Laura G

Blogging for ICT

Scratch and the Primary School Curriculum

According to the Primary School Curriculum (1999), learning can be described as any experience that contributes to the child’s development. Scratch is a fantastic resource that applies to all of these learning principles in one formor another. However, areas that Scratch seems to be especially applicable are

1. The child is an active agent in his or her learning, and learning should involve guided activity and discovery methods, higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills should be developed

Scratch involves active learning at all stage. It generally begins as a guided activity, then the children are able to work more freely, building on what they learned in the guided activity, and move on to make their own creations by playing around and discovering, giving them only hints for guidance if needs be. This also ties in with higher order thinking and problem solving when they go on to discovery methods, that is, when they are set a challenge to work out on their own without guidance.

For example, in my lesson, I first showed them a simple version of a bat flying, to show the aim of the lesson. We then went through how to build the blocks in order to make it simply change the costumes. The children were then allowed to discover more about how to make their sprites animated by changing costumes and move around the screen, accompanied by music and backgrounds, and some children developed it even further of their own accord adding text, sensing etc. I then showed them a more complex creation of a sprite dancing to music, which they then went ahead to decipher how to create themselves, engaging in higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills.

2. Collaborative learning should feature in the learning process

Scratch is a highly collaborative learning tool. Using computers in the classroom, by their nature, are instantly collaborative lessons. So the children are learning from each other, talking about their ideas, helping each other realise them, as only one person can use the computer at a time, while the other person watches and offers advice Usually this might cause problems in other subjects, where one student is idol while the other works, but in this situation, both children in the pair are fully engrossed in the task at hand. Even a child with who has ADHD in the class, the teacher mentioned to me that she was amazed at how engrossed he remained for the entire lesson.

The children can also use the Scratch website as a collaborative tool, to learn from other people’s scripts from across the world. Most of the learning for Scratch that takes place in a collaborative environment.

In the lesson I taught, I also tried to add another element of collaboration to the task. I asked the children to code two sprites so that  it could become a two player game, that is, using the arrow buttons to control one sprite, and the a,s,d,w  keys to control another. This challenge also engaged them in collaboration of how to make it this way.

3. The range of individual difference should be taken into account in the learning process

When it comes to computers in general, it is natural that some children are more advanced than others, depending on  their socio-ecomonic backgrounds, general experience with computers and so on. In any class, you will have children on the spectrum of children who have no computer at home to children who attend computer classes outside of school weekly. But somehow Scratch still manages to differentiate itself. Children can work at their own pace without feeling under pressure from others. In the course of a lesson, the task is very easily differentiated, as when some children are finished long before others, they are able to work on themselves without even having to be told to, adding in extra details to their creation. For example, during my lesson on putting sound into creations, one boy deciphered how to record his own voice to get his Sprite to speak in his animation.
Also, the program itself is suitable for children with both ends of the spectrum of special learning needs. It is a visual resource, requiring simple motor skills, is colour coded and well labelled. It is also challenging, offering limitless opportunities for what can be done with it.

 

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Scratch – A Mental Workout?

Based on my experience of using Scratch in the classroom, I can say that I agree that it is both an excellent “mental workout” for cognitive and collaborative skills.

Firstly, with laptop and computer work in the classroom, the lesson automatically immediately becomes collaborative, as children share the machines. This brings not only IT collaboration, but also works with the social skills of the child. For example, the children get used to taking turns with the computer and being the observer. In this kind of situation, they automatically collaborate on the Scratch projects, working together to come up with how to solve a problem, create a script, and then make suggestions of how to improve it. Where in other projects this may be problematic with children, in the experience I have had, the children work really well together to come up with scripts. In fact, I noticed that most children who were working alone were more likely to be slower in deciphering how to create a script for the sprite to perform an action than children who were working together.

However, this trend seemed to only apply to children who were beginners at working with Scratch, which was the majority of the children. There were some children in the class who had been to “Wiz Kids”, where they had learned Scrath before, or children that like to practice at home a lot tended to prefer working alone and creating more advanced creations than what the rest of the class were doing. But that’s the beauty of Scratch, once you gone through the basic element, you can build on it to make it your own. Its just like any other school subject, there are some children stronger or more experienced than others at Scratch, but the lesson differentiates itself. While on one side of the classroom, there was a child still wondering how to decipher the x and y axis, on the other side of the classroom a child had balls bouncing randomly in a game.

Also in relation to working together, we have set up a class Scratch account on the scratch.mit.edu website for all the children to submit their work and see what other people in their class are doing, perhaps get a few ideas from their scripts and so on. It also allows them safe access to a larger collaborative Scratch network of the over 3 million Scratch projects available to look at on the website.

Cognitively, it is clear that Scratch is an excellent challenge for children, no matter what level they are at. It involves problem solving that is rewarded with a cool outcome, be it that the lion sprite actually does what you wanted it to do on the trampoline, or that you have created a fully functioning, glitch-free game. It involves designing, analyzing and predicting how the blocks are to be used effectively and efficiently. They are also able to draw links between different subject areas and Scratch, such as maths.

