CSFirst, New and Improved, But Still…

When Google’s CSFirst curriculum initially debuted a few years back, it provided a simple launch pad and curriculum for classrooms to use and learn about Scratch programming. Basic lessons walked students through engaging videos on various coding topics as students practiced what they saw on video in their own Scratch project.

The main frustration with using CSFirst at the time was an account setup process that created unique but complicated usernames and still required students to log into Scratch after logging into CSFirst. Thankfully, the system provided a way to download the student accounts and passwords in list format, which I found myself referring to each time we had class. I ultimately cut the page into strips and handed these out to students for safekeeping. Not ideal, but it worked.

This past January, Google launched a new and improved version of CSFirst. Now, the system fully integrates with Google Classroom and Google logins, so students can use their Google accounts to launch CSFirst. Scratch accounts are automatically created based on these credentials, and the Scratch environment is now embedded directly into CSFirst.

With Google Classroom integration, student lists are automatically imported into the CSFirst class, and any co-teachers can join alongside the initiating teacher. Student progress is visible in the teacher Dashboard in both individual and whole class formats.

Admin panel for teachers to see student progress by class or individually.
Through the teacher account, student progress can be viewed in both whole group and individual formats.

As students work through the video lessons on one browser tab, they open a second tab for the Scratch environment. Scratch will remain inside CSFirst, as seen below. If you are a Scratch user, you will notice that the platform’s top portion looks slightly different. Now, rather than using Studios, there is a button to Share to Google Classroom. Unfortunately this action submits the project as viewable by the teacher, so classmates cannot see it. And it is in View Only mode. And “My Projects” functions like “My Stuff” in the original version.

Scratch programming interface, now built inside of CSFirst
The Scratch interface is now built into the CSFirst platform.

Students aren’t limited to the lessons offered by CSFirst, as they can create a brand new project from within their Dashboard using the “+ Create Project” button.

Room for Growth

As of this writing, I have found a few quirky inconsistencies with the current Scratch version in CSFirst. For one, there doesn’t appear to be a way to record sound yet. Here is the side-by-side comparison of CSFirst Scratch and the original Scratch.

Secondly, it seems that not all of the Extensions have been ported over. Currently, we only have access to the Music and Pen Extensions.

Limited access to Scratch Extensions

Thirdly, there isn’t currently a method within CSFirst to share projects among students, or allow them to see existing projects for remix. The solution at the moment is to create a personal Scratch account and share there. Maybe this design is intentional, to provide a closed environment and encourage original projects.

I am hopeful these issues will be resolved in a future update. Having the ability to record sound and to interface with external devices, like a micro:bit or Hummingbird board, are essential for the skills covered in the classes I teach. And in my experience, one of Scratch’s most powerful features is the community that is baked into it and the inherent sharing that results.

This new version is an improvement, and over time it should only get better. The seamless login process from Google Classroom makes signing up a breeze. The lessons are fun, varied, and open-ended.

If you’ve experienced any challenges using the new CSFirst, I’d love to hear about it. Please leave comments below.

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