Expanding opportunities through computer science education

One student celebrated Martin Luther King Day. Another created a music video with a nod to a Frozen princess. A third invited a cold polar bear in for holiday cheer. All these students are participants in Google CS First, a program that teaches 9- to 14-year-olds how to use computer science (CS) to express themselves and their interests. In the process, they get a window into the world of coding and learn skills that may be useful to them in the future.

We launched CS First back in 2013, and since then more than 19,000 students have participated at one of 1,300+ CS First clubs around the country, most run by teachers, parents and volunteers. All our CS First materials are free and available online, and the curriculum is designed for everyone to work at their own pace, meaning it’s accessible even to people who are new to technology. It’s also designed to tap into students’ existing interests, showing them how CS can integrate with the rest of their lives. Inspired by fashion, art, music, politics and more, students have used code to build videos, games and stories on topics big and small, from how they met their best friends to solving global hunger.

CS First participants at Sedgefield Middle School in Goose Creek, SC look over a friend’s shoulder at her project

Now, we’re partnering with Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Corporation for National and Community Service to bring CS First to even more students across the country. A new group of 20 AmeriCorps VISTA members will spend a year helping local Boys & Girls Clubs incorporate CS First and other educational programs into their slate of activities, giving more young people, especially those who might not otherwise be exposed to coding, greater access to computer science education.

Computer science is increasingly important to building a successful career, in fields varying from medicine to architecture to music. But today, there aren’t enough computer scientists to fill the available jobs—and on top of that, many populations aren’t equally represented in the field. According to code.org, only 8 percent of people who take the Advanced Placement Computer Science Exam are students of color, and only 15 percent are women. And while women earn 57 percent of all bachelor's degrees, only 12 percent of computer science degrees are awarded to women. We want to expand the pool of technologists, and make sure that all young people, regardless of background or resources, have access to high-quality CS education from an early age.

That’s what this new effort is all about. Our partners have long been committed to supporting young people and communities. Boys & Girls Clubs of America gives young people access to opportunities to help them become productive and responsible citizens during out of school time. And AmeriCorps VISTA taps the skills and passion of more than 7,000 Americans annually to support community efforts to overcome poverty. Working together, we can empower more young people with the technical know-how they need to succeed in today’s society and economy.

Join us in making CS more accessible to more kids, and apply on the AmeriCorps website by March 1. If accepted, you’ll come to the Google headquarters in Mountain View for training before spending a year in one of six cities. Best of all, your year of service will make a real difference in the lives of young people.

I-405 Express Toll Lanes Part 1: What is the problem?

By Jennifer Rash

Big changes are coming for I-405 drivers later this year. We’re building express toll lanes on southbound and northbound I-405 between Bellevue and Lynnwood to help ease traffic on one of the state’s most congested corridors. One of the biggest changes coming this fall is a proposed change in the HOV requirements from two or more people to three or more people during peak commute hours, part of the toll rate and exemption proposal by the Washington State Transportation Commission.

We’ve heard a variety of reactions from folks about this proposal, and decided to tackle some of them in a two-part blog series. In this first post, we will discuss the problem we’re facing through a series of common questions we’ve received. In the second part, we’ll talk about how express toll lanes are part of the solution for I-405.

The ABC’s of HOV Lanes
To get to the solution, we have to start at the beginning. Return with me, won’t you, to November 1992. Aladdin opened at the box office, in Nashville, the great Miley Cyrus was born, and in Olympia, WSDOT adopted its Statewide Freeway HOV Policy. It was a magical time.

The main goal of HOV lanes was (and still is) to maximize the movement of people rather than vehicles, whether that’s in a carpool, vanpool or bus.  The target is to keep traffic moving consistently at a minimum speed of 45 mph to provide a reliable trip.  By reducing the number of single-occupant vehicles on the roadway, HOV lanes also help improve traffic in the regular lanes.  For example, when 15 people opt to get out of their cars to ride the bus or carpool with a co-worker, it removes up to 15 cars from the general purpose lanes.

Animation illustrating how HOV lanes work.

In 1994, the HOV Monitoring and Evaluation Technical Report showed that the majority of respondents in a public opinion survey supported HOV lanes and overwhelming supported that all HOV lanes should be open to vehicles with two or more people.

What’s happening with HOV lanes on I-405 now?

