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Google CS First
Pros: Fantastic, fun lesson plans, turnkey resources, and teacher dashboard make it easy to build a great CS program with little work or prior experience.
Cons: Lessons rely heavily on watching video instructions and replicating procedures, and advanced students might tire of block coding.
Bottom Line: A high-quality introductory CS curriculum where students can be creative, collaborate with others, and express themselves, in the classroom or at home.
Google CS First is flexible enough to be used in the classroom, at home, or through distance learning. It's perfect for adding a CS experience to middle school art, English, music, game design, and other classes. Especially if your school can't support a full-on programming experience for students, Google CS First can slot into existing curricula nicely.
The themes make it easy to put a spin on traditional curriculum. Some activity examples include things like animating characters sailing on the sea, complete with sound effects; creating an interactive presentation; changing the point of view on a story; creating animation and interactive artwork; creating a superhero with special powers; designing a Google logo; crafting music videos; building fashion-themed programs; simulating an extreme sports event; creating stories through code; and designing video games. More broadly, you can use project-based learning to let kids explore an idea or theme, and then let them showcase their thinking using Google CS First. More advanced students may be able to work through the experience on their own and really take the tool to its outer limits, or let them serve as a consultant as other students get started.
Google CS First is an online platform for creating, managing, and teaching the basics of computer science concepts to students in late elementary and middle school. There are currently 81 programming explorations and lessons across 19 themes (such as animation, game design, art, sports, storytelling, and music). Each lesson is ready to go out of the box and includes video tutorials, Getting Started guides, scripted teacher resources, student instructions, example projects, digital materials (with solution guides), and more. Difficulty levels range from Introductory to Advanced, and each activity or theme is also marked with how long it should take to complete. The site also features comprehensive help guides for everything from getting students ready to distance learning to contingency plans for when and if technology fails. Links to everything teachers and students will need are included. It is very well organized, and the instructions are easy to follow. Many resources are available in Spanish, with video transcripts and closed captioning.
Coding is done largely through MIT's excellent Scratch platform, which means there's plenty of support out there for kids who need a bit of help, as well as meaningful pathways to more advanced coding experiences beyond middle school. Themed lessons are divided up into one-hour activities and multiday activities, and anyone who isn't sure where to begin can use the Curriculum Finder to narrow down the choices. The standard model of most Google CS First lessons is for kids to watch videos, create something according to the video examples, and work their way through the steps until they've completed a functioning project. After filling out a nicely framed reflection, they can then customize their projects before taking part in a class-wide project showcase. They earn badges as they complete activities, with all unfinished activities marked as "to do" to encourage students to keep going.
With Google CS First, kids have plenty of chances to create, collaborate, build on one another's projects, remix works, and learn by tinkering. This is all pretty phenomenal, especially for a domain like computer science, with such a specialized lexicon and logical patterns. Think of it as a nice middle ground between traditional sit-and-learn and learning-by-doing. Since the site now makes available many resources in Spanish, video transcripts, closed captioning, and distance learning and parental support, the audience for this site is broader than ever. This isn't typing code or deeper computer science learning, but it does teach the basics and lays the foundation for the kind of thinking required for later computer science classes.
In terms of ease and support, teachers can very quickly set up as many classes with as many students as they like through the dashboard, tying into Google Classroom. The dashboard allows teachers to follow student progress; access starting guides and lesson plans; find posters, stickers, completion certificates, and a free classroom kit; create contingency plans for when student internet goes out; and even download ZIP files of the English and Spanish videos. The only downside is that the lessons can feel like a lot of work to do in a short amount of time, and reflection and discussion phases may seem a bit rushed. But if students have the ability to take their time, they'll benefit from being able to rewatch video instructions and carry the project further and in new directions, building on what they've learned.