Review by Galen McQuillen, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2016

Google CS First

Middle school CS platform offers stellar resources, organizing tools

Subjects & skills
  • Arts
  • Math
  • Science

Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
Great for:
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (1 Review)

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Pros: Fantastic lesson plans, turnkey resources, and club-organization tools make it easy to build a great CS program with little work or prior experience.

Cons: 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 or club, now you do!

The setup and management of Google CS First assumes you'll be hosting a computer science (CS) 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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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. 

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 classwide 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. 

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

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?

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?

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.

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Elissa H. , Technology coordinator
Technology coordinator
Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School
Baltimore, United States
Excellent way to introduce students to computer science
I think this is a phenomenal resource for teaching. Integrating the material into curricular material worked well for us this past year. The combination of learning through the CSFirst activities and the creativity encouraged when applying the lessons made the project successful and effective. The lessons themselves also allow for significant creativity within given parameters. The design of many of the lessons allows students who finish more quickly the opportunity to learn additional skills while ...
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