Author Archives: Miriam

An experiment built with 3D Google Maps imagery, inspired by kids

At Google, we’re always excited to see how technology can help inspire new ways to learn – especially to learn about the world. For years, Google Maps has been adding 3D imagery from all over the world – New York City, the Grand Canyon, Mont Blanc, and more. A few of us started wondering if this 3D imagery could make learning about the world a bit more fun for kids. We started playing with quick prototypes, and even brainstormed with our own kids to get inspired by their sense of curiosity.

Our idea became a new, experimental app called Verne: The Himalayas. It invites you to explore the Himalayas as a 500 foot Yeti named Verne. You can run up Mt. Everest, chase yaks, discover bits of information, ride a jetpack, play Himalayan instruments, and more.

We're excited to share it today as a fun way for anyone to take a summer trip to the tallest mountain range in the world. Get the app for your Android device from the Play Store, or learn more here.

Computational Thinking for All Students

(Cross-posted on The Huffington Post and the Google Research blog.)

Last year, I wrote about the importance of teaching computational thinking to all K-12 students. Given the growing use of computing, algorithms and data in all fields from the humanities to medicine to business, it’s becoming increasingly important for students to understand the basics of computer science (CS). One lesson we have learned through Google’s CS education outreach efforts is that these skills can be accessible to all students, if we introduce them early in K-5. These are truly 21st century skills which can, over time, produce a workforce ready for a technology-enabled and driven economy.

How can teachers start introducing computational thinking in early school curriculum? It is already present in many topic areas - algorithms for solving math problems, for example. However, what is often missing in current examples of computational thinking is the explicit connection between what students are learning and its application in computing. For example, once a student has mastered adding multi-digit numbers, the following algorithm could be presented:
  1. Add together the digits in the ones place. If the result is < 10, it becomes the ones digit of the answer. If it's >= 10 or greater, the ones digit of the result becomes the ones digit of the answer, and you add 1 to the next column.
  2. Add together the digits in the tens place, plus the 1 carried over from the ones place, if necessary. If the answer < than 10, it becomes the tens digit of the answer; if it's >= 10, the ones digit becomes the tens digit of the answer and 1 is added to the next column.
  3. Repeat this process for any additional columns until they are all added.

This allows a teacher to present the concept of an algorithm and its use in computing, as well as the most important elements of any computer program: conditional branching (“if the result is less than 10…”) and iteration (“repeat this process…”). Going a step farther, a teacher translating the algorithm into a running program can have a compelling effect. When something that students have used to solve an instance of a problem can automatically solve all instances of the that problem, it’s quite a powerful moment for them even if they don’t do the coding themselves.

Google has created an online course for K-12 teachers to learn about computational thinking and how to make these explicit connections for their students. We also have a large repository of lessons, explorations and programs to support teachers and students. Our videos illustrate real-world examples of the application of computational thinking in Google’s products and services, and we have compiled a set of great resources showing how to integrate computational thinking into existing curriculum. We also recently announced Project Bloks to engage younger children in computational thinking. Finally,, for whom Google is a primary sponsor, has curriculum and materials for K-5 teachers and students.

We feel that computational thinking is a core skill for all students. If we can make these explicit connections for students, they will see how the devices and apps that they use everyday are powered by algorithms and programs. They will learn the importance of data in making decisions. They will learn skills that will prepare them for a workforce that will be doing vastly different tasks than the workforce of today. We owe it to all students to give them every possible opportunity to be productive and successful members of society.

Accelerating CS Education in Local Communities: The Stats by State

Nationally, 9 in 10 parents want their children to learn computer science (CS) but only a quarter of principals report offering CS with programming in their schools. Ever wonder what the stats look like in your state? Today, we're excited to release new reports that take a closer look for 11 states. These reports are part of our comprehensive multi-year research study with Gallup Inc. and cover the most populous U.S. states (CA, FL, GA, IL, MI, NC, NY, OH, PA, TX, and WI). For each state, we highlight insights about CS perceptions as well as challenges to providing CS education for all students, and we show how the state compares to the national average.
New reports on CS education for the most populous states as part of our comprehensive multi-year research study with Gallup Inc.
There's no silver bullet to increasing students' access and exposure to CS, but from our research, we identified four areas that we must focus on in order to move the needle. We found:

  1. The greatest challenges to offering CS included lack of qualified teachers for the subject matter and budget for teachers. 
  2.  Other school system barriers are a focus on testing requirements and low perceived institutional support, even with high support among parents and educators found in our previous report. 
  3. CS offerings at schools are limited and often serve select students. 
  4. Perceptions of what CS involves are unclear, with many principals confusing CS as basic computer literacy.

