I teach computer science to private students, and to the middle school at St. Perpetua School (Lafayette, CA), and in the Athenian School’s (Danville, CA) after-school program. Today was my first day of the school year at St. Perpetua, where I spend about 45 minutes once a week with each of the grades 6–8.

Since I only see the students once a week, I am selecting from and modifying the official curriculum.

Here is our first lesson.

First I played U.C. Berkeley Computer Science Professor Dan Garcia’s intro video, and most all of the students were engaged and interested. Dan is charismatic, so that’s no surprise. (Later a student asked me, “How did you get almost 2,000 YouTube subscribers?” Without missing a beat, I said, “Determination, grit, and a growth mindset.” We both smiled [because these traits were encouraged in the intro video].)

I explained our new segment, Computers in the News, and demonstrated using articles from ACM Technews.

I guided them through what I called “Lab 1”, my much simplified version of Say Hello to Snap!, which was to make a very simple personalized greet reporter block. This took about 15 minutes.

Then we moved to “Lab 2”, which is my simplified adaptation of the official Unit 1 Lab 2. I felt—and feel even more strongly now (and have been heard)—that the unmodified exercise is too complicated (mostly because of all the inputs). My plan was to have the students do this Lab 2 on their own, but as one of my fellow BJC middle school teachers commented this summer in our training, “They’re not gonna read.” Many students came to me saying “I’m done”, but they hadn’t dragged the brown “random feeling/action/etc” blocks into the inputs to the story block, so I knew they were not.

I really like the looks of the official Unit 1 Lab 2 page, with all the colorful and interesting graphical elements. They help make it clear what the student is to do. My simplified version is deployed in a static web site so adapting the page was difficult. Perhaps I should set up a clone of whatever mechanism is serving the pages so I can simply customize the HTML, rather than copying the text of the page and pasting it into markdown, losing all the neat graphics and layout.

Eventually, most of the grade 8 and 6 students finished both labs. Grade 7 took longer with Lab 1 so we got no further.

I think we’re off to a great start!