Skip to main content

Setting up our Unschooling Google CS First Class

The gang—7 y.o. No. 1, 5 y.o. No. 2, and 3 y.o. No. 3—and I received our materials for our CSFirst computer club from Google in the mail last week!  Google had indicated it might take as many as three weeks for the materials to arrive, but I suppose since we’re only 40 miles or so from Google headquarters, the materials arrived in a few days.  If you haven’t heard of CSFirst yet, it’s a program from Google to teach kids how to program.

We’re trying out the Music and Sound theme.  With a group of kids, some of whom aren’t reading yet, this seemed the better choice for us.  I’m hoping the outcome of the programming activities will be aural output each member of the gang can appreciate on their own.  Also, one of the activities is a dance party.  Everyone in the gang loves a good dance party as evidenced by the number of times we’ve watched Xanadu in the last seven years.

When it arrived last week, we dug through our box of materials.  There was a flyer for building interest in the club—since the primary members were standing beside me, we didn’t bother posting it.  (Note: We’re not an isolationist programming club though, so we’re working on getting more of our homeschooling buddies into the group as we go.)  There were also stacks of ‘passports’ and sheets of stickers.  It wasn’t immediately obvious what to do with everything, so we (I) put off further activities until this week, when there was more time to check everything out.

As I was hoping, and as you might have expected, the bulk of the material for the class is on the CSFirst web site.  The material is, in some senses, very complete.  There are literally scripts for each activity done by the class.  As an unschooling dad, the scripts are kinda spooky to me, (e.g. ‘raise a hand (the CS First silent signal) to get member attention’), but at the same time, I can see where they’d be handy.

While the scripts are perhaps useful to find out what to say, I found them less useful in deciphering what to do.  (I’m guessing that may have more to do with my reading and learning styles than anything else.)  This brings us to getting kids setup to use the class.  I wanted to try out the process before I launched the gang into it, and it turned out that it was good that I did.  The script makes a key assumption that you, (as the teacher/facilitator), are working on an entirely different computer than the students.  I wasn’t.  Consequently, every time I tried accessing the link for student sign-up, I wound up back in my own account.  I finally figured out what was going on by searching for the help pages for CSFirst.  I have a feeling these pages are going to be key to our success here.

It turned out that to sign-in as a student, I first needed to logout as the teacher.  Makes sense in retrospect.  It would have made sense as well if I’d sat down at a different computer.

I mentioned our classroom—if one could use that word for our living room—style is different than that employed by most public schools, so rather than raising my hand for silence, I signed-in my first student at 6 this morning just after I heard the padding of small feet behind me and a little voice saying, “What are you doing Daddy?”

It was 3 year-old No. 3.  I explained that we were going to work on a class to program computers, and asked her if she’d like to set up her account.


Three is just learning her letters, so I had to help a bit on what turned out to be a rather snazzy bit of unintentional letter practice, (remember we’re unschoolers).  I helped Three read the setup screens, telling her what each word said including the words on the buttons, and asked her to click on the blue button in each step.  When she had to enter the club code, I read the letters and numbers to her and then helped when she didn’t know a letter, or couldn’t find it on the keyboard.  I was kinda surprised at the letters and numbers she’s already picked up.  It was also cool to see her readily popping back to keys she’d already learned for characters that repeated within the club code.  We read through each of the letters and numbers in Three’s new username and password together as I wrote them into her CSFirst Passport.  And that’s it.  That was our stopping point for the day.  (Yeah, we’re not using the assigned time-table from the scripts.  Blahblahblah, freedom of homeschooling, blahblahbalh etc.)

Three was delighted with the whole process!  As my partner entered the living room collecting things for work, Three shouted out, “Mom!  I’m a student!”

About 20 minutes later, I heard a small ruckus coming from outside the bathroom door.  On my arrival back in the living room I found Two snuggled into his blanket on the couch making a sad face .

“What’s wrong buddy?”

Two huffed out, “You didn’t tell me we had to get up in the middle of the night to sign up for class!  I was asleep!  I would have gotten up if you’d told us!”

It turns out Three had happily announced to Two that she was all signed up.  Two thought he’d missed out on the whole thing.

“Well, we can sign you up now, OK?”

Sniffling, “OK.”

“And you know where One is?”



Small grin.

And so it was that after a small kerfluffle our second member recorded his username and password (with my help), as well as his name, (with none of my help), into his passport.  Oh!  Two also learned a cool new trick.  If you don’t happen to know all your numbers, but you do know how to count, you can enter the correct number on a form by going to ‘1’ on the keyboard, and then counting across from there to the number you need!

A bit later One emerged.  I sat her down at the login screen, asked her to follow the instructions, and a few minutes later she was done.  About ten minutes after that I heard, “The dance party sounds like a lot of fun!”

“How’d you know about the dance party?”

“I read my passport!  All the assignments are in there!”

Reading has its perks :)

I’ll keep you posted on the rest of our adventures with CSFirst.  Have you tried it?  I’d love to hear about about your experiences!


Popular posts from this blog

Cool Math Tricks: Deriving the Divergence, (Del or Nabla) into New (Cylindrical) Coordinate Systems

The following is a pretty lengthy procedure, but converting the divergence, (nabla, del) operator between coordinate systems comes up pretty often. While there are tables for converting between common coordinate systems, there seem to be fewer explanations of the procedure for deriving the conversion, so here goes!

What do we actually want?

To convert the Cartesian nabla

to the nabla for another coordinate system, say… cylindrical coordinates.

What we’ll need:

1. The Cartesian Nabla:

2. A set of equations relating the Cartesian coordinates to cylindrical coordinates:

3. A set of equations relating the Cartesian basis vectors to the basis vectors of the new coordinate system:

How to do it:

Use the chain rule for differentiation to convert the derivatives with respect to the Cartesian variables to derivatives with respect to the cylindrical variables.

The chain rule can be used to convert a differential operator in terms of one variable into a series of differential operators in terms of othe…

The Valentine's Day Magnetic Monopole

There's an assymetry to the form of the two Maxwell's equations shown in picture 1.  While the divergence of the electric field is proportional to the electric charge density at a given point, the divergence of the magnetic field is equal to zero.  This is typically explained in the following way.  While we know that electrons, the fundamental electric charge carriers exist, evidence seems to indicate that magnetic monopoles, the particles that would carry magnetic 'charge', either don't exist, or, the energies required to create them are so high that they are exceedingly rare.  That doesn't stop us from looking for them though!

Keeping with the theme of Fairbank[1] and his academic progeny over the semester break, today's post is about the discovery of a magnetic monopole candidate event by one of the Fairbank's graduate students, Blas Cabrera[2].  Cabrera was utilizing a loop type of magnetic monopole detector.  Its operation is in concept very simpl…

Kids R Kapable

Just a little note to concerned ‘grownups’ everywhere.  If you look at a kid—and I mean really look—I don’t mean notice a person shorter than you, I mean make eye contact, notice their facial expression and observe their body language—If you look at a kid, don’t assume they need your help unless they’re obviously distressed, or ask for it.  You might think this is difficult call to make.  You might think, not having kids of your own, that you’re unable to make this determination.  You are.  You do in fact, already have the skills even if you’ve never been around kids  It’s a remarkably simple call to make, just use the exact same criteria you would for determining if an adult was in distress.  Because, guess what, kids and adults are in fact the same species of animal and communicate in the same way.  Honest.  If someone—adult or child—doesn’t need your help, feel free to say hello, give a wave, give a smile, but don’t—do not—try to force help on anyone that doesn’t want or need it.