The reports provide more detail on each state’s unique challenges. Below, we share some local initiatives tackling the four key areas identified by the research.

Empowering CS teaching
Nationally, we found the #1 barrier to offering CS classes is lack of budget to hire or train teachers. At Google, we are committed to closing this gap by empowering teachers in local communities through CS4HS, a program that has funded CS teacher professional development worldwide and in over 37 states. Support from CS4HS and the National Science Foundation enabled Marquette University in Wisconsin to provide programming to double the number of CS teachers in the state. We also partner with and local leaders to expand the number of CS teachers across the U.S. In Georgia, they partnered with CEISMC at Georgia Tech as well as the Department of Education and Governor’s office to open teacher professional learning programs to the entire state. In Riverside Unified School District, the 15th largest district in California, CS First, our free program that helps anyone—a teacher, parent or volunteer—teach kids the basics of CS, began in just a couple schools and spread to the whole district, with the city embracing the program to reach its community of predominantly minority students.
Students in Riverside Unified School District in California learning CS First.
Photo credit: Marc Lyon Galang, RUSD Office of Communications
Collaboratively building support with schools
Unfortunately, teacher preparation isn’t the only challenge school systems face in implementing CS programs. Infrastructure and varied local implementation pose difficulties for schools. We support organizations like ACCESS in California, which addresses these systemic issues in CS education at a state-wide level while ensuring equity is interwoven. TASA’s Future-Ready Superintendent Network is also doing incredible work on the ground in Texas; we recently hosted them to share and brainstorm innovative ways to transform education and bring CS to their districts. And on the city level there’s been exciting engagement coming out of the Chicago Public Schools in Illinois through awareness building events with teachers, administrators and mayoral staff, and in New York City, Mayor de Blasio’s roll out of Computer Science for All has ignited support for CS education across the city.

Reaching diverse students beyond school
While these initiatives in formal education are exciting developments, none happen overnight. In order to broaden access for all students now, it’s equally important to engage in informal education. One such initiative we supported in Michigan is Hello World, a camp for middle school girls founded by high schooler Christina Li. Christina was recognized with the White House Champion of Change in Computer Science Education award and on Nickelodeon’s The HALO Effect. Our Computer Science Summer Institute (CSSI) provides opportunities for diverse students like KaMar Galloway to strengthen their CS skills and prepare them for a technical career. CSSI was instrumental in KaMar’s pursuit of CS at North Carolina State University and eventually his role on our CS First team, which aims to engage 1 million students in CS, particularly those from underrepresented groups.

Broadening perceptions and stereotypes
Lastly, we need to broaden perceptions and stereotypes of CS, which our research found are discouraging for many, especially girls and minorities. Google’s CS in Media team works with writers, producers and studios to help create more accurate and varied storylines about CS and to diversify media portrayals of computer scientists. Recently, we partnered with the Miami International Film Festival on a 4-day seminar series on gender and racial gaps in film and tech to increase awareness and brainstorm solutions. Googlers in our Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania office annually provide 60 teachers and 650 students with a real-world look into CS. In Ohio, HER Ideas in Motion aims to change stereotypes by providing female tech role models and project-based learning for girls across the state. In New York, ScriptEd brings software engineers (including Googlers!) into the classroom to teach CS and connect underserved students to internships. These volunteer engineers serve as mentors to build students’ confidence and perception of the field. Both organizations received Google’s RISE Awards for their high impact outreach.

We hope that these numerous initiatives and nonprofits will continue to drive change in communities and that the research we released today will support them by identifying potential challenges and opportunities. Stay tuned for more—we’ll be continuing our research with Gallup and this summer, we’ll be releasing two new reports focusing on demographic disparities and unconscious biases in U.S. K-12 CS education.

