free. Way to go Google!

3. I'm super pleased to report that there are only minor flaws with the whole experience so far. Things like the passwords that are generated have a two digit number, followed by a compound word. That's great, but in my six classes, we had some passwords that would have been better off NOT coming up. (69cheesecake, 69somewhere, and 69everything come to mind) Also, the Scratch website allows you to edit sounds. As soon as the students figure that out, you're going to spend a good bit of time with the sound of cats meowing at various speeds and pitches throughout the room. I recommend headphones. In my lab, students that have them are allowed to use them, but I do not have a classroom set. Seriously... that's really all the complaints I have so far.

While my students have been working through the units (I have two classes doing Sound & Music, two classes doing Storytelling, and two doing Gaming) I have also been working my way through the activities. Here's an example from each unit...

Storytelling - Activity 3
Music & Sound - Activity 3
Gaming - Activity 2


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