Google After-School Program Encourages Study of Computer Science

To help youngsters find good, lucrative jobs in the labor market and to provide more skilled IT workers, Google has been piloting a program aimed at encouraging K-12 students to study computing.

To help get K-12 students interested in studying computer science in college, Google has been organizing after-school programs to encourage young students to dive into technology and come out with useful skills and lucrative careers.

Through a pilot program launched in July 2013 at Google's South Carolina data center, Google has been working with students to encourage their interest and show them some of the cool things they can do in the field of computer science, according to a Jan. 15 post by JamieSue Goodman, the program lead of the nascent CS First program. The computer science pilot program is especially aimed at gaining the interest of minorities and girls, who are typically underrepresented in the field of computer science.

The program has been under way as a partnership of Google and the South Carolina Lowcountry school systems and teachers, according to Goodman's post. The goals of the program include helping students develop a positive attitude toward CS and computers, as well as develop the confidence and curiosity to jump into a new computing experience, she wrote. Also integral in the program is showing the students that coding is used in a diverse set of jobs and hobbies and that to do the work, they have to have a "debugging mindset."

"With these goals in mind, we began pilot programs in Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester counties [in South Carolina], exposing students, with a focus on underrepresented minorities and girls, to the most promising existing content and tools," wrote Goodman. "We then observed the clubs, collected survey data and iterated to improve the content and tools that worked best."

So far, CS First has conducted 31 after-school programs for 4th through 12th grades, with more than 450 students participating. "Of those students, 53 percent were girls, and 66 percent qualify for free or reduced [price] lunch. The students participated in eight 60-90 minute lessons over four weeks 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," wrote Goodman.

The first CS First after-school clubs were led by the Google Computer Science Teaching Fellows, she wrote.

"Students were most engaged when they had a creative outlet or where there was a big 'wow-factor'" to their activities, she wrote. "They were less engaged with tools that were strongly scaffolded for learning and did not result in a creative result."

The pilots are continuing to gather information on how to improve the programs and make them even more inviting for students, according to Goodman.

"In November, we began working with 4 non-teacher technologists to understand the challenges of scaling through volunteers," she wrote. "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 kits will be used by teachers who have little CS experience or a technologist with little teaching experience so that they can eventually introduce CS to a group of 10 to 20 students in other schools, wrote Goodman. "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."

Google is active in other programs with K-12 students as well as with students in higher education.

In October 2013, Google again launched its annual Google Code-in, which is for 13- to 17-year-old students, and its Summer of Code 2014 program, which is for college students. The fourth annual Google Code-in 2013 contest brought teen students together with open-source projects. Since 2005, Google has worked with over 1,200 students from 71 nations so far through the Code-in programs. The Code-ins run for seven weeks, during which competing students work with 10 selected open-source projects on a variety of tasks.

Applications for the Summer of Code 2014 program will open in March 2014. The Summer of Code, which invites college students to learn about the world of open-source code development, began in 2005 and will celebrate its 10th year in 2014. So far, the program has involved some 8,500 college and university students from more than 100 countries, who have created more than 50 million lines of code since the program's start.