The gym of the PS 375 Jackie Robinson School was transformed into an adventure on the high seas for a few hours last week, thanks to the imaginations of hundreds of students and computer science education software brought by Google.
Called the CS First Roadshow, the educational presentation was developed by the corporate tech giant almost two years ago for elementary and middle schoolers, and visited one school in each of the other four boroughs before coming to Prospect Lefferts Gardens, which was chosen at the suggestion of Congressmember Yvette Clarke (D-Crown Heights, Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood, Sheepshead Bay).
“Computer science will be in everything in the future of what we do, from technology and food to education and transportation — it is at the center of improving our lives for the better,” Clarke told the assembled students. “I hope you take these important skills and go beyond because everything is possible!”
Building those computer science skills, though, comes one step — or one sprite, script and color-coded block — at a time, using a basic, kid- (and adult-) friendly programming language called Scratch. Each student was loaned a practice laptop and Google employees showed them how to select characters and colored blocks on the screen to control movement, sound, and more in a simulated boat ride. The kids picked it up quickly, and then got to create their own stories for the adventure.
Esther Powell, a fifth grade English teacher at PS 375, expressed excitement and pride in her students for their enthusiasm.
“Another teacher told me she doesn’t see the importance, but I do! We’re in the process of narrative writing, working on story beginnings, so to see them with the boat and characters is great,” Powell said. “If my children get the hang of it — and if I get the hang of it! — we’ll use it in the classroom. We have a technology lab, too, so there’s access to computers.”
Practicing with the CS First Roadshow and Scratch program is made easier by the fact that it’s available for free online at CS-First.com.
Explaining why Google started the educational program and released it for free, Google spokesperson Alex Sanchez said it’s important for “kids to not just be consumers, but be creators of tech.”
“We want to get kids to realize this is something they can do and how it’s under everything we do,” Sanchez said, adding that the United States benefits, as well, since “there are over 500,000 computer science jobs unfilled and it’s going to double by 2020. So it’s critical to competitiveness in the U.S. to get kids prepared.”
Science and STEM programs are nothing new to schools, but have been gaining steam in recent years, with more marketing, funding, and support from both private and public institutions, particularly in places like Brooklyn, where many tech companies have been making their home.
“I started as a STEM science fair student, but with volcanoes and baking soda. Now it’s technology,” said Clarke. “For a multinational corporation to come leaves an impression on them. I better get my game up! Things are so far advanced but the concepts are simple enough for the kids to understand and pique their curiosity. I am excited to see where that curiosity takes them.”