Talking Scratch: Educators Discuss Programming Kids Can Use to Build and Share Their Own Creations
8.18.10 | At MIT’s Media Lab last week, educators from around the globe gathered to discuss Scratch, a new programming language with a growing community of followers who believe computer programming should not be left up to geeks.
Where once kids tinkered around in the garage learning engineering by making model airplanes or learning geometry in a studio making pottery, today they also tinker around with designing computer programs.
Like Lego bricks, Scratch makes it possible for kids to add to and build on each other’s work, with a significant social and tinkering component. Users are encouraged to share their projects by uploading to the Scratch website.
Once posted, other users can download the project, see the scripts, and add to, change or adapt the project to suit their own needs. It encourages kids to experiment—and to fail, and they learn as they go through the cycle of trial and error.
Scratch teaches kids to “think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively,” Mitchel Resnick, director of Lifelong Kindergarten Group, which developed Scratch, told Spotlight.
In an article (PDF) published last year in Communications of the ACM, Scratch’s researchers and developers argued that programming can expand the range of ways that kids can create and express themselves with a computer—while also expanding what’s possible to learn.
“As we see it, digital fluency requires not just the ability to chat, browse, and interact but also the ability to design, create, and invent with new media,” wrote members of the Scratch team.
Scratch launched in 2007 as a free tool for kids age 8 and up to create their own interactive stories, games, animations, music and art. Since then, the program has been translated into nine languages and is used in schools, after-school programs and libraries, as well as at home.
“Over the last few years,” Resnick adds, “we’ve had hundreds of thousands of kids share more than a million projects on the website. But we also get lots of requests from those kids for new features … so we really want to work with the community to open up the next generation of Scratch to open up even more possibilities for kids to share and collaborate.”
At the Scratch@MIT Conference, educators shared resources about how Scratch in being used in elementary, secondary and even undergraduate classrooms. Participants heard presentations on how Scratch is used to teach science, mathematics, game design, music and computational thinking. Participants also had a chance to experiment with the Scratch sensor board that connects Scratch projects with the physical world, and watch demos of uses of Scratch for augmented reality games that mix real and virtual spaces.
You can watch segments from these presentations and see what educators were up to at the conference’s documentation page. Additional conference resources and presentations are also available on ScratchEd, an online community for educators to share resources about Scratch.
Scratch just won a Learning Lab award for innovation in digital media in the 2010 Digital Media and Learning Competition. With this award, Scratch will expand opportunities for young people to participate in the community aspect of the site – to share ideas, collaborate and remix projects—and to integrate projects into social media tools.
“With Scratch, we want to give kids the ability to develop their own voice, to be inspired by what others do, but then put their own mark on it, to express themselves and share their own ideas with others in the world,” says Resnick.
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