For years, I was scared of Scratch. I knew it was something I should feel comfortable using, but I’d go to the Scratch website or open up the application, stare at it for a few minutes, and then close it up again, thinking “yep, later.” It looks HARD, especially if you’re not a programmer. (Programmers can learn to use it in about 3.5 seconds.)
Then I took the plunge. I agreed to teach a class on Scratch to middle school students as part of a summer program at my school. So I had to teach myself how to use it. And honestly, I didn’t truly become comfortable with it until I’d taught others how to use it. The thing about Scratch is that it’s a language, literally. You need to understand how the language works before you can speak it. And the way to learn it is to practice.
Where do you start? Here:
Scratch cards. These cards can be printed out and handed to your students for reference, and I found them very useful in learning some basics. The commands described on the cards are some of the building blocks of programming, including movement, changing the appearance of an object, and keeping score. Once you have grasped these basics, you should be comfortable with the look and feel of Scratch, which will allow you to move on to more advanced commands and projects.
Media Mashup. This site, created especially for libraries, offers a lot of cool stuff, including its screencasts page. The pirate ship tutorial was the single-most-useful thing I did in preparing to teach Scratch. I probably said “ohhhhh, OKAY,” about a dozen times while watching it. It introduces you to the “puzzle piece” or “building block” concepts that make up Scratch, and shows you how the commands that you give objects make the objects do stuff. I recommend just jumping in and doing the pirate ship tutorial even if you have literally never used Scratch once.
The Scratch educational portal, including its forums and resources page. These pages are a wealth of information, including ideas for curricula and sample projects. Scratch allows you to download others’ projects and open them in the application, meaning that people can post sample projects for you to use with your students. Once you start to understand how basic commands work, you can teach your students how to “copy” these projects on their own computers.
The Scratch Wiki. Again, there’s lots of stuff here, but you can search the wiki for specific topics or browse the tutorials page or the program page. You may find yourself using the program page more as you get more comfortable with Scratch, because you’ll need to know what specific terms are before you can look them up.
Scratch Lesson Plans on the Classroom 2.0 Wiki. Act like you’re the student and do the lesson plans yourself! Then use them with your students. There’s lots of great stuff in here, from the basic to the more complex.
Finally, here are some ideas for how to use Scratch in the classroom or public library. You will find many more ideas as you research on your own, but these are some places to start:
- Interactive stories. Scratch “sprites” (characters and other objects) can interact with each other in a variety of ways, meaning that students could write creative, interactive stories; animate scenes in novels; mash up scenes featuring different literary characters meeting in new locations; write their memoirs; MORE!
- Logic games. Students have to develop rules for their games, which is awesome for critical thinking and using “if/then” statements. Have them map out their games before they even start building them. What happens when the character touches the red wall? Or lands in the water?
- Adventure games. Using scenes from history, literature, or real life, students can drop characters into certain situations and ask the player to guide that character through a series of challenges. This can be a fun, original game, or it can ask students to think of characters and historical figures in a new way.
- Teaching concepts. Have students create games that are meant to teach other students about things like online safety, doing math problems, or drawing objects. This could be a fun project to have older teens do for middle-school-age students, for example.
Have fun with Scratch. It’s very satisfying to learn how to use it. I probably know about 25% of what’s available, but even that is enough to make a fun, playable game or interactive story. Don’t be intimidated – just dive in, and before you know it you’ll be teaching teens how to be computer programmers!
(By the way, if you are attending YALSA’s pre-conference institute at Midwinter 2012, I will be talking about Scratch there!)