Congested HOV lane on I-405.
Fast-forward 23 years. If you drive I-405, you’ve likely experienced that the HOV lanes are often as congested as the regular lanes during peak periods. That’s because there is too much demand for the lanes. Last year, WSDOT completed the I-405/SR 167 Funding and Phasing Report which found that the existing carpool lane north of SR 522, the one lane section of the future express toll lanes project, is at capacity during peak periods. It also found that there are 200 or more days a year when speeds are below 45 mph in the HOV lane on southbound I-405, south of SR 527.

What is causing the increased demand?
There’s a clear connection between the break down in the I-405 HOV lanes and population growth on the eastside.  U.S. Census data shows that over the last 10 years, Seattle’s population grew seven percent, while the population on the Eastside, from roughly the Snohomish County line to Newcastle and everything east of Lake Washington to the crest of the Cascades, increased 15 percent.
Washington’s residential and employment populations are only projected to increase.  In the years ahead, the population of the city of Portland will be added to our region. We have a tremendous challenge to accommodate this massive growth.

Shouldn’t growth mean building more regular lanes?
That’s a common perception, but over the long term, it’s been shown time and time again that new lanes eventually become congested and simply add to the problem. We also must keep in mind that continually adding lanes our highways could also have impacts to local streets. We know from experience here and across the nation that we cannot simply build our way out of congestion, and we know that we need to get creative to manage the growing demand on our roadways. One of the best ways to do that is to learn from what’s working in other states facing similar challenges.

What is WSDOT doing to create solutions for increasing demand on I-405?
Over the last decade, WSDOT has worked with cities, counties, federal agencies, transit agencies and community groups to develop consensus on a long-term vision for the multimodal redevelopment of this highway. We adopted a multi-modal approach to ease congestion on I-405 that included, adding more lanes, improvements to local roads, increasing transit service, adding park and ride spaces and vanpools, and the possibility for an express toll lane system. 

After three published studies on I-405 express toll lanes, one of which was review by a panel of nation experts, WSDOT is implementing express toll lanes on I-405. Express toll lanes are a proven strategy for congestion relief that have been implemented, studied and expanded across the country.

In the next post, we’ll discuss how express toll lanes will work in Washington as part of the solution for I-405.

Our first building block in tech for tykes: YouTube Kids

When we were kids, if we wanted to learn more about gorillas or how to make friendship bracelets, our parents pointed us to an encyclopedia, or took us to the library. When we wanted to watch cartoons, we eagerly awaited Saturday morning. Today’s kids have it even better—they have all of these options, plus a world of knowledge and information at their fingertips via the Internet. That opens up wonderful opportunities, but also can cause some worry for those of us who are parents.

So over the past year, teams across Google—including many passionate parents—have been looking at how families are using our products, and how we can make it easier for children and parents to explore and play together. We decided to start with YouTube.

For years, families have come to YouTube, watching countless hours of videos on a variety of topics. And today, we’re launching YouTube Kids, a new family-friendly app that makes it easy for kids to explore a vast selection of videos on any topic.

In the new YouTube Kids app, available on Android and iOS in the U.S., videos are narrowed to focus on content that is appropriate for the whole family. You might explore DIY arts and crafts, learn how to find the circumference of a circle, or watch favorites from Mother Goose Club to Minecraft, as well as new series from National Geographic Kids and Reading Rainbow. And there are more train videos than even you can count.

We’ve designed the app to be easier for kids to use, with a brighter and bigger interface that’s perfect for small thumbs and pudgy fingers. For parents, we’ve built in options that let you decide how your family uses the app, including the ability to set viewing limits with a timer.

Head over to YouTube’s blog to learn more. This is just our first step—we’ll keep tinkering and hope to have more great products for your family soon.

Through the Google lens: Search trends February 13-19

What we learned this week on search: New England’s stuck in a winter wonderland, Cindy Crawford doesn’t need makeup to look better than the rest of us and Lady Gaga’s caught in a good romance. Read on to learn the details.

Baby, it’s (still) cold outside
What better way to start your morning than with seven feet of snow? That’s what the lucky people of New England are saying (or not saying) as they endure the wrath of the aptly named Thundersnow. This type of storm occurs when a thunderstorm features snow instead of rain, and is just the latest storm in a record-breaking month of winter weather. The phenomena led to 20,000+ searches, which might have at least a little to do with The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore’s on-air celebration when the storm hit. Whatever makes you happy, Jim.

