Google’s CS First initiative aims to teach coding to kids, and it’s being brought to more than 100,000 students in New York City.
The program and its curriculum were designed to teach students ages 9-14 how to code in after-school and summer programs, which can be attended at a low cost. It was launched a year ago, and Google has just finished a pilot involving more than 1200 students in Charleston, South Carolina. Recently there have been updates to the program, some of which aim to bring the program directly into classrooms.
The curriculum, which is based on the free coding tool Scratch, is divided into seven units: Music & Sound, Game Design, Fashion & Design, Storytelling, Art, Friends, and Social Media (which is in Beta but usable). Each of these modules, and all their materials, are available for free online, and therefore accessible to home-schooled students as well, writes Melanie Pinola of Lifehacker. Three include closed captioning for ESL students and those with special needs. According to Mary Jo Madda of EdSurge, the program intends to reach ten to twelve modules.
Teachers and “Gurus,” who manage the program, have access to a dashboard to manage the club, track progress, and keep materials and resources together.
Google is being generous not only with information, but with supplies: they will provide free headphones, printed notebooks, stickers, club guides for adults, posters, and certificates of completion.
By late March, CS First has enrolled 27,000 students in five continents, and 70% of those students are girls and/or minorities.
Kate Berrio, the program manager, says:
CS First works really well in its enrichment and/or introductory capacity, and makes everyone very comfortable and very excited with coding.
Most growth outside the US has been completely organic, as we haven’t done big outreach into other countries. It’s clearly meeting a need that was there.
Marco della Cava of USA Today notes that Google is making a concerted effort to encourage girls to enter STEM professions. Loretta and Mariana, two science-oriented girl characters in Disney television shows, have been backed by Google to give girls positive role models. For example, Google has offered input about computer scientist personalities and helped to write code sequences for the show.
Julie Ann Crommet, Google’s program manager for computer science education in media, says:
Our research shows that for girls when it comes to focusing on a career, perceptions of that profession rank second in importance only to parental encouragement. If we want to expand the employee pipeline, we must tackle this because girls who don’t see others like them in the field tend not to go into it. TV can have an impact. The popularity of CSI led to a big jump in people going into forensic science, and many of them were women.
Students who have finished the CS First modules have other options. The “Beyond CS First” page on the program’s website recommends resources like MIT’s App Inventor. Code.org is complementary with the program, and Pencil Code is another useful tool to use with next-level students.
According to Karl Utermohlem of InvestorPlace, CS First will be part of the effort by New York City‘s Mayor Bill de Blasio to teach STEM to young students and will be offered to 857 after-school programs.