Alexander (my 9 year old) gave me my first lesson on how to program in Scratch today – WOW! I am so amazed. Our first lesson lasted 45 minutes long. Alexander is the “expert” on Scratch in our house because he’s spent a total of 4-5 hours playing with the program so far. I had spent about 2 minutes playing with it before today. With Scratch, as with many other environments, the best learning appears to happen when you spend time playing and exploring.

In using Scratch and seeing the amazing way the software as well as its online environment has been setup to permit collaboration and learning, I flashed back to around 1982 and my first experiences doing VERY basic programming in BASIC in 7th grade. At that stage, we were impressed as kids making 2 line programs in BASIC like the following which scrolled text forever down the screen.

10 PRINT “This is so cool, I am programming!”
20 GOTO 10

Remember this stuff? Of course our programming went beyond that simple, initial stage, but the fact was, writing a program like that was exciting and empowering as an 11 year old in the early 1980s. It’s phenomenal to see where a program like Scratch allows learners of any age to START with programming fun today. I’m especially amazed to see how collaboration using screencasts and web 2.0 sharing features can put learning on steroids. (legally, of course!)

As an example, after Alexander showed me some basics in Scratch we went to the featured Scratch projects on the official website and found the shared project “Laser & Mirrors.” We not only looked at how cool this project was by viewing it “running” on the web, we also downloaded it and loaded it onto our computers (after we both created free Scratch accounts and logged in) so we could play with and manipulate the program elements. An hour later, Alexander is STILL playing around with that program, using the clone tool to make his own “mirrors” and redirect the laser in the program in different ways. So much fun, so many possibilities…. I’m watching a live case study of what “internal locus of control” means in the context of learning, right in our living room! 🙂

One of the things that made early HTML (and current HTML to an extent) so powerful is that on any webpage, you could/can “VIEW SOURCE” and look “under the hood” to see the programming code which made the webpage display text and images in a particular way. Scratch permits users to do the same thing: Apparently all projects that are shared are done so under an open license. In this way, users are encouraged to share and learn from each other by actually sharing program source-code via the official MIT Scratch website.

The support section of the Scratch website includes a variety of how-to videos and other resources to assist in learning Scratch. I like looking at cool projects and examining the source code, but I find myself actually wanting a more comprehensive, step-by-step introduction, starting with the “basics” tutorial of how to use scratch. These are available on the website– now what I need to do is spend more TIME playing and working my way through some of these tutorials!!! 🙂

This is an example of one video linked from the Scratch how-to website, explaining what can be done with some image effects. Oh my gosh! This is so cool! Do you think kids in your classroom would enjoy playing in a software environment which permits them to do such powerful things? Uh….. yes!

Time to invent the future!

This video shows many of the possible ways Scratch can be used. The possibilities are only constrained by our imaginations!

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14 Responses to 1st Scratch Lesson with Alexander

  1. So cool! I can’t wait to get this rolling with my middle school kids in August. If all goes well, I’ll have them developing some great “how to” guides for tech ed concepts we discuss in class Building a basic circuit using a breadboard sounds like a good place to start! I should definitely follow Alexander’s lead and get started using it myself! So glad he’s enjoying it.
    Best-

    Kevin

  2. Gary Stager says:

    So, what did you and your son make?

  3. I remember BASIC programming on TRS80s with 64K of memory. 🙂 Scratch is WAY more fun. I’m hoping to use it with my third graders this year. I think it’s great for following directions, logical sequencing, and creative critical thinking. Thanks to Alexander for all of his enthusiasm. Does he feel that his classmates would be just as jazzed about it?

  4. This sounds like my kind of application. (innovative learning app)

    I’m going to check it out and do a review! Thanks for bringing it up.

  5. […] was reading Wesley Fryer’s post on getting his first Scratch lesson from his 9 year old. It piqued my interest because I had heard of this application awhile back when it was just in the […]

  6. Wesley Fryer says:

    Gary: Alexander spent about two hours modifying that “Laser and MIrrors” project with three or four times the number of mirrors in the original project, and a much more complicated laser path…. I just succeeded in moving my sprite around the screen a little, not anything remarkable to report yet. I suggested to Alexander that he share what he created in Scratch back with the community via the website, and he wanted to make sure he had permission to do that since he hadn’t actually created any of the code used in his project, he had just duplicated sprites that were created by the original author. So we are going to read more about the use agreement and make sure that is kosher… I’m pretty sure it is, but his idea of making sure is a good one. I’m going to play with the program more this week and will share some creations, although I’m sure they will be crude initial attempts at making something….

