My next review is going to be on Scratch. Scratch is a piece of free online software, arguably one of the better known programmes that can be used to aid computing learning. According to their official Twitter (@scratchteam) they are a “programming environment and online community where kids create, share and remix animations & video games.” (It’s worth following them on Twitter, you can ask questions and gain advice.)
Children can programme little characters, also known as “sprites”, to move, talk, make sounds and a host of other things. There is also the option to create more complex games and animations. At first glance I saw opportunities for cross curricular learning, such as programming sprites to draw shapes, linking to angles and shape and space in Maths. Or storyboarding to create more complex animations to link to English.
The interface at first may seem a little intense, particularly for younger children, but you soon learn how to navigate your way around. An advantage I feel with Scratch is that you piece together your commands, or codes, like Lego bricks. It is visually clear what comes after what, and what causes something else to happen. It is because of this I think it will also be easier to tell where you have gone wrong and therefore be easier to correct it. As my Uni group concluded it is like “a jigsaw puzzle to code.”
The Scratch website (scratch.mit.edu/) is full of tutorial videos, so you needn’t look anywhere else. Some of the games that can be created are amazing, I have no idea how long some of them must take!
I have to be honest, I personally am struggling with Scratch. I do think it is just that I haven’t had the sufficient time to sit down with no distractions and really give it a go. I’ve tinkered with it in several Uni seminars and in order to write this review I’ve sat at home for half an hour solid trying it. But I genuinely am struggling. I’m finding the visuals helpful, but I think I’m still trying to get my brain into coding mode. I feel I should be ashamed to admit that seeing as I am a Digital Literacy specialist, but even within specialisms you are going to have specialist skills and perhaps Scratch just naturally isn’t mine! Once I get started on something though I’m determined to keep going until I’ve cracked it!
Some others in my Uni group also generally seem to be having trouble, so perhaps it is just one of those things you have to persevere with. I’m not too concerned about children picking it up because in my personal experience ,with appropriate guidance, children can pick things up a lot easier than adults. As for children enjoying the programme, I think the vast choice of characters and the option to upload their own will appeal. I think there are many “levels” to Scratch that could be built upon as children become more confident, so this could be handy when considering differentiation.
There’s no denying Scratch’s popularity but on my Twitter travels I’ve found some people who find this a disadvantage. Kevin McLaughlin (@kvnmcl5m) says “Think of Scratch as the tool that leads to writing code – you don’t want children thinking everything is built using Scratch. Be careful not to create #deathbyscratch.” Although I don’t have personal experience of what schools use to teach code, I can relate this point to other situations. It’s obviously a positive if schools start using Scratch with children to teach coding, but I think its vital children know this isn’t all that is out there and are shown alternatives as well.
This view is supported in John Chippindall’s (@DrChips_) blog: I think you could, perhaps, argue that future learners highly skilled in using Scratch, and Scratch alone, may have no more transferable knowledge of programming concepts than their older peers…” (primarycomputing.co.uk) Generally this concept of being offered variety within learning applies to all areas of the curriculum, not just computing. But I think particularly if teachers are not comfortable or confident with computing and coding, the temptation will be to find and learn one programme inside out and stick with it. Hopefully this won’t become the case!
I personally feel Scratch is better suited to KS2, more the upper end as I feel it is too complex for KS1 children. It is a great tool for children to express their creativity whilst learning the vital tools of coding and would also work well with collaborative learning.
How does everyone else feel about Scratch? Is anyone else struggling with it like me, or did you take to it straight away? Are you already using it in your classroom, or plan to in September? Please let me know! J
Thank you, again, to everyone who contributed to this post.