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~