  7. […] and it really seesm to have that ‘wow’ factor! Scratch can be found here, and check out this post from Wes Fryer, which was the first time I realised the potential […]

  8. Gary Stager says:

    Wendy,

    I remember programming in BASIC in far less than 64K of memory (more like 1K) and it was plenty fun.

    I wrote about these seminal learning experiences here: http://stager.org/articles/meandjones.html

    My larger concern is projecting an adult’s view of process and experience onto a child. For example, I am continually amazed by how intellectually stimulating and creatively expressive today’s children find “old-fashioned” (Logo) turtle graphics.

    Adults often thought too little of such computer-dependent activities since the quality of the output did not match their aesthetic for what software “looks like” – ie, lots of chrome, 3-D and menus.

    The Simpsons Movie success reminds us that kids like 2-D too. I even remember a Nickelodeon character that was a popsicle stick with two eyes and a mouth drawn in ballpoint pen. I believe he was “Mr. Sticky.” Kids loved him because he was funny. His resolution was of no consequence.

    Alan Kay might argue that the larger reason why adults devalued Logo use by children is that the adults themselves had no language for describing the mathematical learning that was taking place.

  9. Gary Stager says:

    Thanks for the additional details Wes.

    It’s interesting that use agreements now need to be part of the child’s curriculum. (That’s not a judgement)

    I would not be surprised if the Scratch folks had even thought of addressing that issue for kid users. I think sharing and repurposing is implicit in the interface.

    A larger question might be, “Alexander, why do you think others would be interested in your version?” This is the sort of “What is your contribution to knowledge?” question asked of doctoral students.

    Another view of the issue is, just because it’s easy to share, should everything be shared? (Should everything go on the refrigerator?)

    By the way, I’ve been intending to sit down and write a comprehensive critique of Scratch for some time now. I’ll let you and your legions of readers know once I get it finished.

  10. Bill Kerr says:

    hi wesley,

    Nice inspirational post to get people started on scratch, I’ve put a link to some teacher lists in australia

    I’ve been playing around more with Etoys / Squeak which may be more powerful and ships with the OLPC

  11. Geri says:

    That’s wonderful. It’s indeed user friendly, considering that even kids can learn it and be good programmers. I admit that I’m not good at programming, but it’s fun to try new things and be creative.

  12. Tom Hoffman says:

    If you dig around on the Scratch site, you see that contributions are ostensibly licensed under a Creative Commons attribution license. This is meaningless, based on my not-a-lawyer analysis, because while a minor’s work is automatically covered by copyright, a minor cannot re-license his or her work (they cannot enter into a contract) without their parents permission, and there is no mechanism for granting that permission. So any code contributed by a minor is covered by regular copyright and cannot be remixed and re-uploaded without explicit permission from the copyright holder.

    Beyond that, last time I checked the application itself didn’t attempt to explain how one’s work would be licensed when you uploaded it, which further makes me doubt that the license would be binding, even for an adult, but I don’t really know. Regardless, it is bad behavior.

    Further, even if the CC attribution licensing sticks, the application and its website doesn’t do anything to make it easy to keep track of or cite attribution. There is not even a specific field for citing attribution. This gets particularly complicated when you consider that an application you download may itself include multiple strings of contributions which you should technically attribute in your remix.

    So there are a lot of issues, and not very easy ones to solve at that. With your kid, I’d just ignore them.

    What sucks is that these problems pretty much rule out serious redistribution of work uploaded to the site. This stuff could never be put in, say, Edubuntu, which is a shame.

    Also, Scratch itself exists in a weird licensing limbo. The application is essentially BSD licensed, but they haven’t literally released the code in an easily accessible way, despite their promise to do so in the $2,000,000 NSF grant proposal that funded the project.

    For the free software advocate, this is all frustrating and disappointing, and it is particularly galling that they would go back on their promise in the NSF grant. Pointing this out on a post on your blog would be helpful. They deserve to take a little heat for it.

  13. Bill Kerr says:

    Tom makes some good points

    Nevertheless scratch source has been unofficially released on the scratch site by Jens:
    http://scratch.mit.edu/projects/Jens/22355

    and a link (which currently is not working) to a linux version has been posted by dthornburg here:
    http://scratch.mit.edu/forums/viewtopic.php?id=305

    The official position is that Scratch is a “closed development, open source” project … the source code will be available by mid-2007 under the MIT License so that others can experiment with extensions and variations. However, unlike a conventional open source project, they do not seek code contributions from the community

  14. John Snyders says:

    I have really enjoyed playing with scratch and wrote about my experience with it on my blog
    http://hardlikesoftware.com/weblog/2007/09/29/scratch/

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