Every Wednesday afternoon, 22 fifth-grade students gather in the Intermediate Commons, many playing on tablets or chattering about the day they just had. Other kids are exiting the building and going home for the night. These 22 students are staying for an opportunity to learn computer coding through a program called CS First - a free program through Google.
CS First - Getting Started
CS First stands for Computer Science First. To start a program, you just need a leader called a Guru (me, Mrs. Schwartz), computers, students, and a curriculum. All of which are FREE. The Guru goes online and chooses one of the 9 units (Storytelling, Art, Fashion & Design, Music & Sound, Game Design, Social Media, Friends, Animation - in beta, or Sports). We started with Storytelling because it came recommended as the first one. I received all the materials in the mail for free. This includes passport books, badges students earn for completing sessions, the script, and solutions for the work they do that day. The cool thing is that the Guru doesn't even need a background in coding to get started.
Gurus have access to a dashboard, where they can manage their clubs. It allows me to see student progress, display a timer with directions for the day, and see training materials.
Learning Through Trying
Day one of the club was kind of a mess - I will be honest. Many of the kids had never had exposure to coding and it was a struggle. Some left feeling defeated or that they would be unable to do the activities. Even I left feeling in a little over my head!
It was a week before we met again, and everyone had some time to forget what had happened 7 days ago! Students came in and we rehashed what all had happened at the last club meeting. When they got started on the second day, it was so much better. Students were helping each other, talking about coding, and really trying to understand what was going on with their computers. A moment I felt really good about was when a student I knew struggled in core subjects, was able to be asked for help multiple times by other students. He was able to shine that day. That's what this club is about.
Some students took it and ran with it - going home over the weekend and making very intricate coding. It was so impressive seeing what they were able to create on their own. Kids were entranced by the amazing projects the others were creating. Other kids were being patted on the back for just being quick and awesome at figuring out problems.
CS First has a G+ Shoutout board, and the students are encouraged to write positive notes to each other. I then stick them in their passport books before the next session. Some go to the whole group, so they are on a large poster and displayed before each meeting.
I'm Not Feelin' It
After the 4th meeting, I could tell that some kids just weren't into it like some of the others. I had a meeting with my group, telling them they weren't obligated to come back. Computers and coding are not for everyone. I just leveled with them and told them there are sports teams and clubs for so many other things, I wanted to start something for kids that liked computers - something they didn't have as a choice before. Our 5th meeting is tomorrow, and while I hope they all return, I will not be offended if some don't. It is important at this age to learn what you love and what you don't.
Finishing It Out
CS First Club has 5 more sessions left - 4 of them are going to be guided by the given curriculum, the last being a celebration of coding and their projects. I want them to see what they have learned and how far they've come. This club has been amazing. The hour goes so quickly and the kids have been so great about learning something new. I am excited to see what many of these kids do in the future!
Please take a peek below at a couple of videos I took of student work.
December 7-13 marked the week of Hour of Code. This was not just a school event, a state event, or even a USA event. This was a world-wide event. Just on Code.org alone, almost 200,000 Hour of Code events took place. That doesn't even involve those that were not using Code.org or that didn't register their events.
What is "code"?
Coding in the introduction to computer sciences. All computers in the world, everything from laptops, apps, phones to washing machines, alarm clocks, and stoves have to run some sort of code. Code is written for alarm clocks to know to beep at a certain time, code is used to tell a washer how warm to make the water on a given setting, it is used to tell the Flappy Bird what to do when it hits one of those annoying pipes.
Why do kids need to code?
Computer science is a growing career field. The demand for people who can code has grown larger than the number of people out there that can actually do it. We need more students to learn these skills to meet the demand for careers. 65% of students entering elementary will hold jobs after high school that don't even exist yet, according to Cathy N. Davidson, co-director of the annual MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions.
Coding also fosters critical-thinking, problem-solving skills, logic, and creativity. Students are asked to solve problems and think about the outcomes of a code they put together. Many students love the idea of learning something that can create a video game they love to play or an app they use on their device. It is engaging and exciting for them to do something outside the box.
How did our kids do?
A few students in first grade coded in PRIDE and loved it. Two third grade classes participated and the outcome was very positive. There were some students that struggled in the general classroom, that thrived when they were able to do this. Other students praised them and they got to feel on top of the world for an hour of their day. A large portion of the 7th and 8th grade also coded. It was amazing to watch and listen to them. Some students spoke with me about being interested in pursuing degrees and careers in computer science. Other students had never done this before and after the hour was up, they asked if they could participate when they went home. A freshmen English class took part, and although at first they weren't sure about it, by the end many of them were excited to print their certificates and actually ended up enjoying it.
In January, look for a presentation that includes feedback from students, teachers, and parents. I can't wait to share their words with you! And yes, I have had parents stop and comment about how excited their kids were when they came home. Just a little food for thought!
Sneak Peek at Hallsville's Hour of Code
Fifth grade teacher in a 1:1 iPad classroom, sharing my journey with technology in the classroom