How Dr. King, Jr. Elementary created a culture of innovation with 20% time

Editor's note: Today’s guest author is Susan Gonzalez, district preparation teacher for grades 4-6 at Bayview Elementary School in San Pablo, California and Dr. King, Jr. Elementary School in Richmond, California. West Contra Costa Unified School District introduced a new program to give students time to explore passion projects, based on Google’s concept of 20% time. To learn more about this idea, read Kevin Brookhouser’s blog post about 20% time in schools.

Sixth grader Johntae Tolerson plays basketball every day during recess and dreams of becoming a professional basketball player, but that dream often feels disconnected from the work she does in the classroom. When her school, Dr. King, Jr. Elementary in Richmond, California, gave her 100 minutes a week to explore one of her passions in class, she researched the requirements for becoming a professional basketball player and the background of some professionals in the game.
Johntae dreams of being a professional basketball player
Johntae’s basketball project is just one result of our school encouraging students and teachers to build a culture of innovation. We wanted to engage and motivate students in new ways and give them the opportunity to take the lead. Many of our students see street violence on a regular basis, and a majority live in poverty. With those hardships on their mind, it can be difficult for them to stay fully present and motivated at school. We wanted to give them a sense of purpose and help them drive their own learning.

Last summer, Google and West Contra Costa Unified School District came together to help launch IDEO’s Teachers Guild, a creative collaborative for teachers to design solutions to the biggest challenges in education today. Teachers and district leaders from around the U.S. went on a design thinking journey to answer the question, “How might we create rituals and routines that establish a culture of innovation in our classrooms and schools?”
The Teachers Guild brings educators and partners together to tackle big challenges in education today
With the help of IDEO’s Teachers Guild and Google, we focused on how to answer this question. We were inspired by Charles Shryock, an educator in Maryland, who came up with the idea of a “sub hack” that would let students pursue passion projects. Days when teachers are absent tend to be filled with rote, “drill and kill” activities since substitute teachers have minimal time to prepare a lesson plan and lack context about what’s been going on in a given classroom. Charles set out to turn this otherwise unproductive time into opportunities for students to pursue their passions. Students come up with a project that sparks their interest and spend time on it when they have a substitute teacher.

The projects range from poetry to fashion design to researching family heritage. I’ve been so impressed by the creativity and personality students have put into their projects. Lashay chose to research her favorite sport, football, and wrote about why boys and girls don’t play football together. MarShawn wrote a poem describing how the emotions he expresses don’t always match how he feels on the inside.
Katie Von Husen, coordinator of educational technology, helps a student identify his essential question
Before rolling out this idea across the district, we tested the idea with one fifth and one sixth grade class, with a small change. Since it’s hard to predict when teachers will need a substitute, we used my class period, when students typically focus on keyboard and computer literacy skills, to trial passion projects. Students worked on their passion projects during two 50-minute class periods weekly for a 12-week period. I created a website as a resource for students to brainstorm their essential questions, get inspiration from their peers’ projects, locate graphic organizers for the research, including links to videos to fuel inspiration, ask questions, and communicate with me via the site. Having a workspace with computers for students to do research and setting aside dedicated time each week for passion projects were instrumental to our success.

Dr. King, Jr. Elementary values positivity, teamwork and support. Since introducing passion projects, I’ve seen students who weren’t always motivated come to class with big smiles and energy. Students shared their projects on a celebratory day at the end of the trial, and it was especially motivating to hear students ask when they would have a second opportunity to pursue a passion project.

We’ve seen this program inspire students like Johntae, Lashay and MarShawn to be critical thinkers and problem solvers while developing their reading and writing skills. It empowered them to take initiative in personalizing their learning, which had the result of boosting excitement about coming to school. The Teachers Guild collaborative helped our school identify how to establish a culture of innovation and better utilize substitute time for passion projects. I encourage all teachers looking to create a culture of innovation to turn underutilized time into opportunities for students to pursue their passions. It truly is a win-win!

