CS First Clubs: A Success Story from the Lab

Did you hear about the first artificial intelligence (AI) news anchor in China? It can mimic facial expressions, has a voice with intonation of a human anchor, and can broadcast the news all day long. It doesn’t collect an income or take breaks. In fact, it will probably generate income for the company. As an educator, what struck me when I heard this news was one less career opportunity for our students. Automation like this is increasing, along with the demands in the job market, so how are we preparing our students for this inevitable change? Well, let me share a tool that can be easily integrated into your curriculum. It’s called CS First Clubs!

What is it?

Google CS First Clubs are theme-oriented activities that teach computer science skills, using MIT’s block-based coding platform, Scratch. It is set up as a blended learning platform that combines two types of instruction — integrating online digital media with the traditional classroom methods.

Image found on Google

It can also address the needs of individual students, as it offers closed captioning, a transcript of each video, and different speeds of video play. Scratch can also be programmed in more than 50 languages to support our English language learners. (I had my Spanish learners working with Spanish blocks on Scratch).

What are the benefits of CS First Clubs?

First and foremost, it’s absolutely free! There are 8 themes to choose from that range from easy to advanced and focus on Storytelling, Music & Sound, Fashion & Design, Friends, Art, Social Media, Game Design, and Animation. It is also versatile and can run as an after-school club, a semester long program, or can be integrated directly into the curriculum. The blue box arrives within two to three weeks and contains a facilitator’s solution book, passports, and badges around that theme. My students love receiving their badges after each activity; it is a wonderful way to celebrate their work.

How does the program promote creative thinking?

Using CS First Clubs for the past three years, I’ve noticed how the hands-on experience of the program ignites creative thinking. Students are using the Scratch templates to remix a project — writing and adding code as necessary. Along the way, they test their program, debug problems, re-run their program, and lastly add more code until they’re content with their creation.

Many of my students end up collaborating with each other and asking essential questions. How can I make this program better? What changes can I add or how can I redesign what I just created?

Their classmates chime in and this environment exudes acceptance that mistakes are absolutely okay and that their opinions matter!

I’m also extra thrilled when they ask if they can jot down their username and password so they can continue working at home. How exciting!

Instead of a boring lecture, the digital content provided by CS First Clubs provides a visual of fundamental computer science skills.

Ms. Wong and her students.

The students are experiencing algorithms, loops, conditionals, events, procedures, etc. firsthand. Then they can take these ideas and create their own projects. After spending a semester with my third graders on the Storytelling theme, we integrated science concepts on heat, light, and sound. One group of girls planned how to teach someone about light, created an animation, and added a quiz to keep their audience engaged. The ideas are unlimited!

What the Students Are Saying

For me, it’s been a truly rewarding experience. 95% of my students experience computer science for the first time in my lab and I’m grateful to initiate their journey. Students arrive in the lab enthusiastic and excited about the day’s activity. One of my fifth graders in the Game Design club said, “The best part about being a computer scientist is you don’t have to really have boundaries on what you can do with your project. You can have a good time programming your sprite to do things that you want [it] to do.”

Scratch is a block-based coding program that can be used across across grade levels.

Another student expressed, “I think that the best part about being a computer scientist is that you can learn the tricks and secrets behind programs and can even create your very own! You can also solve problems you might face throughout your computer and can find simple solutions!”

Lastly, another student said, “The best part about being a computer scientist is that you can be creative and express yourself! You can create games and code.” Receiving such positive feedback from my students motivates me to continue offering the program. Hopefully, this creative experience will resonate with them and encourage more problem solvers and computational thinkers in the future.

Interested in trying it out?

  1. Visit the website and select a club. My favorites are Music & Sound and Game Design!
  2. Order a box for each class. If you have more than 30 students per class and you don’t have a printer, go ahead and create another class to order an additional box. You can actually get started before the material comes if you want to dive right in! All the digital materials are accessible in the dashboard.
  3. After your class joins with a club code, you can easily print your class roster under the dashboard. Highlight all the usernames and passwords, then print your selection. Or if you’d like, the students can just jot their usernames and passwords on an index card.
  4. If you want to be one step ahead of your students, watch the videos and create one on your own. You’ll have so much fun that time flies.
  5. Have fun and don’t give up!

Written by Cindy Wong, @techwithcindy


About the Author:
Cindy is an elementary tech teacher at P.S.41 The Crocheron School in Bayside, Queens. She has taught for over eleven years and is a tech enthusiast who loves testing out new tools with her students and in her computer lab. Along with multiple #edtech certifications, she is a Community Builder Fellow for CS4All, one of the Chancellor’s Equity and Excellence Initiatives. She works to spread the culture of computer science to teachers, parents, and students throughout Queens.

Originally published at educatellc.com on November 21, 2018.