Sunday, July 18, 2010

Silly Rabbit…Programming is for Kids!

Much of the chatter among educators on Facebook and Twitter surrounds the idea of creating an authentic education for students in a world where technology is constantly changing. We discuss the importance of digital literacy and 21st century skills and we trade ideas about how to develop these skills while still covering the basic standards that are required each school year. Educators have the important job of creating students who know and understand the required content and who will succeed in society when they leave the classroom. It’s a tall order, but luckily we can connect online to a huge group of educators who share knowledge, tools, and tales of their successes and failures to guide us through the process.

Throughout the year, we have discussed and experimented with some digital tools that are great for student presentations and demonstration of knowledge. We have tried out several comic-strip generators like ToonDoo, created an Animoto movie, and designed a glog on Glogster, to name a few. All of these tools are available free to educators, and they have many applications in the classroom.

I was intrigued when I came across Scratch, because it seems more like a learning tool than a presentation tool. So, what is Scratch, and what can it do for your students? Scratch is a program developed by The Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. Their slogan is “imagine, program, share,” and it allows students to use a graphical programming language to create interactive stories, animated movies, games, presentations, and more.

I’m not a computer programmer, and neither are my students, but I decided to read on to see what it was all about. The tutorials describe Scratch as a tool to mix different types of media clips together creatively, much as a DJ uses a scratching technique to creatively mix different music clips on vinyl records. You choose how your different media clips (pictures, sounds, etc.) interact by using programming “blocks” that snap together on the screen, much like LEGOs.

You can create your own characters or use characters on the Scratch site created by other users. These characters are called “sprites,” and you can control their actions with the Scratch programming blocks. For a basic idea of how to use the program, go to the support page that has plenty of tips to get you started. There are plenty of video tutorials, guides, and examples to help you along.

Since Joann discussed storytelling this week, I checked out the Scratch Tour called “Telling Stories with Scratch.” Once I downloaded a new version of Java, I was able to see the projects and discover some neat ideas for the classroom. The tour page is a good place to start to see some of the things people are doing with Scratch. You can download programs you like and even use the sprites they created in your own projects.

What are my students really learning when they work with the program? According to the MIT group that developed it, Scratch can be a good tool for developing programming and engineering skills such as design and problem-solving, creative thinking, systematic reasoning, and collaboration. Educators on the forums seem to agree that Scratch is a good tool for primary students through post-secondary students, even though it was originally designed for 8 to 16 year olds. It is easy enough to use for the younger students, but the flexibility and options make it a good choice for introducing programming to older students as well.

Younger students are creating simple programs and stories and older students are using their knowledge of the programming language to build interactive games and activities. We will continue to learn about Scratch and begin to create some projects of our own to demonstrate how it could work in your classroom. Take some time this summer to see if this free program would be a welcome addition in your classroom. If you or anyone you know has used Scratch, please let us know what you think. We would love to hear how you like it!

~Peggy's Corner - 7/15/2010~


  1. I love the title of your post!
    I didn't ever get a chance to venture into Scratch with my students (so much to do so little time syndrome). I have played a bit with Scratch myself and am intrigued by what it can do and how it prepares students for a wider breadth of programming knowledge. Maybe an after school club?

  2. I'm glad you like the title! There is always WAY more to do than there is time, for sure. I think an after school club would be a great place to use Scratch. I am working with my 8 year old neighbor on some projects with it. It seems like a great summer activity for him. I am hoping to get better with it, so I can see some of the neat things it can really do. I think it is such a unique introduction to computer programming.

  3. I would agree with that, it sets students up with the basics without dropping them into programming that would be way over their heads. Love that it gives a place to start a foundation for that kind of thinking!

  4. I've been using Scratch a lot with my students and they absolutely love it. Because of the ability to integrate custom objects, including sound and images, the possibilities are really endless. I particularly like how scalable it is. I've used it with students as young as 3rd grade all the way up to 6th (although I'm planning 7th and 8th for next year). The simplicity of connecting the puzzle pieces makes it easy for the young ones and gives them a little help for understanding some of the commands.

    Last year I actually had my 4th graders creating "If...then" statements. For example, "If I move the cursor to the left of X object then Y will occur." They got really into it applying silly effects to photos, etc. I think it also gets them thinking about how the games they play are so intricately programmed.

  5. It's great to hear from somebody who is using Scratch in such a wide range of ages. From looking at some student-created projects, I can see that the possibilities are endless! We would love to see some of the things you have done with your classes.

    That's great that the 4th graders got so into doing the "if...then" statements. It's amazing how much fun students have when they are allowed to rise to a challenge.


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