Madison students participate in computer sciences program

Google’s CS First shows students opportunities in high-paying field

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published February 10, 2016

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MADISON HEIGHTS — We live in a tech-savvy world, with many opportunities for those who are familiar with computers. Many kids today are already connected, watching user-created content on YouTube, social networking with each other on Facebook and Twitter, and playing games like Minecraft on their video game consoles and mobile devices.

These products and services are made possible by people in the computer science field. And now students at Madison Elementary and Wilkinson Middle School in the Madison school district are being introduced to the field by way of CS First.

CS First is a free online curriculum created by Google and provided in-state by the Michigan Film and Digital Media Office. CS First is available to schools around the nation, but Michigan is the first state where a state agency is the primary provider.

Only a handful of schools are enrolled so far. The idea is to leverage student interest in things they already enjoy digitally — games, graphic design, art, animation, music, social media and more — and show them the disciplines needed to attain lucrative jobs in those fields.

It serves as an introduction to coding and other processes involved in making something spring to life on a computer screen. According to Lisa Whiteside, the K-5 technology teacher at Madison Elementary, all 136 fourth-graders and fifth-graders are participating in the program.

And they’re already making amazing things happen.

“Students have learned how to program dialogue between (2-D) sprites, which are the characters in the story, and how to animate a backdrop,” Whiteside said. “The animated backdrop students recently completed a rainy day with lightning strikes. Between adding dialogue and animated backdrops, they are learning how to code blocks to make their program run through sequencing and looping their events.

“This has been teaching them problem-solving skills, and even math skills such as having to coordinate the rain to fall at a certain point on the X and Y axes,” she explained. “In coming weeks, they will be learning how to develop their sprites’ actions and thoughts, make their animated story interactive with the audience, and finally, create an animated story that represents a personal narrative.”

She said most of the students understood the programs right away, while others needed a bit more time. But nearly all of them are moving along smoothly after a week’s adjustment. CS First clearly illustrates each task with video tutorials, and headsets donated by Google allow for individualized one-on-one instruction through the website.

“Students enjoy doing this program and get excited when they use their problem-solving skills to fix something that was not working before,” Whiteside said. “During class, I hear a lot of cheering and ‘Yes, I did it!’ I have even had students who were skeptical come and tell me how much they love the program now, and even ask if they can work on it at home. It’s nice to see students engaged in their work and proud of what they are making.”

At the end of January, the fifth-grade students at Madison Elementary went on a field trip to Lansing where they participated in the official statewide launch of CS First. Madison Superintendent Randy Speck said it was an inspirational experience for the kids.

“They got to see even more applications with computer science, like virtual reality,” Speck said. “It really expanded their knowledge of the different fields computer science can be used in.”

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