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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.

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Here is a video to welcome you to Google CS First. Click on the image below:

welcome-cs-first-video

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:

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.20538425773_0524d1514f_o 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:

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Last week I attended iPad Summit USA and this week I am attending the Ontario GAFE Summit.  What a difference in the events and the nature of the tools we are exploring!  I think it would be fun to reflect on the differences of the conferences and the big differences in the feel of Apple vs Google.

Overall, I think iPads and the Ed Tech Teacher Summit is summed up by being creative and creating while GAFE and the Ontario Summit is more about collecting and collaborating.  I think this really reflects the essence of the different tools as well.

Disclaimer: Yes, I realize that you can collaborate with iPads and you can create and be creative with Google products. But, it’s a bit like the way you can buy clothing at Loblaws and groceries at Walmart. To me, when I think Loblaws I think food not affordable fashion and when I think Walmart I think cheap stuff from China and not leafy greens. I recognize that these stores are converging on the products and services they offer much like we see a convergence of services/offerings from Google and Apple.

At the iPad summit there were many sessions focused on creating, being creative and creating learning environments with Apple products and apps in mind. We have digital puppets for story telling, classrooms that are being redesigned with everything on wheels to accommodate mobile learning and the beginnings of maker spaces.  We all struggle like crazy to get student creations off the devices, but learners can make really amazing artifacts of learning.  Where to store student work, how to share and who has access to the student creations changes from app to app and school to school.  Student work sounds a bit like naughty deeds in Vegas. You know, what happens on the iPad, stays on the iPad.  Yes, there are solutions including Kidblog.org, Dropbox, Google Drive and Evernote, but, not all apps have share functions to each of these spaces. Often student work must be shared through camera roll or email if not directly through the app.  It’s a warren of a path to get the data out and it’s unclear who has control of the work once it’s online.  We talked about collaboration at the conference generally and specifically, but it was more like all hovering around a device or having a file rally where you have to pass work back and forth to get something that several people worked on.  In the end, using an iPad is transformative because of the creative capabilities and easy access to information to get ideas rolling.  An iPad, equipped with certain apps, feels like being in the middle of a wonderfully magical craft-store-puppet-costume-closet where learners can conjure multi-modal or multi-media artifacts that are dazzling. The workshops had this feeling too. Many people talked about journeys, paths, redefining, creativity, creation and possibilities. It was a dreamy space for ultra rich media and exploration. Plus, the keynotes felt like pep rallies and calls to action: Ra-Ra Passion and gimme a C-R-E-A-T-E! Energizing and big. Loved it!

While many sessions felt like exploring an art supply shop mixed with a magic suitcase, the sessions I have attended so far at GAFE feel like going to Rona, Home Depot or a lumber yard. Equally empowering and enticing, but with a totally different feel. With Google products, you have to be an all star like Ken Shelton @k_shelton  or Jim Still @mistersill, to make your work really dazzling without huge amounts of time, sweat and large amounts of coffee. (Small correction: Ken Shelton did a pretty darn good job of teaching us how to make super nice websites with Google, but he said “I am going to teach you how to make a google site that doesn’t look like a google site” **enough said**).  It is hard to make beautiful things with Google, but you can make really, really, really good boxes.  Those boxes can be any size and anyone can work in those boxes. The boxes can hold any number of things. Plus, if you are really clever (and can run scripts), those boxes can talk to each other.  Yes, there are circles, but those are just round boxes.  Google is really about a sturdy and robust way to build space to work together, share ideas and manage data, all kinds of data.  The sessions have this feel of being highly pragmatic. This is not to say that it is all button pushing since there is a clear focus on assessment, professional development, user/student generated content and pedagogy. For a conference that deals mostly with cloud computing, it’s a very grounded feeling.  There is far less talk of journeys, learning spaces, possibilities and creativity.  But, there is a far greater focus on weaving tools together and bringing people/learners together. Collaborating and collecting is at the forefront. I love this too.

I am looking forward to “worming the Apple” in my classroom and finding more ways to use Google products on the iPads. After all, creativity and collaboration are both important C words in the current century.

Note:

Michael Fullan’s 6 Cs from the Great to Excellent report:

  • character
  • citizenship
  • communication
  • critical thinking
  • collaboration
  • creativity