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Starting from Scratch: An Introduction to Scratch for Primary School Teachers

In the fast-paced digital age, teaching primary school children to understand and appreciate computer science has become a vital part of their education. Introducing students to coding at an early age not only equips them with a valuable skill set for the future but also cultivates problem-solving skills, creativity, and logical thinking. One of the most effective tools I’ve used to spark children’s interest in coding is Scratch, so I’m going to share a first look at this resource with you here.

What is Scratch?

Scratch is a block-based visual programming language developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. It’s designed to be intuitive and easy-to-learn, making it perfect for our little learners who are just starting out in coding. With Scratch, students can create their own interactive stories, games, and animations, thereby nurturing their creativity, logical thinking, and problem-solving skills.

Why Scratch for students?

Scratch is a free-to-use, web-based platform geared towards younger learners. It provides an introduction to fundamental programming concepts by enabling them to create interactive stories, games, and animations through a block-based visual programming language. Consider it like a digital playground where, instead of sand and shovels, children are equipped with colourful blocks of code that, when assembled, bring their digital creations to life.

The Strength of Scratch for Primary/Elementary Education

There are several reasons why Scratch has become a fundamental tool in my teaching arsenal. Firstly, it demystifies programming by transforming complex coding commands into easy-to-understand, color-coded blocks. This approach allows young learners to comprehend the basic principles of coding – the logic, the structure, the sequences – without the intimidation of traditional programming syntax.

Furthermore, Scratch offers a vibrant, safe online community where children can share their projects, collaborate, and give and receive feedback with their peers globally. It’s a resource that brilliantly combines learning, creativity, and global collaboration.

How to Get Started with Scratch

Set Up: First things first, Scratch is free! Visit http://scratch.mit.edu to create an account for yourself.

There are two types of scratch account – the public accounts that you can open from the ‘join’ link top right, or educator accounts, which you can open by visiting the ‘educators’ page. The later let’s you make accounts for your pupils under your own account, which are then ringfenced in a nice safe space that can not be seen by public scratch users.

Should I use accounts for learners?

Depending on your purpose, it is also possible to just use the site without logging in, especially for your pupils, and to screenshot your created work, rather than saving the projects. As learners get older you my wish to open accounts so that they can save their larger projects to revisit later, but often screenshotting and annotating are enough.

Getting to know Scratch

Explore: Before introducing Scratch to your students, spend some time playing around with it yourself. Familiarize yourself with the layout, tools, and functions. Check out the Scratch tutorial videos, which provide a fantastic starting point.

 Upon logging in, you’ll be greeted by an intuitive interface divided into three main sections:

The Stage: This area is where the animations, games, or stories come to life. Characters, known as ‘sprites,’ can be added, and backgrounds can be chosen in this section.

The Blocks Palette: This section houses the various coding commands represented as interlocking blocks, each color-coded according to their function – such as motion, looks, sound, etc.

The Scripts Area: This is the workspace where you will drag and drop the blocks from the palette to create scripts, essentially controlling the sprites’ actions on the stage.

Bringing Scratch into the Classroom

The integration of Scratch into your classroom can be an exciting endeavour. I recommend starting with a basic project – perhaps an animated greeting card or a simple game. Scratch provides an array of project ideas and step-by-step tutorials that can guide you and your students through this process.

It’s crucial to foster an environment of exploration and experimentation when working with Scratch. Allow your students to play around with different blocks, encouraging them to create unique animations or games. Remember that with Scratch, learning takes place through active creation, not passive consumption.

Yours -> Ours -> Mine

The MIT Scratch model is based on the increasingly popular coding model ‘Yours > Ours > Mine’. This uses the process of increasing ownership to introduce new concepts to learners.

First we look at a project that already exists – how does it work? What is it made using? What parts can we already identify and explain?

Next we tinker with it’s content – we make it ours, we change some details or variables; colours, quantities, timings, repetitions: we see what changes when we make each change. This is like a continual fair test; making gradual independent variable changes to see what happens – we explore it!

Finally, we create one of our own using everything we have learnt by exploring the original source project.

Encouraging Creativity and Curiosity

While Scratch is fundamentally a coding platform, it also serves as an expansive canvas for creativity. Encourage your students to animate their favourite stories, craft digital artwork, design a basic game, or even bring mathematical problems to life. With Scratch, the goal is to make abstract ideas tangible, and the boundaries are as limitless as their imagination.

Sharing work

You may by now have noticed that scratch projects all have a unique url (webpage address). This means you can share a project to learners just by giving them the url of that project. This is a very clean and quick way to set a task, as they can just click to visit that project, then click ‘remix’ to edit and engage with the task. This works for the many hundreds of example projects, community created projects and also anything you create yourself.

Learning Together as a Community

While Scratch is designed to be user-friendly, it might seem a bit complex at first, particularly if you’re just getting started with coding. However, there’s no need to worry. Scratch offers a comprehensive ‘For Educators’ section that provides everything from an introductory guide to in-depth lesson plans and online courses.

One of the most significant aspects of Scratch is the shared learning journey it offers. You don’t need to know everything before you start. Learning alongside your students, facing challenges, and discovering solutions together makes the journey more exciting and less intimidating for them.

Embracing Scratch in your classroom is about much more than just teaching coding. It’s about fostering creative thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, and most importantly, the joy of discovery. By guiding your students on this journey, you’re not just teaching them to code; you’re equipping them with the skills to shape their digital future.

To get started, visit the Scratch website at http://scratch.mit.edu


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