Expeditions career tours can take kids to work, virtually

(Cross-posted on the Official Google Blog.)

Editor's note: Soledad O’Brien is a broadcast journalist and founder of Starfish Media Group. She is also CEO of the Starfish Foundation, which provides financial assistance and mentoring to help kids go to college. Recently, the Starfish Foundation launched virtual career tours using Google Expeditions, about which O’Brien joins us to talk about today. To become part of the Expeditions Pioneer beta program, sign up via this form. -Ed.

Kids dream about what they want to be when they grow up, but these dreams are often limited—built around the few professional people they know. What if children don’t know a veterinarian, an airplane pilot, a paleontologist, or someone in dozens of other careers? What if they lack access to internships or mentors? Can they ever dream big? I know from watching my own kids visit me at work, and from the scholars I mentor, that exposure to all kinds of professionals is the key to inspiring young people. When I first found out about Expeditions, I saw its potential for broadening the horizons of the student scholars we help at Starfish Foundation. I envisioned creating virtual reality Expeditions that let kids step into someone’s work day, simply by using phones and Google Cardboard viewers. So that’s what we did.
Soledad O'Brien with scholars from the Starfish Foundation.
Working with the Google Expeditions team, we created virtual reality tours that show kids the ins and out of careers they might not ever learn about otherwise. From flying an airplane to testing fossil samples, kids can see with their own eyes exactly what people do in many different scenarios. They can watch Carolyn Brown, director of surgery for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, perform a procedure on a cat. Or join Mark Norell, a paleontology professor with the American Museum of Natural History, as he examines a velociraptor specimen up close. And today, schools participating in the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program and Expeditions beta will be able to go on an Expedition of the Google Mountain View campus to see what it’s like to work at Google.
A career Expedition on American Airlines Pilot, Pam Torell. The view is from the cockpit of one of her scheduled flights.
These Expeditions reveal what professionals like about their jobs, what they studied in school, and how they apply their knowledge to their work. Regular field trips are logistically challenging, and they don’t usually focus on careers. But with Expeditions, teachers can share an experience with students right in the classroom. You can’t fit 30 students in the cockpit of a plane, but you can get a virtual reality tour of one using Expeditions. And today, on “Take Your Kids to Work Day,” there’s no better time to get creative about exposing students to different types of jobs and workplace environments.

Children won’t know what jobs are possible if they don’t know the careers exist. Rather than just telling them, teachers can actually show them. With these career Expeditions, students can travel outside the classroom walls and be exposed to more ideas, places and opportunities than ever before.

More ways for schools & organizations to manage YouTube

In August 2015 we launched YouTube Settings in Google Apps to give schools and other organizations a way to manage the YouTube experience for users logged in to their domains and on networks they manage. Today we’re happy to announce a number of new features to make these more flexible and easier to use.

Channel whitelisting 
Administrators and designated approvers can now whitelist entire channels, not just individual videos. For example, if you want to ensure that all current and future videos uploaded to your organization or school’s channel are watchable by your users, you can now simply add the entire channel to your approved list. Learn how to designate approvers.
Using YouTube settings in Google Apps for Education already gives your users access to all the videos on educational YouTube channels like Veritasium, but now your domain's video approvers can add other channels as well, like your school's YouTube channel.
More flexible options for administrators 
Administrators have new capabilities to help them manage YouTube to meet the needs of their organization.

  • Administrators can now choose between two levels of Restricted Mode restrictions -- strict or moderate -- for their logged-in users.
Admins can select between a strict and moderate level of restriction for YouTube.

  • Network managers can now use an HTTP header to enforce either strict or moderate restricted mode on managed devices. 
  •  Network managers can also use this new DNS configuration if they want to enforce moderate restricted mode on wifi networks they manage. 
  • Coming soon, logged-out users on YouTube’s mobile apps on restricted networks will also get a restricted experience. 
  • And since we know this can be tricky to set up, network managers can visit this page to ensure their network restrictions have been configured correctly.

YouTube for Schools 
In August we announced that we would no longer be maintaining YouTube for Schools (YT4S). As of July 1, 2016, YT4S will no longer be available. View the YouTube Settings in Google Apps Help Center for additional details.

