Well, I finally did it. With the help of: an Hour of Code Tutorial, a 3rd grader who knows what he’s doing, and what I learned from auditing a class that my daughter took, I finally felt somewhat ready to try Scratch, the free M.I.T. programming language available on the web, with my 3rd grade class.
Full disclosure here: I teach Gifted and Talented students, and my 3rd grade class is composed of 4 students* – one of them being the aforementioned one who knows what he’s doing. So, I probably don’t get a lot of points for risk-taking. Plus, the Hour of Code Tutorial walked them through all of the steps for creating a holiday card – leaving me with little to do other than to provide new laptops when their batteries went dead. I should get points, though, for observing that the batteries were about to die and urging the students to save their projects to their drives before they lost them completely
After doing a Hopscotch tutorial with my 2nd graders yesterday (hey – there were 11 kids in that class!), I was prepared to take things a bit slowly with the students in this group who had never seen Hopscotch or Scratch. Silly me. After their classmate’s demonstration, and two steps into the tutorial, they were ready to jump into the project and CREATE. My job was to step aside. Here is a link to our class blog post with links to videos of their projects.
Since this was far from the typical experience that a classroom teacher would have if trying to incorporate Scratch, I know that much of my advice would not be helpful. However, I do have a few words of wisdom for teachers new to using Scratch:
- Scratch is free, and no longer requires a download (a mobile version is due out in the Spring). You can use the web version just fine. There are some added features in the downloadable version, but beginners won’t miss them.
- You can share Scratch projects by downloading the file to a computer and then uploading it within Scratch or by joining Scratch. I did not have my students join – as I felt that was a parental decision. Joining does require an e-mail, but it allows you to share your projects with others in the Scratch community by uploading it to their site.
- If you don’t have built in microphones on your computers, have some plug-in mics available. The kids like to make their “sprites” say silly things through recording.
- Monitor the “silly things” your students say while recording
- If your computers are somewhat unreliable, encourage your students to save frequently.
- Be sure to build in time for exploration. Just choosing their first sprite (object that they will program) from the Scratch library could take 5-10 minutes.
- Ask someone who knows something about the program to assist you if you can. If you can’t, it’s still nice to have extra hands available for basic computer trouble-shooting.
The Scratch Hour of Code tutorial is an excellent introduction. However, here are some other Scratch resources if you interested:
- Scratch Help (Getting Started Guide, Tutorials, and Scratch Cards)
- A TON of Scratch Resources from ICT Guy
- Scratch Programming Challenges for Elementary Students
- Scratch Programming e-Book (free) by Jessica Chiang
If you have an iPad, Daisy the Dinosaur and Hopscotch are great lead-ins to Scratch. But, really, the above resources take care of you. And, as you have probably already learned with the digital natives in your classroom, our students don’t need nearly as much as much instruction as we teachers do!
*I’m trying Scratch with a class of 14 fourth graders today (11 of whom happen to be boys), so my experience will probably be a bit different!