Piloting after school clubs to ignite interest in Computer Science

January 15, 2014

Posted by JamieSue Goodman, Program Lead, CS First

In July, Google launched a new pilot program, CS First, located in our South Carolina data center, to ignite interest in computer science (CS) for K-12 students, especially underrepresented minorities and girls.

Working collaboratively with South Carolina Lowcountry school systems and teachers, we are creating an after-school program to achieve the following goals for students:
  • Have a positive attitude toward CS, have no fear of computers, and have the confidence and curiosity to jump into a new computing experience
  • Understand that coding is used in a diverse set of jobs/hobbies
  • Are willing to persevere and have a debugging mindset
  • Collaborate - coding is social!
  • Learn and use basic coding concepts such as object creation, conditionals, variables, loops, and input/output
With these goals in mind, we began pilot programs in Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester counties, exposing students, with a focus on underrepresented minorities and girls, to the most promising existing content and tools. We then observed the clubs, collected survey data and iterated to improve the content and tools that worked best.

To date, CS First has run 31 after-school programs for 4th-12th grades, reaching more than 450 students. Of those students, 53% were girls, and 66% qualify for free or reduced lunch. Each after-school program lasted four weeks and consisted of eight 60-90 minute lessons using a variety of tools such as App Inventor, Scratch, Blockly, Python in Codacademy, Scheme in Bootstrap, as well as various physical gadgets like Finch Robots, Little Bits, Sphero and Raspberry Pi.

The Google Computer Science Teaching Fellows led the CS First after-school clubs and studied student engagement and preferences. The following major findings are helping to shape our programs as we iterate:
  • Students were most engaged when they had a creative outlet or where there was a big "wow-factor". They were less engaged with tools that were strongly scaffolded for learning and did not result in a creative result. In this initial set of pilots, students were most engaged with Scratch and App Inventor.
  • Club culture is as important as the tool choice for engagement levels and therefore we continue to intentionally create a social club environment.
  • Scaffolding and forward momentum are especially important in creative design-oriented tools. Students sometimes became distracted by the design aspects of Scratch and would often not code unless club structure included accountability.
We are collecting qualitative observations about CS First, as well as surveying our students and teacher sponsors. Our November programs had the following survey results (sample size of 73 students):
  • "I can create things with computer science": Students agreed with this statement 25% more after the program.
  • "If I get stuck on a computer problem, I know how I might fix it": An increase of 22% after the program.
  • "Do you like programming?": The number of “yes” responses increased 29%.
  • "Do you think computer science is cool?" The number of “yes” responses increased 26%.
  • "I don't really understand computer science": Students agreed with this statement 34% less after the program.
In November, we began working with 4 non-teacher technologists to understand the challenges of scaling through volunteers. In our January programs, we will pilot with 10 community members leading the clubs in partnership with local school districts. The outcome will be a polished kit of tested materials which teachers and volunteers can use to lead an after-school CS First club with students. The kit is designed so that a teacher with little CS experience or a technologist with little teaching experience will be able to implement it with a group of 10-20 students. The ultimate goal of CS First is to provide proven teaching materials, screencasts, and curricula for after-school programs that will ignite the interest and confidence of underrepresented minorities and girls in CS and to scale these programs through a network of teacher sponsors, volunteers and national organizations.