More information 
Learn how to enable YouTube settings for your Google Apps domain and join the discussion in the product forum.

Computer Science Education for All Students

Computer science education is a pathway to innovation, to creativity, and to exciting career prospects. No longer considered an optional skill, CS is quickly becoming a “new basic”, foundational for learning. In order for our students to be equipped for the world of tomorrow, we need to provide them with access to computer science education today.

At Google, we believe that all students deserve these opportunities. Today we join some of America’s leading companies, governors, and educators to support an open letter to Congress, asking for funding to provide every student in every school the opportunity to learn computer science. Google has long been committed to developing programs, resources, tools and community partnerships that make computer science engaging and accessible for all students.

We are strengthening that commitment today by announcing an additional investment of $10 million towards computer science education for 2017, along with the $23.5 million that we have allocated for 2016. This funding will allow us to build more resources, scale our programs, and provide additional support to our partners, with a goal of reaching an additional 5 million students.

With Congress’ help, we can ensure that every child has access to computer science education. Please join us by signing our online petition at

Celebrating RISE Awards Winners Who Are Helping Increase Diversity in CS Education

In communities around the world there are barriers preventing many students from learning computer science (CS). Anything from Internet access to biases about the nature and identity of computer scientists can keep a student from pursuing or attempting CS. Unfortunately, the barriers posed by unconscious bias can be the most damaging because they aren’t visible. Stereotypes reinforce a very limiting message about who can succeed in the field of CS. I know this to be true from my own experience when I was told as a young girl that computers were too expensive for me to “play around with.” Sure, I may have accidentally erased the hard drive, but I also figured out how to recover the data - and I learned from that mistake.

At Google, we believe it’s critical that more students have the ability to explore, tinker and even make mistakes with computers. We know that computer science is a tool for change, and we want to see more students become creators, not just consumers, of technology. That’s why we are so excited to announce $1.4M in grants to our latest group of RISE Award winners: 34 organizations in 16 countries that are working to increase access to CS education for groups who are currently underrepresented in the field.

These organizations are engaging girls, low income communities, and other minorities to make sure that CS is available for everyone. Techbridge is integrating the power of everyday role models into its CS programs, showing that you don’t need to be a CS graduate to influence a child; Laboratoria is helping bridge the gender gap in Peru’s tech industry by running a code academy for young women from Lima’s lower-income areas. Visit our site to see the full list of RISE awardees.
Many of our RISE awardees are filling in the gaps in access to formal CS learning, and our hope in supporting them is to to make CS accessible to all students. Since 2010, we’ve supported more than 250 organizations through RISE. The program will accept applications again this summer at, and we’re calling all eligible CS nonprofits to apply!

All of Google’s CS Education Programs and Tools in One Place

(Cross-posted on the Google Research Blog)

Interest in computer science education is growing rapidly; even the President of the United States has spoken of the importance of giving every student an opportunity to learn computer science. Google has been a supportive partner in these efforts by developing high-quality learning programs, educational tools and resources to advance new approaches in computer science education. To make it easier for all students and educators to access this information, today we’re launching a CS EDU website that specifically outlines our initiatives in CS education.
The President’s call to action is grounded in economic realities coupled with a lack of access and ongoing system inequities. There is an increasing need for computer science skills in the workforce, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimating that there will be more than 1.3 million job openings in computer and mathematical occupations by 2022. The majority of these jobs will require at least a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science or in Information Technology, yet the U.S. is only producing 16,000 CS undergraduates per year.

One of the reasons there are so few computer science graduates is that too few students have the opportunity to study computer science in high school. Google’s research shows that only 25% of U.S. schools currently offer CS with programming or coding, despite the fact that 91% of parents want their children to learn computer science. In addition, schools with higher percentages of students living in households below the poverty line are even less likely to offer rigorous computer science courses.

