I have been eagerly waiting the release of the ScratchJr app for the iPad this summer. It became available on Tuesday, and I spent part of Wednesday playing around with it.
ScratchJr is a free iPad app that is designed to introduce programming to kids ages 5-7. It is, of course, intended to acquaint students with the Scratch programming language – a block type programming that was developed by M.I.T. and is available for free at this link. (You can use it online or download the software.)
As school hasn’t started for me yet, I haven’t been able to put this app in the hands of students to see their reaction. I am curious to watch my younger students who have not been exposed to Scratch explore the app. Many of them have used Hopscotch, Daisy the Dinosaur, Kodable, and Robot Turtles, so the concept of programming won’t be completely foreign to them. However, my plan is to give them as little information as possible to see what they discover on their own.
The interface seems fairly simple. The question mark allows you to find sample projects and watch an introductory video. In my opinion, the intro video should be broken into parts. Even though it’s less than 4 minutes, I think young students will find it too overwhelming to watch the entire video in one sitting – particularly if they have never done any type of block programming.
Clicking on the house icon will take you to the project screen, where you can add new projects or edit others you have saved. The book icon (back on the home screen) gives you information about the program, including guides to the different icons in the program.
So far, there does not seem to be a way to share projects created in ScratchJr with an online community as there is with Scratch and Hopscotch. However, projects can be viewed full screen, and I am sure that you can project them if you have AirPlay or other means of iPad projection in your classroom.
If you are new to programming, I highly recommend the tutorials on the Hour of Code website. However, do not let your lack of knowledge keep you from bringing it into the classroom. I promise you that I know very little, and that is actually a benefit. It keeps me from helping my students too quickly, and they learn from struggling and solving problems on their own.
Also, even if programming is not in your curriculum, apps like ScratchJr are great as a creation tool. Students can use it to tell stories, explain math problems, etc… Not every student will embrace ScratchJr, but once you have introduced it to your class, it could be one of many choices for assessment that allows them to use their creativity.
Here are some more resources for Programming for Kids if you are interested.