Other computer games have seen this potential for cognitive development in children, For example, in the last few years in Sweden, children play the popular mining game “Minecraft” as part of their schooling, for the same reasons we are doing Scratch with our classes. It involves creativity and problem solving that is rewarded with something children of today value more than a gold star sticker. More information at http://edudemic.com/2013/01/this-swedish-school-now-has-a-mandatory-minecraft-class/

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We started from Scratch….

I’m meant to be in a school right now, this very second, introducing Scratch to children. But I can’t because I’m not exactly the most mobile I’ve ever been. So I’m just going to reminisce about that little program of building blocks that I have grown to become obsessed with. This week saw the end of our Scratch tutorials with Ronan.  Ronan gave us a fantastic introduction, with really helpful and clear resources, bringing us step by step through the world of Scratch, while giving us the odd challenge to make us think outside the blocks. And yet, this was only a mere glimpse at the possibilities of  this FREE resource, meaning there is no barrier between Scratch and school, even in this economic climate. And it is entirely user friendly, it all just comes down to using your imagination, logically placing blocks together that are very clear of their purpose, or, failing that, messing around with the codes until what you want to happen happens. There is also the back up help and inspiration from the http://scratch.mit.edu/ website, as with the endless supply of Scratch creations comes and endless supply of codes available to copy, manipulate or, in some cases, just sit back and gaze in awe. For example, this creation by a secondary school student in Cork who won the Scratch National Finals in 2012.

Scratch Project

Even the other runners up from that year are mind boggling, and are excellent examples to show to the children so that they can broaden their minds and see that there are no limitations with this program. For example, I know the class I had for senior teaching practice would have loved this creation as they were working on a project for a competition about fingerprints and forensics:

Scratch Project

There are so many applications that I can think of for use in the primary school. I’m delighted that I have this chance to learn about its uses before I go on my home teaching practice as opposed to finding out about it after I finish. It has to potential to really spice up a lesson and keep children enthralled. I’m just afraid that I’ll end up spending too long playing with it myself the night before rather than preparing my lesson plans, because you simply get lost in in the world of Scratch, never before have I felt a lecture fly by so fast as I have felt for the past few weeks! And if I get that enthralled by it, imagine what way the children will be!!

Scratch will allow the children of today and tomorrow to explore imaginatively and constructively in the same way we did with Lego back in the day fadó fadó. And in a society where we are trying to promote equality of gender, where boys may traditionally have been more involved in a constructive activity such as this, girls are now equally interested and involved in the construction of the Scratch creations. It is like a virtual, primary school equivalent of metalwork or woodwork, combining a creative design element with a functional, constructive element.

We have only “scratched” the surface with the possibilities so far (geddit?…..yes, too little sleep and too much time spent in front of a computer…I’m going to be one of those teachers that makes the really lame jokes that the children will just cringe about). You probably have already heard of my very first attempt at something at Scratch where I made Tommy Walsh and Lar Corbett dash around Croke Park that I am terribly proud of…

Scratch Project

WELL, since then I have gotten the sprite to make all kinds of shapes in all kinds of colours, made an interactive sprite, made a psychedelic mouse-movement controlled sprite, and most importantly, made still pictures come to life! My very own little cartoon of a girl dancing! Yes, again not the most exciting thing you may ever have seen, but I think its pretty cool. And in the spirit of the week that’s in it and all.

Scratch Project

What I find the most exciting about all this is how this will bring life to the children’s work, imagine drawing a picture and then you, at 10 years of age, making it come to life before your very eyes. Its every child’s dream! Image how that will be able to spice up a writing lesson, knowing that it can be used as a script to their very own little cartoon, and not alone that, but the characters can be their own literally handmade creations. This in itself links in with so many curricular areas, such as English and art, but also in critical, forward thinking and planning. It is the copybook corner cartoon of the 21 century! I know I would have enjoyed my writing lessons in school so much more if I thought I could bring them to life like that, giving them a moving image element. So it also helps children keep and interest by integrating with the lesson, and possibly unlock an area to their imagination they never knew they had.

I look forward to hopefully getting out into the school very soon and spending many more hours playing with Scratch. To the detriment of all other modules. Oh well.

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Playing with Scratch

I am enjoying playing with this Scratch business far too much, so much so that I have stayed in on Saturday night and played with Scratch and considered it a night well spent. Because it was a night well spent.

The satisfaction I have gotten from learning even the basic elements so far is unbelievable. Creating a game to make Lar Corbett chase after Tommy Walsh in Croke Park was the best thing I did all week. My poor housemates have heard me rave about this Scratch business so much as this stage that they are starting to revert to a Mrs Brown approach….

However, I am still looking at other games that have been put up on http://www.scratch.mit.edu/ and felt my brain melt with the level of coding involved in some of the games. I am hoping that if I keep at it I will be able to create games that are at that level. For the children to enjoy of course. I’m too grown up for all that carry on. Now where is my Pokedex…

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