FEATURED GAME – Scratch
In my blog this week, I will be investigating how ‘Scratch’ (a simple, visual programming system) can be used in the classroom to teach the Australian Curriculum: Technologies and kick start budding computer programmers careers. But first, a little background theory.
Simple geometric shapes
Scratch is an open source software (this could be created into its own digital technologies lesson), created in the MIT Media Lab by Lifelong Kindergarten Group and is available free to download. One of the developers of Scratch, Mitchel Resnick, says in this article that the design process is very important for all students and that creative thinkers (and therefore problem solvers) come from anywhere (Daly, 2008). In the same article, Jeanene Bluhm de Carjaval states that “Scratch shows us the importance of play in the role of education” to develop “creative, experimental pathways…and show them that learning can be fun” while accomplishing “incredible things.”
Joining simple shapes together
These ideas echo the rationale of the draft Australian Curriculum: Technologies where “enterprising individuals…independently and collaboratively develop innovative solutions to complex problems” as they “progress from creative and directed play through to the consolidation of knowledge, understanding and skills” (ACARA, 2013, p. 1).
Using computers in the classroom (fulfilling the ICT general capabilities) obviously creates enthusiastic and engaged learners, but using Scratch provides students with a way to construct knowledge by working just outside their Zone of Proximal Development (Atherton, 2011) as they plan, design and investigate the outcome by implementing their programs through sequencing drag and drop scripts. There must be careful scaffolding and targeted support between working step by step to designing their own.
Changing direction, pen size and colour in an Etch-a-Sketch challenge
I do not ever envisage myself as a game programmer but I do believe that to understand something, you need to at least try it out. So, the screenshots down the side of the page document my learning journey with Scratch over the last three weeks. Each week the activities became a little more difficult as extra concepts were added to the programming sequence. A short description under each briefly describes the task and I will explain what I learnt as I go.
In WEEK 1, the orientation phase, I learnt about the different areas of the screen; what the different buttons and tabs were for; and how to command my Sprite (the character) to do things (move, make sounds and change colours) by constructing graphical scripts. Once the basics were mastered, I could program my Sprite to draw geometrical shapes (a great teaching opportunities for maths). This initial familiarisation and practising is important for students and making mistakes (in the risk free environment of the program) provides instant feedback.
Repeating a simple geometric shape – a circle
Scratch help cards, video tutorials and having opportunities for joint construction all provide support for those who lack confidence (me!). This is also a chance for the non-academic students to shine as they become the leaders in the classroom. You can then introduce some simple challenges, like the etch-a-sketch activity I did. I also found a great repeating pattern for geometric shapes (Bits and Bytes, 2009), just like the Spirograph kit I had when I was young.
Two car racing game with timer
The official website for Scratch allows for projects to be uploaded, creating a global community. This also allows students to deconstruct the programs of suitable projects to analyse how it works, discover what programming features it uses and what alterations can be made to improve or construct something entirely new.
An interactive game using a ball and paddle with a stop program when it touches the black line
My WEEK 2 programming was more challenging with complex scripts, painting backgrounds and making sprites to create a race car game. I got a little confused about using the keyboard to make my car go, but I eventually worked through my programming problems. When I searched the Scratch projects page, I found many examples of racing car games that could be used for deconstruction of programming codes. I found the same for the Pong game I created in WEEK 3, and working with variables (speed and score) introduced different scenarios that could be incorporated into other projects I created (i.e. the racing game).
Two player pong game – I found changing the direction from horizontal to vertical difficult
I found it difficult to extend my Pong game to a two player version while keeping the ‘conditions’ of stopping the game when the ball crossed the line or bouncing off the paddle. Although everything worked fine horizontally, when I attempted to do the same vertically it would only work on one end. I certainly could have done with some collaboration here!
Digital Technologies processes and production skills
- specification, algorithms and implementation
Design and Technologies processes and production skills
- critiquing, exploring and investigating
- generating, developing and evaluating design ideas for design solutions
- creating and communicating information
On Computer Kiddos Wiki (n.d.), they have included a selection of resources, project cards and an evaluation rubric to test programming and concept skills. As students move toward achieving more challenging programs, uploading their individual projects will give students a true sense of achievement.
Ways to incorporate Scratch across the curriculum while supporting computer programming
This Scratch forum thread (evhann55, 2009) has a challenge idea for Score – High Score possibilities in designing a Space Invaders type game. Other suggestions show how computer programming using Scratch can enhance other curriculum areas and provide creative options for displaying understanding moving students from consumers to creators (i.e. book report and games Scratch forum, animated storytelling or journalism ideas, maths concepts or create a slide show. With the storytelling or slide show option, students could present their opinion about a controversial technology that is being developed.
As computer technology is central to the functioning of our modern day world, it is certainly worth considering introducing Scratch into the classroom to introduce the concepts of computer programming.
My ideas, like the computer games I feature, are just springboards to spark your own imagination and creativity.
Enjoy and thanks for reading!
ACARA (Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority). (2013). Australian Curriculum: Technologies – Foundation to Year 10. Retrieved from http://consultation.australiancurriculum.edu.au/Static/docs/Technologies/Draft%20Australian%20Curriculum%20Technologies%20-%20February%202013.pdf
Atherton, J. S. (2011). Learning and teaching: Constructivism in learning. Retrieved from http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/constructivism.htm
Beale, V. (2010, August 31). What is open source software? Retrieved from http://www.webopedia.com/DidYouKnow/Computer_Science/2005/open_source.asp
Bits and Bytes. (2009, January 25). Scratch in the classroom [Web log]. Retrieved from http://blogs.wsd1.org/etr/?p=395
Computer Kiddos Wiki. (n.d.). Scratch animals on the move. Retrieved from http://computerkiddoswiki.pbworks.com/w/page/16304821/Scratch%20Animals%20on%20the%20move
Daly, J. (2008, July 28). Play to learn: The Scratch programming language sneaks serious fun into the classroom [Web log]. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/scratch-programming-language-technology-tool
evhann55. (2009, February 28). Art and Code conference classroom suggestions [forumpost]. Retrieved from http://scratch.mit.edu/forums/viewtopic.php?id=14673
Fay, L. B. (2010, August 27). Scratch programming: Teaching children to be creators rather than consumers [Web log]. Retrieved from http://digitalis.nwp.org/resource/715
Foley, Mrs. (2007, December 5). Anyone using Scratch at school? [Web log]. Retrieved from http://www.classroom20.com/forum/topics/649749:Topic:84933
Life Long Kindergarten Group. (n.d.). Scratch. Retrieved from http://scratch.mit.edu
Teaching News. (2012, May 13). 10 resources to support Scratch Day in the classroom. Retrieved from http://www.teachingnews.co.uk/2012/05/10-resources-to-support-scratch-day-in-the-classroom