A date with destiny 
All eyes will be on the Academy Awards this Sunday, and people are prepping for their Oscar parties turning to the Internet to find out who’s up for Best Actor and Best Actress. But the highlight of the event is the Best Picture Category, which many consider to be a tight race this year. The favorites are Boyhood and Birdman, but if searches this past month determined the winner, it would be Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel.

And if we’re talking about a night out with the stars, does anyone know where Cindy Crawford is? This past week, unretouched photos of the American supermodel appeared online and, well—she still looked stunning. The photo went viral and drummed up a discussion on the media’s portrayal of female beauty.

Last call is in... 
The party didn’t stop at midnight this past Tuesday as people started their Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday celebrations. Searches for the holiday spiked on February 17, and there was an increase in searches for New Orleans delicacies beignets and King Cake. On the other side of the world, many people in Asia welcomed the Year of the Goat (or sheep...or ram...whichever you prefer) as they rang in the Lunar New Year with style, not to mention topping the charts with more than 2 million searches. 

Sparks are flying 
Lady Gaga electrified search this week when she announced that she’s switching her Poker Face for a wedding veil to marry boyfriend Taylor Kinney. Fans of the pop queen took to the web to find photos of her heart-shaped engagement ring and new fiancé, causing searches for Kinney to hit an all-time high. Doesn’t sound like a bad romance to us.

Speaking of electricity, this past Wednesday our doodle marked the 270th birthday of the godfather of all Energizer Bunnies, Alessandro Volta, the inventor of the first electrical battery. Searches for “Who is Alessandro Volta” and the “voltaic pile” hit highs, ensuring that the great inventor will be remembered for years to come.

Tip of the week
Don’t have time to watch the three-hour-long Academy Awards this weekend? Just search for the Oscars in the Google App and you’ll find the latest info on what just happened, from acceptance speeches to behind-the-scenes moments.

SR 305 Agate Pass Bridge cleaning and inspection work nearing completion

By Doug Adamson

Area of the bridge before the rust was removed.
Crews have completed the painstaking process of hand-removing truckloads of dirt, debris and other gunk from the State Route 305 Agate Pass Bridge.  Crews removed roughly 9 tons of material, which is more than the average size of an African elephant.  After removing debris, crews most recently have been flushing the bridge with low-pressure water to complete the cleaning process.

Our workers also are turning their attention to removing rust. They use specialized air-powered tools that grind rust away. To help protect the environment, the rust is scooped up by a connected vacuum system.  After the rust is removed, they apply a zinc coating that protects the underlying steel from future rust. 

Crews continue to find what they expected on a bridge of this age – missing or rusted rivet heads, rusty bridge pins, chipped and broken sidewalk sections, etc. We will know more about the overall condition of the bridge after a complete inspection is done next week by our bridge preservation engineers.

That’s where highly-trained experts will conduct a meticulous inspection of this key link between Bainbridge Island and the Kitsap Peninsula. 

Drivers help prevent mega-traffic jams
We offer our immense gratitude to drivers who continue to avoid the bridge during work hours. It makes a big difference when people consolidate trips, carpool, and cancel discretionary trips.

Following rust removal, crews treated the area with
a zinc-based product to protect the underlying steel.
On Sunday, Feb. 22, the Chilly Hilly bike ride is scheduled to take place between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Although the bike route does not cross the Agate Pass Bridge, we expect higher traffic volumes on SR 305 as participants from the Kitsap Peninsula drive to the starting point in Bainbridge Island. We would like to ask those Chilly Hilly participants to please add extra travel time to cross the bridge both on their way to the event, and on their journey back home.

Drivers use alternate ferry routes
Washington State Ferries has noted about a 5 percent decrease in vehicles on their mid-day Bainbridge Island runs, and a 3 percent and 4.5 percent increase in their daytime Bremerton and Kingston runs, respectively. We would like to thank ferry users who have changed ferry routes to avoid crossing the bridge, and encourage them to continue doing so since Ferries still has excess capacity on their mid-day Bremerton and Kingston runs.

If all goes according to plan, the work will wrap up on Saturday, Feb. 28.  Until that time, we continue to ask drivers to plan ahead and expect delays during the following times.

