You should run a Google CS First Coding Club for kids. It’s easier than you think. Here’s what I learned from running a club at Stoney Creek Public School.
First, listen to what my students had to say about the club:
What is Google CS First?
CS stands for Computer Science. Google CS First is a computer science club that is run through Google with everything you need. Google has created a portal that you and students will log into that keeps everything organized and holds all the content. There are 9 different themes like storytelling, animation, fashion and sports. Each club takes about 10 hours. Students will code using Scratch.
Here is a video to welcome you to Google CS First. Click on the image below:
How to get started?
Go to Google CS First and sign in or click on “Start a Club Now.” Click on the “Start a New Club” button and follow the prompts. It takes 5 minutes and you will:
- Pick a theme
- Create a schedule
- Order materials (US only) or print materials
- Bonus: Find a Guru which is someone who will help you during the sessions. I was lucky to get a parent from my community who is a developer for IBM.
Promote your club by putting up posters that are provided once you have picked your theme. Consider having an information meeting where you can show the slides below. Be sure to personalize and edit the slides before the meeting. Click on the image to see the Google Slides:
Tip: Be sure to think carefully about the schedule. Do not just put in random dates. This is because the activities are linked to the dates. When students login, they will get the activity assigned for that date. So if your first club meets on Monday, December 12th and if you correctly entered December 12th in the schedule then students will login and get the Day 1 activities. If you get these wrong, kids will be looking at the wrong activities.
What does a typical club meeting look like?
My club ran for 8 weeks on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school for 20 students in grades 4-8. We met from 3:30-4:45pm. Students came to the library and logged into a Chromebook or desktop computer with the Google CS First username and password provided by the club (these are generated automatically and can be reused if kids join another club). Once all the coders had arrived, here is what the day looked like:
- Showcase Selector: Two activities get randomly selected at the end of the last club meeting. We start each time with looking at two students’ Scratch projects.
- Self-Paced Learning: Students then work at their own pace watching videos and working in Scratch. The leader and guru (the adults running the club) circulate to help students.
- Wrap Up Video: We would end the club by collectively watching the Wrap Up video. Every day has a video that recaps the key computer science concepts and relates those concepts to the real world and real people’s jobs. We would watch these as a group, though you could have kids watch on their own too.
- Showcase Selector: The last task is to do the Showcase Selector to pick two projects to kick off the next club meeting.
3 Tips for Running a Successful Coding Club:
1) Manage Student Expectations
Many students came to club expectations that they would learn how to make an app or become hackers. One of my club members was on HackerTyper.com instead of working through the activities. It is important to set reasonable expectations so students aren’t disappointed that they aren’t taking over the Internet by the end of the first club meeting. Explain the goals and what computer science concepts will be taught up front.
2) Get a Guru or it’s all you!
Get a Guru! Having another adult there was so helpful. Having another adult with a background in computer science was tremendous. The students were able to get a lot more out of the club because Mr. Rozon was able to explain what they were doing and why it was important.
If you can’t get someone to help who has experience in coding, make sure to do all the activities ahead of time.
3) Emphasize Collaboration
One thing I did not like about the Google CS First Coding club was that it felt a lot like I was supervising some sort of call centre. I looked out over a library full of students all wearing headsets and plugged into computers. It was quiet and students largely worked alone. Next time, I want to emphasize more collaboration and team work. I want to force everyone to stop every 10 minutes and talk to the person next to them. I want to have more time to share more projects and get students to give each other feedback.
How to give feedback on Scratch projects?
Helping students improve their code can be tricky. They can make their projects more complex by using more sprites and fewer more powerful blocks, but even this advice doesn’t always work.
Check out Dr. Scratch. This is a website that analyzes projects. You enter in the URL associated with the Scratch project and paste it into Dr. Scratch. Dr. Scratch provides feedback on the program, like this: