Vanessa Robinson
10 easy steps to start coding with Google CS First

In Greenfield Union School District where I teach fifth grade, I’m known as a bit of a technology enthusiast. This means I’m always excited about new ways to integrate tech in the classroom. Whenever I’m approached by my colleagues, principal or other district leads, I’m apt to say, “I’m all for it!”

This was the case when I discovered Google’s CS First. The CS First program is a free online computer science curriculum. Google gives educators all the materials they need to implement the program directly, and students receive in-depth tutorials from computer science experts. These videos include very detailed visual and oral step-by-step instructions that students can watch as many times as they need to during their exploration.

 

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CS First uses the block-based programming tool Scratch as its creation platform to allow students to post their work in the Scratch community. That ability to share provides rich opportunities for class discussions on how students can act responsibly online and share globally. The Scratch platform also provides students with multiple ways of computing their thinking with a wide variety of controlling blocks to convey their learning.

And with Computer Science Education Week coming up Dec. 3-9, this program offers an engaging way for students and educators to become acquainted with computer science.

As a fifth grade teacher at Arroyo Seco Academy in California, I understand the fear and anxiety that can accompany technology implementation in the classroom. But I also know the sense of triumph when I figure it out. That’s why I want to assure you that you can do it and share the following 10 steps to get you on your way to helping students create with Google CS First:

  1. Relax.

    Take a deep breath and trust that you and your students know more about computer science navigation than you realize! This curriculum requires no computer science experience and our digital age thinkers are built for this type of exploration.

  1. Create an account.

    Head to Google CS First and create an educator account using your Google account. Create a “new class” to generate your unique “club code.” Display the club code where your students can easily access it, such as on the whiteboard or as a link in Google Classroom.

  1. Choose a theme.

    Storytelling is the most common beginner course within the modules and it’s easy for educators and students to follow. But you can choose any of the nine themes available.

  1. Set a start time.

    This will dictate when the CS First class materials will be delivered to your school. Your box will contain CS First Passports with log-in information, stickers to give out when activities have been completed and teacher materials that support implementation.

  1. Explore activities.

    While you wait for your materials to be delivered, head over to the CS First sample activities to explore the various hour-long lessons and projects you can do with your students. These are great for events like Hour of Code. My district has created Wonder Wednesdays on our minimum days when we explore science. My favorite sample activity is “Create an Unusual Discovery,” and it greatly prepares students for the storytelling module.

  1. Prominently display the sample activity link.

    Make sure the activity web address is accessible on a whiteboard or in Google Classroom so students can follow along with the activities. As students navigate to the website, instruct them to create a student account. This is when students will input the class club code so their work is linked to your educator account. If you are doing this activity before the CS First Passports arrive, they should write their automatically generated username and password down in a safe place, such as a science notebook.


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  1. Watch the sample activity tutorial.

    Once students have created an account, instruct them to return to the start of the sample activity. Watch the opening tutorial video as a class. This way, you can pause the video and discuss unfamiliar words or steps in the directions. If they need to, students may rewatch the video independently as many times as they like.  

  2. Begin your own starter project — together.

I highly encourage educators to project the activity on the screen so you learn side by side with students. What better way to eliminate some of the implementation anxiety! I love that the CS First program leaves room for educators to become explorers in a vulnerable but safe context. Discovery is encouraged! Students are much more willing to get started when they understand that computer science involves continuous learning, problem-solving, and the idea that we all bring different skill sets to this learning community and are willing to support each other!

  1. Designate a guru.

    Pay close attention to your students’ technology competencies and choose a student with strong leadership skills who is moving quickly through the activity to be the class guru. This gives students someone they can turn to and ensures authenticity in the learning process. My gurus have often been students who do not necessarily excel in other academic areas but who rock the computer science world! What a great way to showcase their talents.

  1. Embrace the experience and have fun!

    Allow students to freely express their creativity throughout the activity, while maintaining strong digital citizenship expectations. Pause to share new learnings to the class as they arise, jot down questions that come up but can’t be answered immediately, celebrate discovery by sharing student projects in the loudest way possible — to the whole class, on Twitter or on your district website, you name it! Finally, debrief successes and roadblocks as a whole class.

Not only is this program user-friendly, it seamlessly gives computer science a home in your classroom. CS First builds skills that address many of the ISTE Standards for Students, primarily:

  • Innovative Designer, which expects students to use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.

  • Computational Thinker, which expects students to understand how automation works and use algorithmic thinking to develop a sequence of steps to create and test automated solutions.

  • Creative Communicator, which expects students to communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals.

  • Digital Citizen, which encourages students to recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.

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In addition, the storytelling curriculum pairs nicely with literature standards by giving students one of multiple means of exploring theme and narrative structures in storytelling. The step-by-step process allows students to develop the 5 Es: engage, explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate. By learning computer science in action with your students, not only are you preparing them for a fast-moving, digital, 21st century workforce, you are given the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with your students that will carry value throughout the year.

Google is committed to supporting educators. Do not hesitate to reach out throughout your journey to creating future computer scientists!

Vanessa Robinson teaches fifth grade in Greenfield, California, at a Title I school comprised of a largely migrant population filled with first-generation student scholars. Technology integration and 21st century preparation coupled with building meaningful relationships with her students has always been the cornerstone of her career. She firmly believes that access to high-quality education and expectations is the key to ending the cycle of poverty and saving students’ lives. #GreenfieldGuarantee

Read ISTE's Creative Coding.
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