Remaining SR 305 Agate Pass Bridge work schedule
Single-lane alternating traffic 7 days a week until February 28, 2015
8:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. each Monday through Friday
7:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday

Google Science Fair 2015: what will you try?

Science is about observing and experimenting. It’s about exploring unanswered questions, solving problems through curiosity, learning as you go and always trying again.

That’s the spirit behind the fifth annual Google Science Fair, kicking off today. Together with LEGO Education, National Geographic, Scientific American and Virgin Galactic, we’re calling on all young researchers, explorers, builders, technologists and inventors to try something ambitious. Something imaginative, or maybe even unimaginable. Something that might just change the world around us.
From now through May 18, students around the world ages 13-18 can submit projects online across all scientific fields, from biology to computer science to anthropology and everything in between. Prizes include $100,000 in scholarships and classroom grants from Scientific American and Google, a National Geographic Expedition to the Galapagos, an opportunity to visit LEGO designers at their Denmark headquarters, and the chance to tour Virgin Galactic’s new spaceship at their Mojave Air and Spaceport. This year we’re also introducing an award to recognize an Inspiring Educator, as well as a Community Impact Award honoring a project that addresses an environmental or health challenge.

It’s only through trying something that we can get somewhere. Flashlights required batteries, then Ann Makosinski tried the heat of her hand. His grandfather would wander out of bed at night, until Kenneth Shinozuka tried a wearable sensor. The power supply was constantly unstable in her Indian village, so Harine Ravichandran tried to build a different kind of regulator. Previous Science Fair winners have blown us away with their ideas. Now it’s your turn.

Big ideas that have the potential to make a big impact often start from something small. Something that makes you curious. Something you love, you’re good at, and want to try.

So, what will you try?

(Cross-posted on the Google for Education Blog)

Through the Google lens: Search trends February 6-12

Happy Valentine’s Day (and long weekend!) to all you searchers out there. Here’s a look at the past week in Google Search:

Artists in the spotlight
Around The Grammy’s last week, two artists were at the front of the search pack: Beck, who took home the Album of the Year award, and Kanye West. Kanye almost pulled a Kanye (of 2009 VMA’s fame) when he appeared on the verge of interrupting Beck’s acceptance speech; West was upset that Beck won the award over Beyonce, who (according to West) had the best album of all time.

Other top artists in search include Sia—along with Kristen Wiig, who appeared in Sia’s Grammy performance, although Sia’s face did not—and Annie Lennox, who’s still got it. Finally, searchers were struck by a sober moment during the ceremony: after domestic abuse survivor Brooke Axtell shared her personal story on stage, search interest in [domestic violence] spiked 93x.

News in the news
Shock followed shock for news hounds this week. First, a week after Brian Williams admitted that he had wrongly claimed to have been on a helicopter that was shot down in Iraq in 2003, he was suspended for six months by NBC’s Nightly News. Now he’s at an all-time high in search. Meanwhile, Jon Stewart announced he will leave The Daily Show after 16 years, devastating loyal fans everywhere and inspiring speculation over who will replace him. And finally, we said goodbye to two legends of journalism: Bob Simon, CBS News reporter and 60 Minutes correspondent for decades, and The New York Times’ media columnist David Carr are being mourned by colleagues and readers.
Some lucky viewers got a sneak peek at the third season of Netflix drama House of Cards when new episodes were accidentally posted online. More than 50,000 searches followed as people tried to get a glimpse before they were taken down. And speaking of lucky, this week’s $500+ million Powerball jackpot had people searching like crazy in hopes of winning the big bucks. There were 2 million searches for [Powerball] on Wednesday, and more for [mega millions] and [lottery numbers]. So far, one person has come forward to claim one of the three winning tickets, so maybe you should check your pockets...

Searching for love
Valentine’s Day has people scrambling and searching for flowers and gift ideas. Interestingly, there are three times as many searches for [gifts for a boyfriend], than [gifts for a girlfriend], but when it comes to married couples things are reversed: there are more searches for [gifts for wife] than for [gifts for husband]. (We’ll just leave that there.) People turn to search for planning all kinds of Valentine’s Day activities, from “What should I wear on a first date?” to choosing a romantic movie.
Tip of the week
Go on, tell that special someone how you feel this weekend. The Google app can help—when your own words just aren’t good enough, say “Ok Google, show me a love quote.” Pro tip: give credit where credit is due. No one likes a plagiarist.