Common Sense Review
Updated May 2016

Google CS First

Middle school CS platform offers stellar resources, organizing tools
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Common Sense Rating 4
Teacher Rating (1 Teacher Review) 4
  • Lessons are available across a variety of student interests, so most kids will find something they're into.
  • Clubs must be associated with a school to use the management tools.
  • Lessons include teacher scripts, so it's easy for anyone to get started.
  • There's tons of help and support for teachers and organizers.
  • The materials transition into the large Scratch community seamlessly.
Fantastic lesson plans, turnkey resources, and club-organization tools make it easy to build a great CS program with little work or prior experience.
Lessons still rely heavily on watching a video and replicating procedures rather than exploring, plus some tricky setup is required.
Bottom Line
If your middle school doesn't have a CS program, now you do! It's really that easy, and available content will only grow as time goes on.
Galen McQuillen
Common Sense Reviewer
Common Sense Rating 4
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 4

The curriculum is crafted with engagement in mind and largely succeeds. The coding platform (Scratch) has a proven record of getting kids hooked on coding, hacking, and remixing. Still a lot of "sit-and-watch" learning, though.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 4

Despite a traditional structure, there are lots of openings for discovery, creativity, and collaboration. Assuming the teacher using the platform is a good facilitator, this makes for a solid CS introduction.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 5

The materials offer lots of help, and the site has tons of resources for instructors, even for those who've never taught CS (or at all!). Plus, Scratch has a massive community for kids who want to take things further.

About our ratings and privacy evaluation.
How Can Teachers Use It?

The setup and management of Google CS First assumes you'll be hosting a computer science club, either as a teacher, a volunteer, or a CS evangelist (or, to use Google's terminology, a Host, a Guru, or an Advocate). These tools are ideal for an after-school program, an elective class, or even an extracurricular club not attached to a school. But the materials are appropriate for use in any setting where you'd like to get some CS experience, including middle school art, English, music, and more. Especially if your school can't support a full-on programming experience for students, Google CS First can slot into existing curricula nicely. 

Either way, be sure you go through the whole experience yourself before giving it to students so you know what to expect and what moments are good for intervention. That way, you can largely let students run the experience themselves. And though there aren't tons of places built into the curriculum for playing, remixing, and tinkering, you can build in that time yourself.

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What's It Like?

Google CS First is an online platform for creating, managing, and teaching a middle school computer science (CS) program. There are currently 72 programming explorations and lessons across nine domains (such as arts, gaming, sports, storytelling, and social media). Each lesson is ready to go out of the box and includes a minute-by-minute teacher script, student instructions, example projects, materials (with solution guides), and more. The site also features comprehensive help guides for everything from setting up and maintaining a club to tips for classroom management and discipline issues. 

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. 

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Is It Good For Learning?

The standard model of most Google CS First lessons is for kids to watch videos, create something according to the video's examples, and repeat 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. Keep in mind that it's a lot of work to get done in a short amount of time, and reflection and discussion phases may seem a bit rushed. Plus, there's a lot of seat time dedicated to just watching and remembering. 

But, at the end of it all, kids still have plenty of chances to create, collaborate, hack one another's projects, remix works, and learn by tinkering. This is all pretty phenomenal, especially for a domain with such a specialized lexicon and logical patterns as computer science. Think of it as a nice transition between traditional sit-and-learn and full-on learning-by-doing. 

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