Sunday, March 22, 2009

Starting from "Scratch"

On the day after the NJECC conference I participated in a full day workshop on Creating Games from Scratch. Scratch is a free, downloadable programming language, similar in many ways to LOGO which we use through MicroWorlds software in the Lab. Scratch was designed at MIT. According to the official web site (

“Scratch is designed to help young people (ages 8 and up) develop 21st century learning skills. As they create and share Scratch projects, young people learn important mathematical and computational ideas, while also learning to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively.”

As the workshop progressed it became apparent to all the participants that we had to do a lot of problem solving in order to achieve success at each small level of our projects. I was thankful that I had a LOGO background because it helped with the logical thinking and de-bugging process.

As in MicroWorlds, Scratch can use a figure (a sprite) to animate your project (like the “turtle” in LOGO). Also like MicroWorlds, on other levels of gaming knowledge and ability, projects may be entirely mathematical or language oriented with no visible sprite. We looked at samples of projects that mimicked Pacman, animated soccer games, produced fancy artistic versions of the project-maker's name, and coordinated music with sprite animation. There were also more serious "games:" one that recreated a calculator, one that told you what day of the week you were born on simply by knowing your date of birth, some that informed about holidays, taught lessons about animals, and provided an animated demonstration of the Rubik's cube.

If you'd like to read more about Scratch and someone else's opinion of its value, click here. The One Laptop Per Child computers have Scratch built into them so students around the world are bound to be sharing their projects and building valuable skills for their future working lives.

Whatever type of project a student uses, directly connected to the curriculum or directly parallel to her interests, there's no doubt in my mind that Scratch is a valuable tool students of any age can enjoy. And, after this workshop my brain really hurt!! I hope I have some free time to continue with my project on my own. Scratch certainly gave me an itch for programming!

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