On Saturday, March 23, 2013, the Yukon Review newspaper ran Jim Powell’s article in section C titled, “Students spend spring break learning a ‘new language.'” The subtitle was, “‘Scratch Camp’ teaches youngsters about computer programming.” Since archives of the Yukon Review’s articles are not currently accessible on the open web and are not indexed by Google, I’m cross-posting the full article here to amplify these ideas. I hope many other educators in Oklahoma and other places are inspired to start similar Scratch Camps and Scratch Clubs as a result!

Jim did a great job with the article overall. There are five things not mentioned about Scratch Camp I want to highlight, however.

  1. We had 21 participants in our Spring Break Scratch Camp this year, with one-third girls and two-thirds boys. The photos included in the article just show boys, so I think it’s important to mention this. Scratch and computer coding is for girls and boys, women and men! Check out the 9 recorded videos from our Spring Break Scratch Camp for proof!
  2. The organizing sponsor for our Oklahoma Scratch Camps is The Div, which is a 501.C3 Oklahoma non-profit sponsored by the Edmond-based web design company iThemes. Without the support of The Div and iThemes, our Scratch Camp wouldn’t have happened!
  3. Independence Elementary School in Yukon Public Schools DOES have an after-school Scratch Club, which STEM teacher Chris Simon started in January 2013. To my knowledge, the only other Oklahoma school district with a Scratch Club (so far!) is in Piedmont Public Schools. (If you know of others, please let me know!)
  4. All our Scratch Camp curriculum is available on a Google Site, and we encourage anyone to use/borrow/modify anything we’ve shared there. Curriculum from Scratch Camps in March 2013, July 2012, and June 2012 is available.
  5. At least two more Scratch Camps are being planned for the summer of 2013 in Oklahoma City, but dates and locations are not yet finalized. Those will be shared/announced on the website of The Div in upcoming weeks. At least one is likely to be held again in Yukon. Yukon PS was a GREAT host for us!

Here are the photos and text from Jim Powell’s excellent article.

Scratch Camp Photo 1

A group of local youngsters spent spring break learning a new language, but instead of textbooks, they worked with a computer programming code that allows them to create projects such as video games while learning complex mathematical concepts.

And, they had a ball in the process.

Over two dozen enthusiastic students from area schools met at Skyview Elementary the past week at a “Scratch Camp” learning a new programming language using computer code that was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Dubbed “Scratch,” the code allows students to create interactive stories, animations, games, music and art and then share their creations on the Internet.

Working on their Scratch projects, the “campers” learned computational ideas while also learning to think creatively, reason systematically and work as a team to develop ideas.

“It introduces them into an environment where they’re writing programs,” said Wesley Fryer, an instructional coach for the Yukon School District who helped facilitate the five-day camp along with Independence Elementary STEM instructor Chris Simon.

Scratch was created at MIT by people who want math to be a “natural thing for students,” Fryer said.

“When kids are immersed in a language because they’re in another country, they learn it because it surrounds them,” he explained. “That’s what Scratch is like because everything they’re doing involves math.”

Fryer and Simon used computer labs at Skyview during the one-week camp attended by students in the 2nd through 6th grades. They started with an “All About Me” project, a “linear” storytelling endeavor, but most of the kids were more interested in developing games so that aspect of programming was emphasized at the Skyview camp.

And they wanted to “push the envelope” by working to develop complex games.

“The don’t just want to stop with simple games, they want to take them to different levels and make them more complex,” Fryer said of the class’s motivation. “Some games require multiple layers of complexity and one of the things they learn is to break down the problem: How are you going to do that? What are you going to do next?”

Fourth-grader Van Winkeler said Scratch is perfect for kids his age.

“It’s basically to teach kids simple coding and it’s making it simple for kids,” the youngster said. “It’s computer programming for kids. You can make a simple project or a really complicated one. It’s your decision.”

Mason O’Hara, a 5th grader whose father works in computer technology, began learning Scratch in 2009 at a friend’s house who had the programming software on a computer. Mason has his sights set on attending MIT to become a computer engineer while Van would like to do the same, but admitted it’s hard to “make the cut” to attend the institute saying, “It’s really hard to go there.”

Scratch can be a little intimidating for some teachers because it is complex and there are a lot of questions that kids bring up that they can’t always answer. But there is an online Scratch “community” where users share their projects and knowledge with others across the country.

“Another awesome thing about Scratch is there’s over three million projects that have been shared on their website,” Fryer said. “You can download any of them and look at the code or look at the ‘blocks’ for all of them. We’re constantly looking at them and some of them are pretty complicated and can be intimidating.”

The Scratch website can be accessed online at http://scratch.mit.edu.

The kids who attended “Scratch Camp” go a step beyond what those who only play computer games do and enter a world where they learn mathematical thought while also having fun, according to Fryer.

“Kids are playing games all over the place,” the instructional coach said. “But these kids are making the game. When you create the game, you are in a different head space… you’re in a different thinking space.

“They’ve played Xbox games, Wii games… and have a lot of experience but they haven’t done the creation,” Fryer added. The creation is “what really gives them an appreciation of those games and it develops a lot of great problem solving skills. I think every school in Oklahoma should have a Scratch Club.”

It speaks to the creative and motivational mindsets of the kids who wanted to attend the camp at Skyview over spring break. Because elementary school-aged youngsters chose to use part of their one-week vacation in a a computer lab learning a new “language,” it shows they are hungry for knowledge in a field that is helping to build the world of tomorrow.

Scratch Camp Photo 2

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