This week, one class of 4th graders was introduced to Scratch, the programming language developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten at MIT. Scratch is intended for ages 8 to 16.
As the Scratch Educators page says, “Scratch is designed with learning and education in mind. As young people create and share projects in Scratch, they develop important design and problem-solving skills, learning how to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively.”
The students had seen the link to Scratch in their 4th grade folders but I hadn’t said anything about it. A couple had already done some exploring and discovered they could draw things but hadn’t yet figured out that they could make the sprites move! So, when I mentioned Wednesday that we would learn about Scratch the following day, there was a good deal of interest.
The next day I started out by having the students open Scratch then come to the floor to watch the following video.
Intro to Scratch from ScratchEd on Vimeo.
Upon returning to their seats, it was all I could do to keep the students’ attention as I tried to guide them through creating the cat to move! They were SO excited. We did some basic blocks (move 10 steps, forever loop, change costume) then I let them loose. They spent the next 15 minutes exploring and seeing what they could get their sprite to do. I felt like I had lost complete control but while watching them, decided they needed the exploration time more than they needed me talking!
The next day, several of the students excitedly reported that their parents had downoaded Scratch at home. When others heard that, they wanted to know exactly how to find the program so that they could also get it. Everyone was eager to start class, so we began by building onto the dancing cat program started the day before by adding a speech bubble and a color change.
Before letting them explore, I wanted to show the pen down block. Everyone chose a ball then we added the following blocks: move 10 steps, if on edge bounce, pen down, change pen color by 10, forever loop, and clear. The students experimented with how to make the ball bounce in various ways so that it didn’t always move in the same direction.
When class was over, I asked the students to save and shut down the computers. There was no response! After several requests, I finally asked, “By your lack of response, am I to assume that you are enjoying this activity?” The answer was a resounding, “YES!”
The exciting thing about Scratch is how it draws in even the most reluctant learners. Everyone was eager to experiment with the sprites and the blocks. There was a healthy buzz as students offered suggestions to each other; lots of problem-solving going on!