Increasing access to computer science for all learners requires tremendous commitment from a wide range of stakeholders, and we strive to be a strong supportive partner of these efforts. Our new CS EDU website shows all the ways Google is working to address the need for improved access to high quality computer science learning in formal and informal education. Some current programs you’ll find there include:
  • CS First: providing more than 360,000 middle school students with an opportunity to create technology through free computer science clubs
  • Exploring Computational Thinking: sharing more than 130 lesson plans aligned to international standards for students aged 8 to 18
  • igniteCS: offering support and mentoring to address the retention problem in diverse student populations at the undergraduate level in more than 40 universities and counting
  • Blockly and other programming tools powering’s Hour of Code (2 million users)
  • Google’s Made with Code: movement that inspires millions of girls to learn to code and to see it as a means to pursue their dream careers (more than 10 million unique visitors)
  • ...and many more!
Computer science education is a pathway to innovation, to creativity and to exciting career opportunities, and Google believes that all students deserve these opportunities. That is why we are committed to developing programs, resources, tools and community partnerships that make computer science engaging and accessible for all students. With the launch of our CS EDU website, all of these programs are at your fingertips.

Enrollments Explode! But diversity students are leaving…

(Cross-posted on Communications of the ACM)

Editor's note: This piece by Vint and Maggie was recently published on Communications of the ACM, and we wanted to share it here as well.

I want to return to a theme I have explored before: diversity in our discipline. To do this, I have enlisted the help of my colleague at Google, Maggie Johnson. We are both concerned the computer science community is still not benefiting from the diversity it could and should have. College students are more interested than ever in studying computer science (CS). There has been an unprecedented increase in enrollment in CS undergraduate programs over the past four years. Harvard University's introductory CS course—CS50—has recently claimed the spot as the most enrolled course on campus. An astounding 50% of Harvey Mudd's graduates received engineering degrees this year. The Taulbee Study is an annual survey of U.S. Ph.D.-granting institutions conducted by the Computing Research Association. Table 1 from the 2014 Taulbee report shows the increases CS departments are experiencing.

While the overall number of students in CS courses continues to increase, the number of women and underrepresented minority students who go on to complete undergraduate degrees is, on average, not growing at all. As noted in Table 2, recent findings show that while these students may begin a CS degree program, retaining them after their first year remains a serious issue.

Why is this important? The high-tech industry is putting enormous effort into diversifying its work force. First, there is a social justice aspect given the industry demand and the high salaries associated with that demand. Second, high-tech companies recognize if they are going to create truly accessible and broadly useful products and services, a diverse workforce will best create them. Third, with the advent of an increasing amount of software in virtually every appliance ranging from cars to clocks to say nothing of smartphones, we are going to need every bit of system design and programming talent we can find to avoid collapse into a morass of incompatible, uncooperative, and generally recalcitrant devices in our homes, offices, cars, and on or in our persons. Whether we like it or not, programmable devices are much more malleable than electromechanical ones, potentially less expensive to make, and, possibly, easier to update. The Internet of Things is upon us and we need all hands on deck to assure utility, reliability, safety, security, and privacy in an increasingly online world.

What can faculty do in their own departments? There are several simple interventions that can increase student retention in CS programs. Here are some examples:

  • Consider student interests when planning assignments.
  • Provide early and consistent feedback on assignments.
  • If you have teaching assistants, ensure they are aware of the best practices you follow.
  • Emphasize that intellectual capacity—like a muscle—increases with effort. (You are not born with the ability to program!)
  • Tell students about conferences and the benefits of attending conferences for targeted support groups.
  • Women and minority students often believe they are not performing well, even when their grades tell a different story. It is important to tell women and minority students they will succeed if they stay.
  • Be open and accessible to students. You may not know who needs a sounding board, but generally letting students know you are available can make it easier for them to ask for help or guidance.
  • Consider helping to form student chapters of ACM-W and IEEE. 
  • A list of constructive steps, created by NCWIT, is here.

Faculty can make a huge difference in retaining our diversity students. As leaders in the CS field, your actions and words have a profound impact. When we lose the interest of a significant part of our diverse society, we suffer irretrievably. We cannot even calculate the opportunities we may have lost for the CS discipline. The next potential scientific breakthrough or blockbuster business might have come from someone whose interest we failed to keep. Please join us in highlighting this important opportunity and sharing these and your own solutions with your faculty.