Coding Like a Kid

Lessons Learned from a
Google CS First Club


Google and my students call me a Guru.

I’m not fluent in Java, C+, or Ruby. I haven’t built anything magnificent on a computer. I’ve experimented with Codecadamy and code.org.

Essentially, I’m a hardcore computing rookie. My lack of technical knowledge means little, though. Just check out my Google CS First profile:

While acknowledging my technical shortcomings, I am dedicated to providing my students with opportunities that open future pathways. So I decided to start an after-school coding club back in September.

I chose Google CS First for its apparent ease of use and adaptability — it hasn’t let us down. 79 of my students have spent an approximate total of 551 hours coding together to date. It’s been easy for me as a rookie to host, and fun for the kids to participate in something amazing. We’ve loved every second.

Several lessons emerged from our journey thus far.

While these lessons definitely apply to coding and kids, they can be carried over to other segments of life. I’d like to share 3 that stand out.

Imagine

Imagination feels left out in a world of rigorous x’s and o’s. At times adults create formulas for success in life, then impose said formulas on kids. What is a kid to do?

Let it be said that imagination is fundamental. Creation beats consumption many times, and creation rarely takes place without imagination.

In class, we talked about Elon Musk this year, a true example of imagination. Next, it was my kids’ turn to imagine as they coded amazing projects in Scratch during our club sessions. I watched the natural flow of imagination fill up our computer lab. It was remarkable.

Coding provides kids with a base from which to explore. Once an objective is complete, students nearly always question what else they can do to modify it, tinker with the rules, or completely bend things upside down.

Like Elon Musk and my students, we must constantly imagine great and wonderful things. We can follow plans, yes, but we should never stop questioning, tinkering, or bending life upside down to find a new angle.

Always imagine:

Collaborate

One of the genius decisions made by someone at CS First was to design the club as a social event. Students collaborate, share, and work together to create amazing designs and products. There’s a constant hum and chatter about the room.

As a teacher, I understand that students working together often produce superior results than if left to their own islands. Yet, I have never seen such tangible effects of working together so quickly.

“You can find that song over here!”
“We clicked here first, then there. Look at what we made!”
“The add-ons are awesome!”
“Check out our sprites, oh man!”

Teams beat individuals. I’m generally one that might want to isolate and work alone, but watching the speed of learning take place in a collaborative atmosphere is inspiring.

An experience of my own taught me that collaboration is just as key for adults as for kids.

In November I signed up for Startup Weekend, an event where people meet up, work together, and launch a startup in 54 hours. Upon arrival, I felt humbled by the experience and talent of my group. The challenge seemed intimidating, but we got to work.

By trusting and relying on each other we won the weekend’s competition portion and built lasting bonds of friendship.

Working together, especially in a group of diverse individuals, produces superior results. If kids can learn this important lesson today, I’m hoping for a brighter future tomorrow. Collaborate.

Go Beyond Z

In one of Dr. Seuss’ classic books we learn about going beyond the letter Z. In other words, do more than the norm, go above and beyond. In our CS First club, I see this every day, what a thrill.

For example, I have some students that take their coding so seriously they set goals for themselves to work on new games and challenges over different holiday breaks.

Here’s an example of a two-player video game one student created during his own free time. Each bot needs to collect as many falling tokens as possible to win. Below is the code this student created just for the blue tokens:

Clearly this student goes beyond Z. We didn’t learn about this type of coding anywhere in our club. We did learn to always push the limits and boundaries, though. Students are frequently challenged to “add-on” to their projects and see what else they can come up with whenever faced with a moment of spare time.

By going beyond Z whenever possible, students craft a valuable habit for the future. The above student has now moved on to building mobile apps and toying with web design. There is no end of the alphabet for people like him.

When a work project is on the line, do we prefer to be surrounded by those who know just enough, or those who know more than enough?

Go beyond Z in order to find great success.


To conclude, I’d fully recommend everyone volunteering to host or be a Guru at a Google CS First club wherever you live. Kids love the club, and more kids need the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of coding in their life.

If you’ve ever worked with kids you know the adults often do most of the learning, so that’s all the more reason to sign up!