Wednesday, October 3, 2007


During OMET Margaret Riel hipped me to Scratch, a Smalltalk-based multimedia programming environment. I installed it on a Mac at work and one of the students ran with it, creating a really cool virtual drum set. One of the powerful technologies in Scratch is that you can easily share your projects. The software allows you to upload the project to the Scratch site, where people can play with the projects in their browser, without needing to install Scratch.

This year when I rolled out the new iMacs with a new build of the operating system, I included Scratch. The library iMacs all had Scratch in the Dock, and I figured I would watch and see what the students made of it. I pointed out to a few students that there were sample projects included that they could run.

The younger students started using Scratch because it includes a pretty nice graphics editor that you can use to customize your Scratch characters, the "stage" upon which the characters are placed, and other objects. Soon, however, a few of them figured out that there were some fun games: PacMan in particular was popular.

I was a little disappointed that every time I sat down by a student using Scratch and explained that they could create their own games that the younger students expressed no interest. However, independently a fourth grade student realized that he could create his own games using Scratch, and he started working on a game using some of the stock characters provided with Scratch. Every time he asked me how to make the program do something, like move right if the right arrow key is pressed on the keyboard, I would suggest to him that he look at the samples to see if he could figure it out. Soon he had his squirrel moving around the board.

I originally thought I would teach a class at recess to students interested in learning Scratch. However, I realized the power of play and their own experimentation with the software and decided to allow them to dictate how they would use the software and gain an understanding of it. Now there are three students working on similar programs. I imagine that the student who originated the program and who has shared his code will finish first, grow tired of all the "clones" of his game, and devise a new one. It is great to watch these students build skills on their own initiative.

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